Slovenian winemakers adore large bottle formats. Go to any major wine tasting around the Adriatic and you’ll see wines being offered from magnum, double-magnum or even jeroboam on occasion. Here’s my theory – the bigger the bottle format, the bigger the ego. And there are some pretty big ones amongst winemakers in this part of the world.
I’ve never seen the Štekars pour from anything other than a standard 75cl bottle, which happily vindicates my personal impression. Janko and his wife Tamara are some of the hardest working, most humble producers in this corner of the wine world. I use the word humble advisedly, because the wines are excellent.
Almost 18 months after discovering Štekar’s serious, spicy and brooding Rebula at Rawfair in 2013, The Morning Claret made it out to their beautiful corner of Brda (Western Slovenia) on a glorious autumnal evening. The roads wind in and out of neighbouring Friuli Collio with barely a battered sign to remind you that this was once a much disputed national border. Janko joked “I was born Yugoslav, my grandfather Italian and my children Slovenian – even though we all grew up in the same house!”.
Štekar make a wide range of skin macerated wines, in addition to a couple of delicious, conventional white wines offered to guests at their delightful B&B, or anyone else not ready for full-on orange action. The Rebula has impressed me year in, year out, but there’s a more unique offering – a macerated Riesling.
Riesling has such a distinctive character, I find it hard to love if muted even by malolactic fermentation, let alone a great big whack of skin contact. But somehow Štekar has managed to make it work.
Re Piko is a blend of mostly Riesling with a lick of Picolit. Both the 2007 and the 2009 vintages have an elegant, full bodied texture, with baked apple and pear fruit. 2009 is richer and riper, but still with that seam of refreshing Riesling acidity running through it. 25 days of skin contact (and certainly malolactic fermentation too) has produced something that might not be recognisable to a producer in the Mosel, but that nevertheless retains the liveliness and elegance of a very fine Riesling.
As we discussed the commercial aspect of selling these wines, Janko confided “At some point, you have to decide if you’re going to make wine for people who like what you like, or whether just to make what the market wants”. Janko has clearly decided for the former. And if that sounds like idealism, that’s because it is.
The top priority for the Štekars is to have a sustainable, holistic way of life, so their small organic estate also produces fruit, vegetables, herbs, schnapps and almost everything else they need. At breakfast, an unbelievable amount of the ingredients had travelled only metres to our table.
At least some of the 20,000 bottles produced each year travel a little further – there are clearly enough people out there who like what Janko likes, without needing to be impressed by a grand format.