GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES
Slovenia s vignerons are a distinctive lot. They grow grape varieties even the most knowledgeable imbibers have never heard of – zelen or pinela, anyone? They sometimes put white fruit into a red wine, a practice outlawed in most of the wine world, or use
Slovenia's vignerons are a distinctive lot. They grow grape varieties even the most knowledgeable imbibers have never heard of - zelen or pinela, anyone? They sometimes put white fruit into a red wine, a practice outlawed in most of the wine world, or use acacia barrels rather than oak. And they often leave their white grapes macerating in their skins far longer than is the usual practice, resulting in deep-coloured, unusual-flavoured wines.
You might think after that introduction there's no point in seeking out their products, but that would be entirely wrong. After tasting around 50 examples, I emerged into London's early spring sunshine hoping the initiative of 21 Slovenian winemakers in bringing their wares here would be rewarded with trade orders.
The wines are never likely to be other than niche choices - though buyers from at least two major high street retailers were at the tasting - but they deserve to add to the diversity available to UK wine drinkers. Just a few already do, of which more later.
There were a lot more white wines shown than reds, many of them made from sivi pinot, better known as pinot gris (or, fashionably, pinot grigio).
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The best had perfumed fruit, the expected touch of spice and a good balance of crisp acidity. Renski riesling (the Rhine variety, rather than Laski, which will stir old memories of Lutomer riesling) can also be very attractive, as can traminec (a gentle gewurtztraminer).
I wish I could say the same of the sauvignon blancs, but on the whole they didn't show too well. A notable exception was the superb late-harvest sweet wine from Marof's skilled Austrian winemaker Erich Krutzler. His dry wines are excellent, too. Raeburn Fine Wines (0131 343 1159) will be importing a Marof riesling and a sylvaner blend by the summer (prices £8-£10).
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But back to more specifically Slovenian styles. Matjaz Lemut is an articulate advocate of the long-maceration technique, and his Tilia rebula (northern Italy's ribolla) maceracija 2006 is a fascinating, multi-dimensional wine, perfumed with dried apricots and - this is Lemut's suggestion, as I can't ever remember smelling it - kaki fruit.
He told me that when at a tasting it was served in black glasses (an effective disguise of colour) almost everyone identified it as a red wine.
Oenologist Uros Bolcina of Guerila (whose labels have, sadly, disturbed one potential importer by their smart modernity) introduced me to those two traditional grape varieties I mentioned earlier.
His 2007 pinela and zelen are fresh, clean whites well suited to 21st-century tastes, the pinela more citrussy, especially on the nose; zelen hinting at herbs and offering a drier palate.
Many Slovenians are embracing green issues, with Guerila on the way to becoming bio-dynamic, as is Batic & Natura - which is already bottling its distinctive, appealing Zaria 2006 long-macerated five-white-variety blend without sulphur, a brave move. Movia is another to follow biodynamic principles and eschew, where possible, sulphur. Lunar 2006, a long-maceration ribolla, is perfumed and hugely long.
But back to a wine which you can buy here. The Sampler in Upper Street, Islington, has Goriska Brda pinot noir reserve 2004, one of a number of classy wines from Marjan Simcic.
The Sampler's unique tasting facility allows you to decide if the £27.50 price tag is justified (ring first, 0207 226 9500, to check it's one of the 80 bottles currently on the sampling machines). A wider range of Marjan Simcic wines is available from www.aswines.co.uk and www.everywine.co.uk (prices from £10 for the pinot gris).
To my knowledge, no-one yet imports Cvicek, the red and white blend. It's light, low in alcohol (maximum 10 per cent) but too reminiscent, I fear, of poor beaujolais nouveau to wow UK drinkers. But why not raise a glass of the pleasant sparkling version to Slovenian initiative.