Wine Notes From the Field: Slovenia
Sometimes the wine world's newest frontiers are also its oldest. That's true in the tiny country of Slovenia, a part of the former Yugoslavia, east of Italy and south of Austria, where wine has been made for centuries. Free from the constraints of socialism since 1991, Slovenia is producing surprisingly good bottlings using a mix of old-time and cutting-edge winemaking techniques and a wealth of local grape varieties (Ranina, Zelen, Kraljevina). American sommeliers are taking note: Slovenian bottles appear on lists at newer spots like swimclub 32 in Denver and Luna Park in L.A., as well as at more established places. New York restaurateur Joseph Bastianich (Babbo, Lupa), who also owns the Bastianich winery in northeastern Italy, has even crossed the border to invest in Slovenian vineyards.
At New York City's Gotham Bar and Grill, wine director Michael Greenlee loves the "radically traditional" methods he saw in Slovenia, including some wineries' fermenting grapes in ancient Greek-style amphorae. His favorites include the wines of Kogl, such as the "classically styled and balanced" white 2000 Cuvée Bouquet, a blend of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Yellow Muscat. Kristen Johnson, wine director for Assaggio Ristorante in Seattle, says, "We do very well with the wines from Movia." Movia's dynamic young proprietor, Ales Kristancic, who practices rigorous organic viticulture on both sides of the Italian-Slovenian border, has become the country's most renowned winemaker. Movia's 1999 Veliko Bianco is a luscious dry white with a whiff of spicy yellow apples, made from the native Rebula grape.
Many of Slovenia's most successful wines in the current crop are food-friendly whites, but the country also turns out some reds and is making a name for itself in the tricky category of ice wines, as the rich, unctuous Golden Hill Laski Rizling attests. Winemakers like Dancing Man's Marko Podkubovsek envision a future for Slovenia as proud as its past: "The wines from our neighboring countries are famous now, but during the days of the [Austro-Hungarian] Empire, everyone knew the top wines were always the Slovenians!"