In November 2018, I took a small group of wine lovers on a tour to visit some of my favourite producers in Slovenia, Friuli and (briefly) in Croatian Istria. The tour idea came about thanks to the suggestion of Andrew Villone, an American living in Slovenia who organises culinary and wine tours under the name Savor the Experience. It’s a tried and trusted concept for wine regions in other parts of the world, such as Bordeaux, Piedmont or Napa, but there was clearly a gap when it came to the Adriatic.
Our concept was to immerse connoisseurs/geeks into the world of artisan wine-making, getting up close and personal with small producers and providing a highly specialised, concentrated itinerary of the sort that is normally only available to wine professionals. Leading a tour was a new experience for me, and a highly pleasurable one – introducing guests to a part of the world that I adore, and answering their many questions on the wines, the people, the history and the culture.
As the tour was in its first year, the group was small. Some potential participants were put off by the idea of visiting (south)eastern Europe in the first week of November, fearing terrible weather. Slovenia proved their fears unwarranted! (See photos above and below). Our guests were impressively knowledgeable, and I was quizzed daily on everything from the finer points of malolactic fermentation in orange wines, to the historical minutiae of the region.
We got excellent and valuable feedback from our guests, and based on their comments we’ve put together an even more killer tour for 2019. It takes place slightly earlier, between October 24th – October 30th and is open for booking now. Full details are here.
To whet your appetite, below are some photos and highlights from 2018 – with thanks to Andrew who took most of the photos.
Amphorae are becoming almost ubiquitous in quality wineries – but I hadn’t seen Serbian amphorae before! These are installed at the fancy new winery of Guerila, one of the most enjoyable visits we had on the trip.
The view from Guerila’s den is pretty spectacular. . .
Here seen with their rather James Bondesque winery building in shot.
Not only does Benjamin Zidarich make wonderful skin-contact Vitovska, he also has a seriously impressive cellar which took the best part of a decade to carve out from the Karst limestone rock.
We spent an atmospheric evening in the beautiful walled city of Motovun (Istria, Croatia), following a tasting at the nearby Benvenuti winery.
Winemaker Andrej Cep cooked us this delicious wild boar pasta at his winery and restaurant Gordia, situated on Slovenia’s Adriatic coast, looking across the water to Trieste. It was wonderfully paired with his Merlot.
He was lucky we had big appetites – our tasting before lunch was accompanied by a serious platter of porky goodness.
We tasted some new vintages of his excellent orange wines from barrel…
And also from Andrej’s growing family of qvevris. His qvevri wines, like those of Renčel, are a revelation – so much fresher, and more expressive than the equivalent wines aged in wood.
Tasting with Josko Renčel and his son-in-law Ziga is always an experience – again, the qvevri wine was a triumph, and the late-harvest sweet wines (going back to the 1990s) were quite unique.
Primož Lavrenčič (Burja) has also built a new winery and tasting room. His Zelen (a variety found only in the Vipava valley) impressed everyone, aromatic and lively and with a mere 10.5% alcohol.
Dan takes his post-prandial grappa/schnapps tasting in the impressive wine cellar at Majerija very seriously.
Everyone was wowed by Kristina Mervic’s delicious orange wines – and by her lively spirit! JNK (the name comes from a famiy nickname, and is pronounced “yunk”) was a true highlight, and one of the most intimate tastings we had during the week.
Kristina’s glassware makes this winemaking malarky look deceptively simple!
It was late, and a wonderful dinner awaited us at Klinec winery & restaurant – but winemaker and owner Aleks Klinec had us enthralled during the cellar visit, as did his wines.
He was also kind enough to pose for one of my shameless promotional shots.
Showmanship runs through everything at Movia but the wines are what impressed the most.
Looks like Laura and Janet like the wine too!
We dropped by Gravner, where Josko’s grandson Gregor was kind enough to give us a tour of the qvevri cellar.
The latest development at Gravner is the installation of an outdoor qvevri “cellar” – with qvevris under the stars, as they often were traditionally in Georgia. Here we see a batch of new qvevris ready to be buried in the ground.
Day trip to Friuli Colli Orientali, Italy – this is the beautiful Cialla valley, and the vineyards of Ronchi di Cialla.
Tasting at Ronchi di Cialla is a bit like time travel. If you’re lucky you might get a try a wine that was made before you were born. All of these bottles were studies in elegance and restraint – some of the most peerless Schioppettino there is.
Ivan Rapuzzi takes us through the tasting. His mum is an essential component of any visit to Ronchi di Cialla. She’s always welcoming, and impeccably turned out.
Another gorgeous day, in the vineyards at Draga Miklus winery, San Floriano del Collio.
Mitja Miklus with his excellent “natural art” macerated wines, and some book about orange wines that we found at the winery . . .
Mitja gives a quick battonage 101 in the cellar at Draga-Miklus.
It goes without saying that we enjoyed many exceptional meals. Cuisine in Friuli and Slovenia tends to be more on the rustic and hearty side, but restaurants such as La Subida, Majerija and Gostilna Theodosius elevate the region’s traditional dishes to a fine dining experience.