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Slovenia: A wine lover’s guide

With Alpine mountains, glacial lakes, virgin forests and fertile plains, the small nation of Slovenia offers vastly varied landscapes. It also produces some superb wines, many organic.

Slovenia is host to three main wine regions: Primorska, Posavje and Podravje. Whites predominate and some of the most interesting are made from little-known autochthonous varieties.

You’ll probably arrive through Ljubljana, with its elegant Baroque and Vienna Secession architecture, and hilltop castle overlooking the Ljubljanica river. From here, Slovenia’s top destinations lie west. There’s Triglav National Park with its rugged snow-capped peaks, the superbly photogenic Lake Bled, and the Soča Valley, carved out by the emerald-green Soča river. South from here lie the hills of Goriška Brda planted with vineyards (more about this later), then Kras (a geographic area formed of water-soluble carbonate rocks), and a glorious strip of Adriatic coast, home to the lovely Venetian-era towns of Koper and Piran.

Any first-time visitor would do well to spend a couple of days in Ljubljana and Triglav National Park before descending to Primorska to explore the sub-regions of Goriška Brda and the Vipava Valley, where stunning landscapes and numerous boutique wineries await. Each vintner has a special story to tell – many are experimenting with sparkling wines, orange wines and biodynamic production, and using terracotta amphorae and concrete eggs for ageing their wines.

Primorska

Primorska or the Slovenian Littoral, backing the Adriatic coast, divides into four sub-regions: Goriška Brda, Vipava Valley (Vipavska Dolina), Kras and Slovenian Istria (Slovenska Istra). Culturally Primorska has close ties with neighbouring Italy – sitting between the Adriatic and the Alps, it enjoys a sub-Mediterranean climate.

Goriška Brda

Medot winery, Slovenia

Medot winery. Credit: Matic Grmek

The hills of Goriška Brda conceal dozens of sleepy rural villages – medieval-walled Šmartno, a huddle of stone cottages centring on a Baroque church dedicated to St. Martin, the protector of winemakers – and Dobrovo, with its white 17th-century Renaissance castle of four towers, are the biggest. Green and lush, Brda’s hills are planted primarily with vineyards, as well as olive groves, cherry orchards and clusters of elegant cypresses, while the valleys are traversed by rivers and streams. On a clear day, you might see the snow-capped Julian Alps to the north and the sparkling blue Gulf of Trieste to the south.

Some 140 winemakers live here, producing 70% white and 30% red, organic and harvested by hand. They’re especially proud of the indigenous Rebula (or Ribolla Gialla as it is known in neighbouring  Italy), known since the 13th century and Brda’s flysch soil gives it full flavour and minerality. It’s very resilient (with roots up to 12 metres long)  and versatile, making everything from dry sparkling to dessert wine. Many wineries are open for tours and tasting. You really need a car to explore the region, though sporty visitors might attempt by bike.

Klet Brda, in the village of Dobrovo, the heart of Brda, is Slovenia’s major wine producer and importer, producing more than five million bottles annually. It unites 400 local wine growers cultivating vineyards on steep slopes in its circle of family and friends. Wine tastings are available for visitors in the main cellar as well as in the exclusive De Baguer cellar at Dobrovo Castle. For something exceptional, taste the De Baguer Motnik 2017, made from Rebula fermented in barrels smoked using local herbs before harvest. Klet Brda picked up two Gold and seven Silver Medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) 2023.

Also in Dobrovo, Medot was founded by Zvonimir Simčič when he retired from managing Klet Brda. Medot specialises in sparkling wine and Rebula. Try its top seller, fresh fruity Medot Brut 48, a blend of Rebula, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and its elegant Medot Extra-Brut Cuvée, made from Chardonnay and Rebula.

In Višnjevik, Erzetič uses amphorae and also experiments with different types of wood. The Orbis Rebula 2018, aged in barrels of oak, mulberry, wild cherry, ash, and acacia was awarded a Gold Medal at DWWA 2022.

High up in north Brda, at the foot of the Soča Valley, newly-built Ferdinand commands sweeping views down onto steep terraced vineyards. Its Sinefinis Rebolium 2017, made in collaboration with Collio producer Gradis’ciutta, is made from Rebula. Some of the grapes come from Slovenia and some from Italy to create ‘a wine without borders’.

Ferdinand winery tasting room, Slovenia

Ferdinand winery tasting room

Moving south to Ceglo, Marjan Simčič does all sorts of wonderful things with Rebula, as well as international varieties. Try his sweet Leonardo 2017, made from dried Rebula grapes before being aged in oak for four to five years.

At neighbouring Movia, Aleš Kristančič is a pioneer of natural wine. Don’t miss the chance to visit the Kristančič home to try sparkling Movia Puro, made from Chardonnay. Opening the bottle is an event in itself as it is only rid of its lees upon serving. After being stored upside down for 24 hours, the bottle is disgorged in a large glass bowl of cold water by a sommelier – so you can see the whole process – and then the wine is poured into Movia crystal glasses for guests to enjoy.

Other producers worth noting include Dolfo of Ceglo for Brut Nature fizzes, Zanut of Neblo, Ščurek in Plešivo and Edi Simčič, which has a contemporary tasting room filled with artwork in the village of Vipolže.

Marjan Simčič wines in box

Vipava Valley

East of Goriška Brda, the Vipava Valley is home to small family wineries working with native varieties Pinela and Zelen, which do well on the region’s flysch soil. Historically, producers in this area supplied wines to Vienna.

In Slap, head to Marc winery to taste its fresh and delicate Pinela 2021. The 2019 vintage of the same wine won a Platinum at DWWA 2020.

Near Planina, modern winery Guerila overlooks an amphitheatre-shaped vineyard devoted to biodynamic wines. Taste the Guerila Zelen 2022, or Guerila Amfora 2020, made from the Rebula grape.

In Osek, Lepa Vida hosts tastings which tell amusing anecdotes based on the history of the region. The Zelen 2022 is herbal and spicy, while the ‘O’ 2021 is an orange wine made from Malvasia Istriana and a small amount of Rebula, with the skins in contact with the juice during fermentation.

Kras

Kras is famed for its caves – each year, tens of thousands of visitors enter the labyrinthine depths of Postojna and Škocjan, to admire vast underground halls and tunnels graced by stalactites and stalagmites.

Up above ground, the red soils of Kras are rich in iron and best known for red wine made using the Teran grape – try it at Vinakras Sežana in a vaulted stone cellar in Sežana. Its La Marie Teran 2018 won a Silver Medal at DWWA 2023.

Slovenian Istria

The sun-warmed flysch soils near the sea also produce good reds. From Vinakoper in the portal city of Koper, the red Capris Refošk 2020 won a Silver at DWWA 2023. The producer also makes Vinakoper Spa body treatment products from grape seeds. Nearby in Triban village, at MonteMoro, try orange wine Malvazija aMorus.

Podravje

In northeast Slovenia, Podravje produces almost half of all Slovenian wine. In Maribor, the 400-year-old Žametovka vine at the Old Vine House, – listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the ‘oldest vine’– is a must-see for wine lovers. Nearby, tour the 2.2km tunnels in the vast Vinag cellars.

In neighbouring Ptuj, Ptujska Klet produces one million litres annually. Founded by Franciscan monks in 1239, it’s Slovenia’s oldest winery. Its aromatic Pullus Sauvignon won a Gold Medal at DWWA 2023.

Northeast, in Mačkovci, Marof produces the esteemed organic Marof Bodonci Sauvignon Blanc, aged on fine lees for 35 months in 2,500 litre oak barrels.

Posavje

In southeast Slovenia, the Sava Valley runs east towards Croatia. Posavje can be divided into the sub-regions of Dolenjska, Bizeljsko Sremič and Bela Krajina. It is known for Cviček, a curious sour wine made from a mix of reds and whites, but there’s more to Posavje than this.

Near Metlika in Bela Krajina, visit Šuklje to try the summery white Lozice (made from single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc) and flagship red Vrbanjka (made from single-vineyard Blaufränkisch matured in second fill French oak). For sparkling wines, Istenič in Bizeljsko won a Gold Medal at DWWA 2022 with its Prestige Extra Brut 2013, while near Tržišče in Dolenjska, Domaine Slapšak’s Penina range is also worth attention.


Ljubljana Castle

Ljubljana Castle. Credit Andrej Tarfila

My perfect weekend in Ljubljana

Book in at the elegant Grand Hotel Union Eurostars on Miklošičeva Street, near the Triple Bridge.

Friday

If you’re here from May to October, check out Friday’s Open Kitchen street food fair, on the Central Market near the Triple Bridge, with several stalls representing Slovenian wineries. If it’s winter, toast your arrival with a glass of sparkling wine at Vinoteka Movia (run by the wine producer).

Evening

Ride the funicular up to Ljubljana Castle to dine at Strelec (‘archer’) in the 15th-century Archer’s Tower. Opt for the tasting menu with wine pairing.

Saturday

Morning

Take a private guided city tour, to discover the Unesco-listed works of architect Jože Plečnik, including the Triple Bridge, the covered market and Križanke summer theatre.

Afternoon

Stroll up to Ljubljana Castle, set in parkland with tree-lined avenues. On its southern slopes, the castle vineyard grows 1,050 vines, made up of roughly half white (Belpin) and half red (Rdečegrajc). Have lunch at the wine bar in the castle, then head to Tivoli Park to the National Museum of Contemporary History, tracing Slovenia’s past from 1914 up to the present.

Evening

Dine at JB on Miklošičeva Street, then head to Šuklje’s (owned by the wine producer) wine bar for a riverside nightcap.

Sunday

Morning

Drive out of town to the verdant Vipava Valley, one of Slovenia’s loveliest wine regions.

Afternoon

Have lunch at Faladur in Vipava, then visit local wineries Marc, Guerila and Lepa Vida.

Return to Ljubljana for your homeward flight.


Your Slovenia address book

Restaurants

Strelec

Michelin-star fine dining at Ljubljana Castle, with delicacies such as truffles, foie gras and venison.

JB Restaurant

In a building designed by architect Jože Plečnik, chef Janez Bratovž creates elegant dishes highlighting the natural flavours of local ingredients.

Hiša Marica

In Šmartno, in Goriška Brda, enjoy local seasonal specialities, along with the owner’s wines and home-cured pršut (prosciutto).

Faladur

Family-run eatery serving authentic local fair in Vipava and running Vipava Valley wine tastings.

Hiša Franko

In Kobarid in the Soča Valley, cult restaurant Hiša Franko has three Michelin stars and a Green Michelin, plus ten guest rooms.

Accommodation

Grand Hotel Union Eurostars

Big prestigious hotel dating from 1905, near Ljubljana’s Triple Bridge.

Kabaj 

In Šlovrenc in Goriška Brda, this welcoming winery has six cosy rooms, and an excellent restaurant serving its own organic wines – try the superb red Cuvée Morel aged seven years in oak.

Hotel Gredič 

In Ceglo in Goriška Brda, 17th-century Gredič has seven rooms, a fine-dining restaurant and a spectacular wine cellar.

Aldila

Five cosy double rooms in a lovely renovated building in medieval Šmartno in Goriška Brda.

Guerila

This biodynamic winery has three modern self-catering apartments overlooking hillside vineyards in the Vipava Valley.

Wine shops and bars

Vinoteka Movia

Small cosy wine bar below Ljubljana Castle, stocking Movia wines from Goriška Brda along with other outstanding offerings.

Šuklje

Riverside wine bar near Ljubljana’s Triple Bridge. Wine flights and selections by the glass, including the owners’ wines from Bela Krajina, along with platters of Slovenian charcuterie and French cheeses.

Grajska vinoteka

In a vaulted brick space inside Ljubljana Castle, come here for quality Slovenian wines plus snacks.


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