I’ve brought you starters, main courses and deserts, so now it’s time to take a look at Slovenia’s wine list. No culinary tour of Slovenia would be complete without a visit to its wine making regions.
History of winemaking in Slovenia
Slovenia’s best-kept culinary secret is its wine. Wine has been produced in this land since the time of the Celts and Illyrians. This means that Slovenian viniculture predates that of France, Spain and Germany (all of whom were introduced to winemaking by the Romans.)
Although Slovenia produces around 90 million litres of wine per year, most of it is consumed in-country. Exports of Slovenian wine are relatively small (around 6 million litres) and I believe this has less to do with the quality of the wine than the fact that Slovenians like to keep their wine for themselves!
The main wine-producing regions of Slovenia are Primorska (the region closest to and including the coast) and the Posavje and Podravje regions of Eastern Slovenia.
Slovenian wines are classified as follows:
- namizno vino (table wine)
- deželno vino (country wine)
- kakovostno vino (quality wine)
- vrhunsko vino (fine/best quality wine)
As more than 70% of all wines produced in Slovenia fall into the final category, it should be obvious that Slovenians are serious about producing good quality wines. Slovenia’s National Anthem even begins with reference to the wine harvest!
Slovenian Red Wines
Refošk – the Refošk (Italian Refosco) grape is indigenous to the Primorska region, and it is popular all over Slovenia. It has a long history perhaps dating back to Roman times. Refošk is the red wine of Slovenia. It is a robust, blackcurrant-coloured wine rich in tannins and bitter fruitiness. In its most basic form, it can be a little rough, but there are many excellent quality Refošk wines which are well worth trying during a wine tour of Slovenia.
Terran – Terran is a variety of Refošk grown in the Karst (Kras) region. Kraški Terran has D.O.C. (controlled name) status and some of the finest Refošk wines belong to this class.
Other Reds – Slovenia also produces well-known wine varieties from grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Vina Koper (one of the largest wineries on the coast) has produced an internationally award-winning Merlot.
Slovenian White Wines
Malvazija – Although probably originating in Crete, Malvazija (Malvasia) wine became popular in Northern Italy, the Balearics, Croatia and Slovenia. It is the go-to white wine for Slovenians to enjoy with a meal. It was introduced to the Koper area by Venetian merchants in the 14th century, and wineries in and around Koper produce some excellent examples of this wine. Malvazija is light and refreshing in character, making it very easy-drinking and the perfect accompaniment to fish and seafood dishes.
Other whites – Also popular in Slovenia are the Muškat (sladki and rumeni), the sladki is a sweet muscat wine with a fruity/floral character and the rumeni or yellow muscat has similar characteristics but is much drier. Pinot grigio or Sivi Pinot is also popular, and Zelen and Pinela are two lesser-known Slovenian white wines produced in the Vipava Valley.
Sparkling Wines, Desert Wines and Liqueurs
As if all of the above weren’t enough, there is a liqueur produced from Refošk (Refoškov liker) which is popular at Christmas. Visit during the festive season and you will find it on sale in decorative bottles. Sladka malvazija is a dessert wine produced from the Malvazija grape which is often served with dessert in Slovenian restaurants.
The two most famous sparkling wines in Slovenia are the Zlata (Gold) and Srebrena (Silver) Radgonska Penina. These can be made from a variety of grapes and are Slovenia’s answer to Champagne. Very popular over Christmas and New Year, you will see the supermarket shelves well stocked with these wines during the holiday period.
Where to try
If you’re going to start your wine tour anywhere in Slovenia, make it Vina Koper, one of Slovenia’s largest wine producers, and producer of many award-winning wines. Tours are available in English and there are hundreds of fine wines to sample.
Another fantastic wine producer on Slovenia’s coast is Brič, whose restaurant of the same name is a great place to sample some of their fine wines alongside a delicious meal.
Visit the Vipava Valley to sample the best Kraški Terran in Slovenia.
If you visit in late September, you may be lucky enough to witness the grape harvest and the start of the winemaking process. We visited the Mlin tourist farm at this time and saw just how much work goes into even a relatively small-scale wine production. Mlin is well worth a visit if you’re a fan of Italian food as they also serve the best gnocchi in the Primorska region.
I hope you enjoyed this whistle-stop tour of the wines of Slovenia. There are so many to try that the best plan is to come here and sample them for yourself (once all of the travel restrictions are over – and I sincerely hope that this will be soon!)