Since Slovakia gained independence in 1993, the last two decades have seen the nation’s wine industry endure a period of changes and rejuvenation. With renewed wine regulations to embrace the European market and a new generation of winemakers, this small-but-diverse wine nation is now producing an exciting array of wines made using international and traditional varieties, waiting to be discovered.
Slovakia as a whole has a typical continental climate with temperature extremes in summer and winter. Due to the nation’s proximity to the northern limit for commercial viticulture (latitude between 48-49°N), the majority of its wine growing regions are located in the warmer southwest and along its southern border, planted with cool-climate grape varieties.
The Small Carpathians (Lesser Carpathians / Malokarpatská)
The Small Carpathians is the oldest wine region in Slovakia, encompassing 12 viticultural areas and 120 viticultural communes. Close to the Austrian border in the southwest, the vineyards are mainly found on the southwest, south and southeast-facing slopes of the Small Carpathians mountain range.
Benefiting from sufficient sunshine, well-drained sandy loam and rocky soils, in addition to abundant aeration, the Small Carpathians region now hosts nearly half of the nation’s wine producers.
A ‘Wine Route’ is drawn by the locals from the capital Bratislava and extends east along the vineyards on the rolling hills, attracting wine lovers to explore the viticultural centre of Slovakia.
Veltlinske Zelené (Grüner Veltliner) is the most widely planted variety here, followed by Rizling Vlašský (Welschriesling). Frankovka Modrá (Blaufränkisch) and Svätovavrinecké (St. Laurent) are among the most important red varieties.
South Slovakia (Južnoslovenská)
Located in the lowlands north of the Danube (which also serves as the Slovak-Hungarian border), the region has eight viticultural areas and 114 villages. Vineyards are found on the clay-rich plains and for the newer plantings, on the loess-rich uplands and alluvial terraces by the riverside.
This is the warmest Slovak region with an effective accumulated temperature (EAT) of over 3400°C during the growing season (higher than all other regions) and 2,200 hours of sunshine per year.
While white grapes such as Veltlinske Zelené and Rizling Vlašský are among the most planted varieties, Frankovka Modrá, Pinot Noir and late-ripening grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon are also cultivated here.
Located east of the Small Carpathians, the Nitra wine region hosts a wealth of diverse microclimates. With nine viticultural areas and 159 wine-planting villages, the vineyards are found on south-facing slopes and plains, featuring varied altitudes, soils and orientations. It’s generally colder in the hilly north and warmer towards the Danube Lowlands in the south.
Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Müller-Thurgau and Frankovka Modrá produced from higher altitudes tend to yield higher levels of acidity. Veltlinske Zelené, Rizling Vlašský and Svätovavrinecké are also widely seen. Thanks to its dry and long autumn, the region also produces ice wine (when frost arrives in time) and straw wines.
Central Slovakia (Stredoslovenská)
With vineyards scattered along the Ipeľ (or Ipoly) river towards the Cerová Highlands, the Central Slovakia wine region includes seven viticultural areas and 107 villages. The region contains diverse terrain and soils: sandstone, loam, clay and volcanic soils in the hilly northwest. The region’s arid and cold climate enables sustainable viticulture. Aromatic whites such as Riesling, Traminer and the indigenous Devín are showing potential.
East Slovakia (Východoslovenská)
Situated along the southeastern border of Slovakia, the Eastern Slovakia region is home to four viticultural areas and 89 wine-planting villages. This is a sunny, dry region with volcanic soils, producing successful wines from the Pinot family. Besides Rizling Vlašský and Müller-Thurgau, red wines made from Frankovka Modrá and the indigenous Dunaj grape are also exciting to explore.
The Slovak Tokaj, which borders its renowned Hungarian counterpart, is small but crucial to the quality claim of Slovak wines. This is a ‘closed’ wine region that requires wines to be made using locally-sourced grapes and bottled within the seven viticultural villages.
As is the case for its Hungarian neighbour, the Slovak Tokaj area is known for its lusciously sweet wines made by infusing base wine with noble rot berries. Warm summers and long, dry autumns combined with morning fogs enable the onset of botrytis.
The local producers learnt from Hungarian production laws and restructured their own regulations in the early 2000s. The Slovak version of ‘Tokajský’ wine is also made mainly from Furmint, Lipovina (Hárslevelű) and Muškát Žltý (Muscat). Three and four Putňový wines (equivalent to ‘Puttonyos’), which are quality grades already abolished in Hungarian Tokaj, are still made here.
Indigenous grapes: Four to know
Alibernet (Oděskij Čornyj)
A cross of red varieties Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon obtained in 1948 by researchers at the Tairov centre in Odessa. Deeply pigmented, it is a late-ripening variety thus more at home in the warmer Slovak regions. When picked at low yields and full ripeness, it produces wines with rich dark fruit flavours, robust tannins and fresh acidity. Barrel ageing helps to tame the harsh tannins.
‘Dunaj’ is the Slovak name for the river Danube. It was created by Slovak researchers Dorota Pospíšilová and Ondrej Korpás in the 1950s (registered in 1997). The scientists bred the variety by first crossing Muscat Bouschet and Blauer Portugieser, then with St. Laurent. It’s relatively resistant to frost, thanks to early bud-break, and it ripens early, therefore it’s believed to be suitable for the cool climate of most Slovak wine regions. Dark in colour, it’s capable of producing wines with plummy dark fruits and structured tannins, suitable for barrel ageing.
A dark-coloured red grape developed by the ŠSV research centre in Velké Pavlovice, Moravia of the Czech Republic. It was named in honour of natural scientist Christian Carl André (1763-1831), who founded one of the world’s first fruit and vine breeding associations in Brno, Moravia. The variety itself is a cross between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. It’s a late-ripening grape and therefore needs sufficient warmth to achieve full ripeness. The wine features black fruit flavours with a herbal hint, high tannins and high acidity. It needs time in the barrel and bottle to smooth out its rough edges.
A white variety widely seen in Slovak wine regions except for Tokaj. It is a cross between Gewürztraminer and Roter Veltliner, developed in 1958 in Bratislava. The grape can accumulate relatively high levels of sugar towards harvest, featuring tropical, exotic fruit flavours and sweet spices.