Despite the ever-increasing interest in its output, Slovenia still lacks a nationwide promotional body that is purely focused on wine – the task currently falls to the Slovenian Tourist Board, which tends to focus more on gastronomy. There’s no equivalent to Austria’s peerless Wine Marketing Board, nor directly to Italy’s consorzios or Germany’s VDP. So it’s extremely heartening to see more promotional activity celebrating what should rightfully be regarded as one of Europe’s great wine nations. A recent and promising development has been the inauguration of the Brda International Rebula Masterclass – a day of talks and tastings focused around the Rebula grape variety, which certainly has the longest documented history in the Brda/Collio region, hence the tag-line “Brda home of Rebula”.
The event’s second edition took place in August 2018 at the grand Vila Vipolže, showcasing the wines of 13 participating producers to an impressive group of some 50 international and domestic journalists, sommeliers and wine professionals.
While the selection criteria for the producers was a bit opaque, there was certainly ample variety on hand, from up and coming boutique producers such as Kristian Keber, to well-known names such as Marjan Simčič, Radikon and Gravner, up to the huge Klet Brda cooperative (400 growers, 1000 hectares, 6 million litres produced annually). The inclusion of some producers in the Italian part of Collio (AKA Brda) was very welcome – a sign of the increased recognition that this cross-border region really ought to be treated as a whole, despite the inconvenient national border running through its centre.
Naturally, The Morning Claret was on the hunt for the best macerated examples, as Rebula arguably only comes into its own and shows everything it has to give when the skins are part of the ferment. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to taste through all possible treatments of the variety. Medot showed some well made traditional method sparkling wines, with a base of 60% Rebula plus some international varieties. Several producers showcased fresh, young styles which were often delicious, if rarely scaling the heights. The best of the bunch included Dolfo, Ščurek and Jermann (showing a new wine “Visvik”, made from a vineyard in Slovenia), all managing to extract additional texture and concentration. A couple of producers (Edi Simčič, Klet Brda) focused more on examples swathed in oak. These were the least successful for me, muting Rebula’s already rather neutral, understated fruit and sacrificing freshness as well.
Little needs to be said about the superlative wines from Radikon and Gravner – although it’s worth mentioning that it was a very rare treat to be able to taste Radikon’s 2002 Ribolla Riserva, an extraordinarily youthful wine with 12 months of skin contact, which is sadly (at least for us Europeans) destined only for the Japanese market. Similarly, Gravner’s 2003 Ribolla Riserva is exquisite and quite superb in terms of structure, complexity and freshness.
Three producers offered wines that far outshone my expectations. I’ve always felt that Marjan Simčič‘s Rebulas stood out from the rest of his output, but recently he’s moved from macerating them in open-top wood fermenters to using concrete eggs instead. His just-released Rebula Opoka 2015 (16 days skin maceration) achieved the tricky sleight-of-hand of showing off Rebula’s structured, grippy texture without sacrificing fruit expression. A glorious and elegant effort. The 2014, also fermented in concrete eggs but with only 6 days of maceration, was very nearly as good. By comparison, the Opoka 2012 and 2013 seemed decidedly more rustic and oxidative.
The afore-mentioned Kristian Keber (son of Edi Keber) first came to my notice back in 2014. Keber only makes one wine under his own label, “Brda”, a macerated Rebula from a vineyard on the Slovenian side of the border – whereas his father’s output comes from the Italian Collio. Back in 2014, I wasn’t blown away, but this time Brda 2015 was one of the top wines of the masterclass. With 30 days of maceration, it boasts everything one wants from a skin contact Rebula – satisfyingly chewy but ripe tannins, spine-tingling acidity, spiced apple fruit and a whisp of smoked honey. A wine with real tension, focus and refinement. Kristian also had his 2014 and 2013 on the stand – both were enjoyable wines, but stopped short of the magic of his 2015. I can’t wait to see what Kristian achieves in the next few years – a very promising producer worth watching.
Matjaž Četrtič, a young agronomist turned winemaker producing under the name Ferdinand, showed a wonderful Rebula made with 12 months of maceration before it was racked. Brutus 2015 has a crystalline sense of purity and focus about it, melding formidable structure with hints of dried herbs and apricot. Četrtič has also produced a traditional method Brut Nature in collaboration with Roberto Prinčič (currently director of the Consorzio Collio in Friuli Venezia-Giulia). A truly cross-border wine, made from both Italian and Slovenian grapes, the project was of course undertaken partly to draw attention to the madness of Collio/Brda being split in two. It required mind-boggling levels of administrative trickery, as both winemakers had to form new companies and effectively sell their own fruit to an entity which was allowed to purchase it. Sinefinis Rebolium (as it’s called) is bottled simply as “EU table wine” as there is no legal classification that yet permits a cross-border quality wine. A great awareness-raising initiative, and an enjoyable sparkler to boot.
The Brda event certainly cemented Rebula’s reputation. It also demonstrated great understanding amongst most Slovenian producers that Rebula is primarily about texture and structure – fruit is not its strong suit. Were a similar event to take place in the Italian Collio or neighbouring Colli Orientali, one would be wading through gallons of thin, cold-fermented, anodyne wines where producers try to pretend that Ribolla Gialla can do the same job as Pinot Bianco or Sauvignon Blanc. It cannot and should not.
Disclaimer: Travel and accommodation were offered by the organisers of the event, Brda tourist board