Perhaps one of the oldest and most overlooked wine countries in the world, the hilly vineyards of Slovenia produce some spectacular wines from indigenous grapes with intriguing personalities. The powerhouse of orange wine, Slovenia makes brilliantly textured and grippy skin-contact wines from a series of aromatic white grapes. Is this an endorsed ad by the Slovenian wine board? No. Should it be? Probably.
Slovenian Wine Regions
Stretching from the Adriatic Sea up to the Pannonian Plain, Slovenia has three distinct wine regions nestled into the green rolling hills, each with their own defining climate and grape varietals.
The westernmost wine region in the country, Primorska has strong historical ties with nearby Friuli. The formal Italian-Slovenian border is really the only thing that would let you know you've changed counties. The lush rolling vineyards sprawl between the two regions seamlessly. The strong coastal influence here creates dynamic conditions for grape growing with hot summers, mild winters, and a mix of rain and sun in the fall and spring. The proximity to the Alps also impacts the vineyards here.
Within Primorska there are numerous districts that have more specific terroir. Brda is closest to the Italian border and the region of Friuli. Mineral-rich soils drive Friulian style white wines that are dry and brilliantly aromatic. Rebula or (ribolla gialla) is the star of the show in Primorska. While it can be and is made in a crisp and refreshing style, it's more commonly known to be found as a deep amber-hued orange wine with grippy tannins. These wines typically go through their extended skin-contact in clay pots called amphora or qvevri, originally from Georgia. Some chardonnay and merlot is also grown in Brda.
The Vipava Valley is a slightly cooler climate than Brda with plantings of merlot, cabernet suavignon, and sauvignon blanc along with rebel and indigenous varietals, zelen and pinela. The wines from the Vipava Valley tend to be slightly more elegant than those from Brda. Kras district and Slovenska Ista are the two most southernly districts in the Primorska. Dark, rich refosco is grown here along with the aromatic malvazija istarska which is growing in popularity.
The wine region of Podravje is the most extensive continental region in the country, spanning to the northeast. Within Podravje there are two districts, Štajerska Slovenija and Prekmurje. Štajerska Slovenija district largely produces whites and oranges with only 10% of all wine being red. Big personality whites like laski rizling (welschriesling) and siphon (furmint) thrive in the mineral-rich soils and cooler climate. Riesling, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, sauvignon blanc, and muscat are also grown here. In Prekmurje, you'll find more rounded, softer whites along with the red varietal, blaufränkisch, which has become quite common. When the conditions suit, the district also produces lusciously sweet ice wines.
Of the three regions, Posavje produces the least amount of grapes and has less of a distinct reputation. The region grows many of the same varietals as Podravje to be blended into three different staple wines, Metliskacrnina, Bizelijcan, and Cvicek. The latter is a popular, light-hearted tart pink wine made from a blend of both red and white grapes, and it's the one you're most likely to find in a shop.
Slovenian Wine History
Largely landlocked and bordering some long-time powerhouse countries in terms of wine production, Slovenia is often overlooked. But Slovenia has a rich winemaking history that dates back to before Roman rule. Ever since Slovenia won their independence in 1991, they have restored their culture and wines to express themselves uniquely.
Where To Find Slovenian Wine
Searching out Slovenian wine isn't like buying a central California cab. In fact, it's just the opposite. As the majority of wine produced in Slovenia stays in Slovenia, there is limited production being exported to other parts of the world. But! That has slowly been changing over the last 5-10 years as more and more producers are being recognized for producing uniquely outstanding wines. It certainly still is a bit of a niche, and you are unlikely to find a Slovenian orange wine or otherwise in a typical store. Venture to a speciality bottle shop or natural wine store and chat with the owner to see what they might have. A good shop will have a couple options to choose from. You can also browse niche web shops in search of Slovenian wine. In this case, you'll often be able to filter by grape, style, or country to narrow the search results.
Producers to Look For
There are a handful of producers that are becoming more widely distributed across the United States, Europe, and Japan. If you are curious to try an apricot skin orange from Brda or a juicy blaufränkisch from Prekmurje, look for these labels to start your tasting journey across the country.
Miha Kelhar of Keltis produces natural, terroir-driven wines with brilliant minerality from Posavska. Try his non-vintage cloudy rosé made in a pét-nat style from pinot noir and chardonnay, Mario Roze Sparkling NV. It's light-hearted, dry, and brimming with notes of fresh red berries, apple skin, and orchard blossom.
Vina Krapež is a project by Martin in the tiny village of Vrhpolje in the Vipava Valley. The sub-Mediterranean climate and richly layered marl soil is excellent growing conditions for white wines. Lapor Belo is a blend of aromatic beuties malvazija, pinela, and rebula with a short skin maceration followed by neutral oak aging on the lees. Golden yellow with aromas of overripe fruit and sun-dried flowers, the wine is lively with a richly textured body and obvious autolysis.
Movia is a long-time producer in the Brda district, founded in 1820. Current winemaker, Aleš Kristančič, showcases rebula, pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay in both blends and as single varietals. His rebula is a beautiful amber hue with big aromatics of red apple, apricot, yellow plum, orange peel, and rose. The soft yet structured palate is crisp and full with hints of rosemary and hazelnut. A real treat.
This picturesque country produces some outstanding expressions of terroir from the coastal vineyards up to the Alps. With bright whites, grippy orange wines, and structured reds, there is a lot to discover when it comes to Slovenian wine. Lean into the queen grape, rebula, and all the aromatic whites lined up behind it to open your palate to the unique taste of Slovenian wine. You'll soon be hooked.