A Few Days in Slovenia


I was enchanted by my first visit to Slovenia a decade or so ago and had been trying unsuccessfully to return ever since. This is a really beautiful country that also produces some seriously good wines; sadly we do not see nearly enough of them in Ireland. The following is a short(ish) summary of a fairly relaxed three day trip to Stajerska, organized by Sinéad and Liam Cabot, who import most of these wines, and make their own wines there too!


Stajerska is in the south-east corner of Slovenia, a twenty-minute drive from Austria and Hungary, and two minutes from Croatia; the border has a recently erected (very sharp) barbed wire fence running right the way along, although it is now unmanned, as refugees are now stopped at the Macedonian border. The inhabitants would once have considered the city of Graz as their capital rather than Ljubljana, and German is the default language. As mentioned above, this is one of the prettiest wine regions, with rolling green hills covered in vines, forest, fields of pumpkin and maize, dotted with substantial prosperous well-maintained farmhouses, each with its own immaculate kitchen garden. In June, there was still enough rain to keep everything verdant. Apparently it becomes much drier and hotter in August. The hillsides provide some excellent and varied sites to grow vines. The people are very friendly and open. It was a joy to walk around the narrow roads on a bright sunny June morning and very hard to leave. This is part of the Pannonian plain that runs through Eastern Austria and Hungary as well, bringing warm, dry Easterly winds.


The newly fenced border between Croatia and Slovenia

The newly fenced border between Croatia and Slovenia


My fist visit was to Verus, a company set up by three former employees of the local large co-operative winery, which is now privately owned. Danilo makes the wine, Bojo the vineyards and Rajko looks after sales. They set up their winery in a bakery owned by a friend, who was closing it down. Set in an industrial estate on the outskirts of town, it is not the most glamorous winery, but a bakery is temperature-controlled, and therefore perfect for winemaking.


Over the last nine years they have built up relationships with some of the best small growers in the region – ‘mainly friends and relatives and we also own some vineyards now’ says Danilo. These are all small parcels located in the Jeruzalem region. Their Sauvignon Blanc, for instance, comes from twenty different plots. The wines are all white with the exception of a small quantity of Pinot Noir.
The winemaking here is very modern, using inoculated yeasts, almost exclusively stainless steel and minimum contact with the air. ‘The first time our wine meets oxygen is when you pour it into your glass,’ says Danilo, ‘this region gives very nice wines with good aromas and fruit – you don’t want to lose them. Everyone likes to talk about the moon and their machinery, but cleanliness is everything if you are making precise wines.’

I have been a big fan of most of the Verus wines in the past, although sometimes I have found them a little too clean and almost confected. However, on the basis of this tasting, not only are the wines very good, they also age very well too. We tasted an excellent 2012 Chardonnay and a wonderful 2007 Pinot Gris. We also tasted a vastly improving Pinot Noir, an intriguing Gelber Muskateller and a very smart dry Riesling. These guys are making some seriously good wines, well worth seeking out.

Puklavec & Friends

This is the old co-operative that all three Verus guys worked for. It is now privately owned by the Puklavec family who were originally involved in the winery back in the 1930s. It is a large company, producing some 4.5 million litres of wine a year, working with 330 growers. In addition they own 150 hectares of their own vines. The large circular building houses a 367,000 litre tank, surely one of the largest in Europe. They also have an amazing collection of older wines, stretching back to the late 1950’s. Some of these are available for sale – see The 1990 Sauvignon Blanc looked reasonable at €40.95 a bottle, but I am not sure I can afford the 1959 Pinot Grigio for €1,566!

Liam Cabot & Rok Jamnik of Puklavec

Liam Cabot & Rok Jamnik of Puklavec

We were given a tour by Rok Jamnik one of the winemakers. He gave us some very interesting samples from tank, and a great tasting of his sparkling wines (called Penina in Slovenia) from tank and bottle, including a demo of how to disgorge the plug of yeast from a bottle of sparkling wine in a sink. Sadly given the time constraints, we didn’t get to taste their very wide range of wines, but the sparkling wines were very good. Dunnes Stores and Cassidys did stock some wines from Puklavec & Friends, but no longer. Hopefully we will see them again soon in Ireland.



That evening we had a tasting of 25 wines from all over Slovenia, mainly from Stajerska, but including other regions. Also present were two winemakers, Uros Valcl of Marof winery in Prekmurje (north of Stajerska) and Bojan Kobal from the winery of the same name. It really brought home how interesting Slovenian wine can be; lots of skin maceration for white wines, lots of biodynamics in the vineyard, and plenty of wine made with minimal doses of sulphur. Alongside the wines of the two gentlemen above, which were very good, the wines of Dveri Pax, imported by Wines on the Green, excelled. By the way, both of the above are looking for an importer in Ireland at the moment – happy to pass on details to anyone!

The following day we spent in the vineyard or cellar with Sinéad and Liam Cabot. We have known each other for many years, since they first opened their wine shop in the IFSC, but leaving friendship aside, I was seriously impressed by their viticultural knowledge and winemaking skills. They are a dynamic couple, having somehow managed to move from Dublin to Westport, where they run a successful wholesale wine business (with a list packed with goodies – see supplying many of the finer hotels and restaurants in the west, while also buying a house with a hectare of vines in Stajerska. They seem to play tag-winemaking, with one running the business in Mayo while the other prunes vines, and then swopping roles a few weeks later. This while rearing three children! It all seems to work very well, although it has taken them six years to get the vienayrd into shape. The wines we tasted, many their first or second vintage, were very good.Their first vintage was 2011, the first commercial one 2013, and they have made huge strides in 2015.

Sinéad & Liam amongst the vines.

Sinéad & Liam amongst the vines.

Our tasting covered a range of cask/tank samples, as yet unbottled, including two very good 2015 Šipon (Furmint), a lovely Blaufränkisch, and two very good sparkling wines, one a white made from Sipon, the other a red sparkling wine, made from Blaufrankish ! Not being a fan of sparkling red wine, I expected to hate it, but actually it was very good. These guys are friends, but leaving that aside, I genuinely think they are producing some lovely wines.

Tasting chez Cabot

Tasting chez Cabot

Miro Vino

Miro at his winery

Miro at his winery

Miro lives a five minute walk through a pretty little village from Sinéad & Liams house. His vineyards face eastwards, whereas the Cabots look to the west. Miro has been through a lot over the last decade or more since the. At first, with the assistance of an Austrian winemaker, he increased production and began making modern fruit-driven wines. However a bad experience with a major supermarket chain left him badly bruised, so he took stock and these days is more reclusive and thoughtful, with a unique take on life. He has, I think, been a great friend and advisor to Sinéad and Liam.

‘We try to be as friendly as possible to the wine, and it is then as friendly as possible to us’, muses Miro. He uses indigenous yeasts and very little sulphur in his winemaking. We had a delicious dinner (cooked by his wife Slavica) outside the winery, tasting Miro’s wines throughout. All were interesting and most were very good.

Relaxed Miro

Relaxed Miro

We started with his delicious 2015 Sipon, and then the attractive rich, slightly oily but clean 2015 Totovino (Muller-Thurgau & Muscat Ottonel), a very good 2015 Laski Riesling, an excellent 2015 Pinot Blanc (alongside a more difficult version aged in new oak that needed time). To finish, we tried am intriguing 2002 Sauvignon Blanc – still very alive, crisp and very Sauvignon with honey, beeswax and truffle. Finally a glass of the amazing Fuga Mindi, made from every grape variety he grows, with no added yeats, sulphur – ‘no nothing’, says Miro. ‘It is a wine for the next life’. It fermented for seven years (my bottle at home still starts fermenting every now and again) leaving 11g acidity and 80-90g residual sugar.

This part of Slovenia is fascinating, and makes some great wines. If you do get the chance to travel, there I would certainly recommend you take it. If not, the wines below will do nearly as well! We stayed in a very friendly hotel run by several generations of the Hlebec family in the village of Kog. Father Milan Hlebec distills his own brandy known as Kognac!

Milan Hlebec and his (very good) Kognac

Milan Hlebec and his (very good) Kognac

A few wines to try.
Verus Pinot Gris 2015
€20.99 from Cabot and Co, Westport; Grapevine,

A fresh, floral aromatic nose, rich, plump spicy melons on the palate and a lingering finish. Very good wine. Great with smoked salmon according to one of the sommeliers present.

Verus Furmint/ Šipon 2015
€20.99 from Cabot and Co, Westport; Grapevine,

Šipon did not have a great reputation in Slovenia when we first made this wine’, says Danilo, ‘but with our first vintage we had a great success with Jancis Robinson, which made people sit up. If you keep the yields low and make it carefully, you can get very good wine.’ This wine certainly proves the point; less aromatic with green apple skins, a lovely quality of fruit, finishing long and dry. Seriously good wine. The current 2014 is also very good but in a lighter more refreshing style.


Roka Šipon 2015
Arriving in Ireland late August 2016 rrp €15.99
We tried three cuvées of this wine; each made differently, that will be blended together. I have no doubt it will be very good; all showed lovely plump ripe fruit and a very good backbone of acidity.

Roka Laski Riesling 2015 rrp €15.99
A variety widely grown in Austria, Hungary and Slovenia. Laski Riesling is not always given the respect it deserves. We tasted a number of very good examples on our trip, including a deliciously plump fruity version that Sinéad and Liam will release later this year.

Roka Blaufränkisch 2015
Arriving in Ireland late August 2016 rrp €15.99
This was showing a little new oak, which I am sure will fade, with delicious fresh crunchy blue and dark fruits. Light and very moreish.

Liam Tasting

Liam Tasting

Miro Traminec 2013, Stajerska, Slovenia
€22.50 from Cabot and Co, Westport; Grapevine, Dalkey

I don’t often go for Gewürztraminer or its relatives but this is a lovely wine. It has subtle aromas of honeysuckle, and a clean fresh palate, with honeyed ripe peach fruits. A meditation wine, as is the Fuga Mundi below.

Miro Fuga Mundi 2007, Jeruzalem, Stajerska
€43 from Cabot and Co, Westport; Grapevine, Dalkey

This is a intriguing wine in the very best sense, a mix of figs, raisins and tobacco, a true meditation wine to finish an evening off. I have a bottle beside my computer and reward myself with a glass when I finish off an arduous project.!

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Dveri Pax Šipon Ilovic 2011, Stajerska Slovenia
€20.99 from Wines on the Green, Dawson St.

This is a single vineyard wine that provides perfect evidence that Šipon can mature well. Nice aromas of smoke and honey, with a delicious maturing palate of ripe exotic fruits, given real backbone by excellent acidity. Given the quality, very good value for money.

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