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Šipon & Slovenia

Šipon & Slovenia

IMG_2591First 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.

DSCF6718Verus Furmint (Šipon) 2014, Stajerska, Slovenia

Delicious light refreshing wine with plump honey and melon fruits.

Stockists: Cabot and Co, Westport; Grapevine,

Image 1Miro Traminec 2013, Stajerska, Slovenia

Gentle aromas of honeysuckle, dripping with honeyed ripe peach fruits.

Stockists: Cabot and Co, Westport; Grapevine, Dalkey

DSCF6715Dveri Pax Šipon Ilovic 2011, Stajerska Sloven

Aromatic, lightly smoky with delicious maturing exotic fruits, finishing dry.

Stockists: Wines on the Green, Dawson St.

Image 2Bargain Wine
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

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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.!

Image 1
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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Easter Weekend – the wines

It was my birthday on Easter Sunday, so I felt justified in opening up a few nice elderly bottles from my stash.


El Grano Chardonnay 2013, Chile
€15.90 from 64wine, Glasthule; Baggot Street Wines; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Blackrock Cellar; Le Caveau, Kilkenny.

An organic wine made by a Frenchman who set up in the Curico Valley in Chile. Gerard Maguire in 64wine, Glasthule first put me on to this wine. It is a delicious plump Chardonnay, with great purity of fruit and a lovely freshness.

Miro Traminec 2013, Jeruzalem, Slovenia

€20.99 from Cabot & Co., Westport or On the Grapevine, Dalkey.

Miro came over for the Knockranny Wine weekend, and put on a fascinating tasting of his wines. Included was a Traminec, or Gewürztraminer. I am guilty of ignoring this grape, mainly because I grew tired of the overblown aromas, flabby fruit and residual sugar that you so often find. Miro’s version however was lovely; lightly aromatic, spicy nose; soft textured lychees on the palate and good length. A charming wine to sup by itself or I suspect it would go nicely with Chinese or Thai food.


Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut Nature Champagne
Around €60.

We didn’t open up the bottle of Bollinger in the picture above for various reasons. The Brut Nature, has no residual sugar, unlike most Champagnes that have 9-12 g/l. It showed in the bone-dry, austere finish. I loved it, but others were a little less sure. It didn’t stop us polishing off the bottle before dinner though. Light crisp apple and brioche with an elegant bone dry long finish. Nice wine.

Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile 2002, Trimbach, Alsace
The current vintage costs €50 – 60 a bottle.

One of my favourite white wines, and this bottle, the last of a case I bought, was superb. Elegant and restrained, with perfectly mature fruit. Toasty, nutty and honeyed, with plenty of acidity, I could have sipped it all evening. Despite the price (around €50) I still believe this is one of the best value white wines. It is made from several Grand Cru vineyards, and is less expensive and more consistent than most grand cru white Burgundy.


Villa de Corullón 2001, Bierzo
Around €65 a bottle.

This had been stashed away for the best part of a decade. As I had just finished a tasting of Bierzo, I thought it might be nice to try a mature version. It certainly didn’t taste ten years old with sour cherries, plums and a strong mineral streak. Good length. The leftovers were nice the following day too. Nice without every bowling me over.

Ch. Canon 1990, St. Emilion Grand Cru Classé


I bought this around fifteen years ago; elegant and maturing with an attractive leafiness and some restrained plum fruits. It still had some tannins on the finish. Opened out nicely and went very well with my roast pork. Very good rather than excellent.

Ch. Coutet 1989, Barsac

Rich marmalade and honey fruits, with a tangy long sweet finish. Very tasty, lacking the complexity to be really great, but a very nice wine.

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