First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 16th July, 2016
The south-east corner of Slovenia is one of the prettiest wine regions I have ever visited; 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. The hills 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. The default language is German. We are a twenty-minute drive from Austria and Hungary, and two minutes from Croatia; the recently erected barbed wire fence along the border lies unmanned, as the politics of refugee’s changes. In the past, the people of this area would have considered the city of Graz as their capital rather than Ljubljana.
The names are long and a bit confusing. The three main towns are Ljutomer (remember Lutomer Riesling?), Jeruzalem and Ormož. They tried calling their wine Jeruzalem, but people thought it was Israeli. Today most of the wines are labeled Štajerska, Slovenian for Styria, a much larger region. Grape varieties do not respect political borders. Many of those grown here can also be found in the neighboring countries. The majority of wines are white, although Blaufränkisch is growing in popularity and can be very good.
Šipon (pronounced Sheepon or Shipon) is better known by its Hungarian name, Furmint. It deserves far greater recognition as one of the world’s great grape varieties, responsible for Hungary’s glorious sweet Tokaji, as well as some delicious dry white wines in Austria and Slovenia as well as Hungary. Under other names, you will also find it in Croatia, Romania, and Slovakia. Mitchell & Son even have a (very good) sparkling Furmint from Ch. Dereszla in Tokaji. Dry Furmint is lightly aromatic, with wonderful bracing acidity, and attractive fruits whose flavours I find difficult to describe. It can take a bit of oak ageing, and matures very well too. It certainly goes very well with the pork dishes popular in this part of Slovenia.
I tend to run away from Gewürztraminer most of the time; it takes a skilled winemaker to balance the rich exotic honey-laden aromas and fruit with the all-important balancing acidity. The Traminer grape is a forbearer of Gewürz. Less aromatic, with succulent fruits and a lively acidity, the wines are worth looking out for, especially the Miro below. The western part of Slovenia also produces some fascinating, but very different wines, often with a distinctly Italian style. Sadly very few are available here for the moment. Slovenia is not a big producer, and their wines are in demand locally, so prices are rarely cheap. They do however offer very good value.
Verus Furmint (Šipon) 2014, Stajerska, Slovenia
Delicious light refreshing wine with plump honey and melon fruits.
Stockists: Cabot and Co, Westport cabotandco.ie; Grapevine, onthegrapevine.ie
Miro Traminec 2013, Stajerska, Slovenia
Gentle aromas of honeysuckle, dripping with honeyed ripe peach fruits.
Stockists: Cabot and Co, Westport www.cabotandco.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey www.onthegrapevine.ie
Dveri Pax Šipon Ilovic 2011, Stajerska Slovenia
Aromatic, lightly smoky with delicious maturing exotic fruits, finishing dry.
Stockists: Wines on the Green, Dawson St.
1139 Dveri Pax 2015, Stajerska, Slovenia
A blend of four grapes come together to produce a vibrant fruit-filled wine. Perfect summer drinking.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer