Showing posts with label slovenia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label slovenia. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The wines of Slovenian producer Kabaj: intertwining modernity with tradition

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to Port4lio at the historic Fort Mason firehouse in San Francisco, an annual tasting event featuring wines imported by Blue Danube Wine Company, Return to Terroir, and Vinos Unico. This year, the event prominently featured French winemaker Jean-Michel Morel presenting his Slovenian wines for the first time in the US.

Jean-Michel Morel of Kabaj winery

With his wife Katja Kabaj, Jean-Michel Morel is the owner of Kabaj, a winery located in Goriška Brda, a wine-growing region in western Slovenia, near the Italian border. It was one of the first regions in Slovenia to establish an international reputation for the quality of its wines. Thanks to the Adriatic sea, the area enjoys a Mediterranean climate with constant dry winds called "Bura" that reduces the need for fungicides and pesticides. The soil is principally composed of ocean sediment and is rich in marlstone, slate claystone, and limestone.

The Kabaj family has farmed vineyards in Goriška Brda for generations and used to sell their grapes to the Yugoslav state. But in the early 1990s, Katja Kabaj and Jean-Michel Morel decided to release their own wines under the Kabaj family name. They own 55,000 vines farmed sustainably and fertilized with horse manure, 70% of which are white varieties, including indigenous Rebula (Ribolla Gialla), Sauvignonasse (Tokai Fruilano), and Malvasia Istriana. Red grape varieties are also grown, mostly Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The winery has a modern cellar built a few years ago.

I tasted the folowing wines:

• 2008 Kabaj Sivi Pinot: 100% Pinot Grigio, aged 12 months in French oak barrel, followed by 4 months in bottle. Yellow color, floral acacia nose, medium bodied on the palate, less acidic than a Italian Pinot Grigio.

• 2008 Kabaj Ravan: 100% Tokai Fruilano also known as Sauvignon Vert or Sauvignonasse, a grape variety believed to have originated in the Veneto region. Aged 12 months in French oak barrel, followed by 4 months in bottle. Yellow color, floral nose, soft on the palate with fresh peach aromas.

• 2008 Kabaj Rebula: 100% Ribolla Gialla, a white grape variety mostly found in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region of northeast Italy and in Slovenia where it has been grown since the 13th century. The wine is fermented on the skins for 30 days then aged 12 months in French oak barrel, followed by 4 months in bottle. Golden color, aromatic nose of herbs and mineral notes. Quite spicy and complex on the palate. My favorite among the whites.

• 2006 Kabaj Cuvée Morel: 60% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot. Aged 36 months in French oak barrels then 4 months in bottles. Dark garnet color, nose of dry herbs, medium-bodied, some tannins on the palate, needs to open up.

• 2007 Kabaj Merlot: 100% Merlot. Aged 24 months in French oak barrels then 4 months in bottles. Dark color, aromatic nose, aromas of blackberries and cherries, medium-bodied, quite dry with some tannins. Not jammy at all but more fruity than the Cuvée Morel, very food friendly.

The last 3 wines of the tasting were the most interesting and intriguing. They were vinified and aged in 3000 liter clay jars buried underground called kvevri, using ancient Georgian winemaking practices. After being aged in the jars for 10 months on the skins, the wine goes without the skins into oak barrels for 12 months and aged for 12 additional months in bottle. During aging, 25% of the wine is usually lost to evaporation.

• 2005 Kabaj Amfora: dark yellow color, floral nose, concentrated and tight on the palate, not really fruity, rather spicy and quite complex.

• 2006 Kabaj Amfora: much more open than the 2005. Nice floral nose and additional notes of peach and apricots. Quite distinguished and really delicious.

• 2007 Kabaj Amfora: more austere than the 2006, similar in style to the 2005.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

A hearty Sauerkraut with some wines from Eastern Europe

A little while ago, we had a small gathering at my house to taste some Eastern European wines around a sauerkraut dish cooked with carrots, onions, apples, riesling, and juniper berries, and accompanied by braised pork chops, sausages, and potatoes. Most of our wines came from Austria, a major producer of aromatic dry white wines made mostly from the local Grüner Veltliner grape, although red wine production accounts for 30% of all Austrian wines. We also had a red wine from Slovenia, a country that has been producing wine since the time of the prehistoric Celts. Finally, we ended that excellent evening with a Tokay from Hungary, a wine that is believed to be the world's oldest botrytis wine.

We had our first wine, the 2008 Bäuerl Stein am Rain Grüner Veltliner Federspiel with an appetizer of hungarian peppers. Grüner Veltliner is the most widely planted grape variety in Austria. Grüner means green in German as the grape tends to produce fresh and youthful wines. It grows well along the Danube river on steep, rocky river banks, as steep as those found in the Mosel wine region.

Weingut Bäuerl is located in the Wachau, the part of the Danube valley between the village of Melks and Krems and one of Austria's westernmost wine-growing regions. The estate grows only white varieties: Grüner Veltliner (55%), Riesling (35%) and Muskateller (10%), and practices organic and sustainable viticulture. My notes: medium golden color, nose of green apple, pear, and honey. On the palate, smooth, juicy, and quite mineral. Good finish, nice appetite opener.

Hungarian Peppers

The next two wines were served with the sauerkraut. We started with the 2008 Heidi Schröck Ruster Furmint. Furmint is most widely grown in Hungary and is the main grape variety of Tokay, Hungary's famous dessert wine. It is also found in Austria's Burgenland, near the Hungarian border.

Heidi Schröck is a small 8 hectare estate located in Rust, Burgenland, on the west side of Neusiedlersee. Neusiedlersee or Lake Neusiedl is the second largest steppe lake in Central Europe at the border of Austria and Hungary. The lake stores heat and regulates the region's climate. Thanks to warm and humid autumns, it also provides the best conditions for the production of botrytized dessert wines. My notes: this Furmint is actually completely dry. The wine is crisp, mineral with aromas of ripe apple and spices. Very distinctive and quite popular with the dinner guests.

Also with the sauerkraut, we also tasted the 2007 Salomon Undhof Kögl Riesling. Founded in 1792, Salomon Undhof is a Wachau estate that produces white wines from the best terraced sites along the Danube River. The 25 hectares of Salomon Undhof's vineyards are planted with roughly half Riesling, half Grüner Veltliner. All the grapes are harvested traditionally by hand. Undhof Kögl is a south facing terraced single vineyard with highly weathered soil of crystalline schist bedrock. My notes: light color, acacia flowers, stone fruits on the nose. Dry, slightly fizzy on the palate, fresh and crisp with citrus flavors and spices on the finish. I thought it worked really well with the sauerkraut.

Our Sauerkraut

We had the next two reds with cheese and a berry pie. Our first red was the 2004 Wenzel Bandkraften Blaufränkisch. Weingut Wenzel is located in the Neusiedlersee-Hügelland wine-growing region. 60% of the 11 hectare vineyard is planted with the white varieties Furmint, Gelber Muskateller, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Welschriesling, the remaining 40% is planted with the red varieties Blaufränkisch, Pinot Noir, and Merlot. Blaufränkisch is the second most important red grape variety in Austria after Zweigelt. It produces spicy wines rich in tannins. My notes: medium red color. Mocha and vanilla aromas on the nose. Full-bodiedood with wood and black cherry on the palate. Not as easy to drink as the next wine.

Our second red was the 2007 Santomas Big Red Refosk. Located in the village of Smarje in Slovenian Istria, just southeast of Trieste, Santomas is a family-owned winery overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The area is the warmest wine region in Slovenia so the local wine production is mostly red. The winery currently farms 19 hectares of vineyards planted with traditional varieties like Refosco and Istrian Malvasia, as well as international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Refosco is a Northern Italian red grape variety that mostly grows in Friuli, Gavi, and Trentino. In Slovenian Istria, it is also known as Refosk. The grape produce deep colored wines that can be quite powerful and tannic. My notes: dark purple color. Smoky nose with black cherry and blackberry aromas. Fruity with bright acidity on the palate. Quite popular with the cheese.

Our last wine was the 2001 Hétszölö Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos. The Tokaji wine region, in northeastern Hungary, is characterized by long, warm autumns and misty mornings that favor the development of noble rot. The botrytis-infected grapes called Aszú are harvested manually, one grape at a time. They are then crushed and added to a dry base wine. The proportion of Aszú grapes added to the base wine is measured in puttonyos or baskets. One puttony represents 30 kilos of grapes that are poured into a traditional 126 liter barrel of base wine. The number of puttonyos can vary from 3 to 6 (the highest being the sweetest). The wine is then aged for three years in oak barrels stored in underground cellars. My notes: the Aszú 5 Puttonyos is 90 to 100% Furmint and has a minimum of 120 g/l of residual sugar. Deep golden color. Fresh, fragrant nose of apricot and tropical fruit. On the palate, unctuous texture with lively acidity, zesty kumquat notes on the finish.

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Tasting the Slovenian wines of Santomas at Albona with Winemaker Tamara Glavina

As most Soccer fans have learned, Slovenia is barely the size of Houston and was the smallest of the 32 nations that participated in the 2010 World Cup tournament. Nonetheless, its wine industry is one of the most advanced of the former Yugoslav republics. So I felt very lucky when I got invited by Frank Dietrich and Zsuzsanna Molnar of Blue Danube Wine to a Winemaker Dinner featuring the wines of the Slovenian winery Santomas at Albona Restaurant in San Francisco.

The Santomas winery is located in the coastal town of Kopler, on the Slovenian side of the Istrian peninsula. The Glavina family has been cultivated vines and olives for 200 years and over time, has expanded the estate to almost 50 acres of vineyards and 7,5 acres of olive orchards. Nowadays, the winery consists of a modern wine cellar, a tasting room, and a wine laboratory.

The current production is 70% Refošk or Refosco, a local varietal that also grows in Italy and Croatia and can produce tannic and powerful wines, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, and 10% Malvasia, an ancient grape of Greek origin that is found throughout the Mediterranean.

The winemaker dinner was at Albona Restaurant in San Francisco's North Beach district, the only Istrian restaurant on the West Coast. The Istrian cuisine has been uniquely influenced by Italians, Austrians, Hungarians, Slavs, Spaniards, French, Jews, Greeks, and Turks and thus combines classic Italian dishes with ingredients like cumin, sauerkraut, and strudels.

For the occasion, owner Michael Bruno had assembled a 4 course menu showcasing Istria's flavorful cuisine, and paired with 4 wines presented by Santomas Winemaker Tamara Glavina.

1st Course: Minestre de asparaghi (Puree of asparagus soup thickened with Yukon Gold potatoes)

The asparagus soup was paired with a 2008 Santomas Malvasia: the Malvasia vines grow on white soils that are hard to work on and thus require a lot of manual work. The harvest is manual. About 10% of the wine was aged in oak and rested on lees for additional body. My notes: golden color, aromatic nose of acacia blossom and citrus, fresh and slightly oily on the palate, dried herbs on the finish. The soup was really delicious and I loved the wine too!

2nd Course: Chifeleti de mia nona con sugo de carne al cumin (Grandmother's specialty: pan-fried potato gnocchi in a brown sirloin sauce laced with cumin)

The gnocchi dish was paired with a 2008 Santomas Cabernet Sauvignon: manual harvest, made with no oak. My notes: attractive raspberry nose, smooth mouthfeel, soft tannins, spicy on the palate, good acidity, worked very well with the meaty sauce and the subtle notes of cumin.

3rd Course: Involtin de porco con capuzi garbi e prosuto (Pork loin stuffed with sauerkraut, apples, and plums served with red cabbage sauté)

With the pork loin, we tasted the 2003 Santomas Big Red Grande Cuvée: the Grande Cuvée is Santomas's age-worthy premium blend made primarily from Refosco. Refosco is difficult to grow and historically vines were trained in a pergola style to optimize yields. Santomas moved to a guyot vine training system to reduce yields to 3000 l/ha. The wine is unfiltered, unfined. My notes: dark color, rich aromas, spicy, peppery on the palate, notes of garrigue on the finish. An excellent match for the apples, plums, and sauerkraut filling.

Dessert: Sorbetto (Housemade raspberry sorbet)

With the sorbet we were served a glass of 2007 Santomas Late Harvest Malvasia Invasia. Sadly, 2007 was the last year the winery produced a Late Harvest Malvasia. My notes: light golden color, fresh floral nose, with sweet apple aromas, light-bodied, semi-sweet on the palate, expressive, not cloying at all.

Winemaker Tamara Glavina introducing the 2007 Late Harvest Malvasia

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The wines of Slovenia

Last Monday, I had the unique opportunity to taste some Slovanian wines with Frank Dietrich of the Blue Danube Wine Company. Founded in 2002, The Blue Danube Wine Company imports and distributes Central European wines to the U.S. market including wines from Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro, and Slovenia.

Vineyard in the Vipava Valley, Slovenia

Slovenia, which has a rich wine heritage and centuries of winemaking traditions is just emerging on the international wine scene, having modernised its vineyards and improved its winemaking practices. It is a small country (only about 300 kilometers across) with a diverse geography, a wide variety of climates, and three main wine producing regions. Primorje, derived from the Slovene by the sea, is Slovenia's most widely known wine region. It borders Italy's Friuli-Venezia-Giulia with a small part being actually on the Adriatic coast. The region enjoys a Mediterranean climate with warm summers. Posavje or the valley of the Sava River is closer to the Croatian border and has a continental climate. Podravje or the valley of the Drava river is Slovenia's largest wine-growing region. It is located on the northeastern corner of Slovenia, bordering Austria, Hungary, and Croatia, With a mixed Alpine-continental climate, the region's wine production is mostly white.

Slovenia's wine growing regions

The tasting was at the CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco, a warm and homey place next to Zuni Cafe on Market Street. CAV Wine Director and Owner Pamela Busch features flights of Slovenian wines from Blue Danube this all week and will be hosting a special tasting event with Blue Danube and Emil Gaspari of Slovenia Premium Wines this Saturday, January 17.

We started with CAV's Slovenia flight, 2 whites and 2 reds and then tasted two additional reds that Franck had brought specially for me to try: a 1999 Merlot and a small production Gamay.

The wines we tasted:

• 2007 Crnko Renski Rizling: located a few miles from the city of Maribor in the Podravje region, the Crnko winery is a small estate of only five and a half hectares spread over two vineyards. The wine is 100% Riesling. My notes: floral nose with a touch of petrol; on the palate, dry to medium dry, fresh, light, and lively, low in alcohol (10%). The wine should go well with a light Crab Salad

• 2004 Batic Pinela: Batic is a family-run farm and winery located in the Vipava valley, only 15 miles from the Italian border. The winery takes an organic approach to wine production. Pinela is a rare white variety native to the Primorje region. My notes: aged in barrique, fragrant nose of exotic fruit, pineapple; on the palate, medium to full-bodied, slightly oily mouthfeel, distinctive, more alcohol than the Riesling (14%).

• 2006 Santomas Big Red: The Santomas winery sits on a hillside overlooking the Adriatic Sea, just southeast of Trieste. Taking full advantage of the warm Mediterranean climate, the winery specializes in red wines. The wine is made from the Refosk grape, also known as Refosco, a varietal native to the northern Italian areas of Friuli, Gavi, and Trentino. My notes: lots of fruit on the nose with notes of vanilla, round on the palate, well-structured, good acidity, slightly rustic. Should work well with a tomato and mushroom dish like this Pasta with Sausage, Tomatoes, and Mushrooms dish.

• 2006 Batic Cabernet Franc: another organically grown wine from the Batic winery of Vipava Valley. The wine was fermented using native yeast and was aged 12 months in Slovenian oak barrels and another six months in the bottle. My notes: black fruits on the nose, full-bodied on the palate with firm tannins, still young but tasty. Try it with Grilled Marinated Steaks.

• 1999 Kocijancic-Zanut Merlot Brjac: Kmetija Kocijancic-Zanut is a winery located in the Brda appellation, which means hills in Slovene. This is a region of rounded hills in the western part of the country bordering Italy. The wine was aged 4 months in stainless steel tanks, then transferred to French oak barrels for 4 years, and then aged in the bottle for an additional six months. My notes: nose of black fruit with gamey flavors, rather smooth on the palate, long finish. It's a wine that calls for venison dishes, like this Slovenian Venison Stew.

• 2001 Graben Gamay: Vino Graben is a winery located in the Bizeljsko-Sremic district of the Posavje wine region. It lies on the northern bank of the Sava River, close to the Croatian border. Gamay is a grape that have been introduced to Slovenia from France and is not widely used in the country. Vino Graben makes some Gamay with microproduction quantities. My notes: flavors reminiscent of rose water flavored marshmallow, light bodied and rather dry on the palate, very unusual.

What an enlightening tasting and a wonderful evening! And if you're in the area, don't miss A Slovenian Wine Extravaganza at CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen this Saturday, January 17.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

From Slovenia: the 2004 Movia Ribolla

I wanted to try this wine because I remembered the excellent 2004 Movia Tocaj Gredic that I had last year at my Wines of Germany and Eastern Europe class.

The producer is the Movia Estate, one of the largest wineries in Slovenia's Brda region. The estate is made of fifteen hectares of vineyards, including seven right across the border, in Italy's Collio region (Brda is the Slovenian name for Collio and means hills). Movia has been an independent winery since 1820 and the winery owner, Ales Kristancic, was among the first winegrowers in the area to market their wines under their own brand name.

What Ales Kristancic is looking for is a complete fusion between wine, land and people. He farms his vineyard using biodynamic methods and ages his white wines in Slovenian oak casks, leaving them on the lees without stirring for more than two years. The 2004 Movia Ribolla is 100% Ribolla Gialla, one of the major indigenous white grapes from Italy's Friuli region. The name Ribolla may come from the word re-boil in Italian because the grape tends to re-ferment in spring when it gets warmer. Gialla simply means yellow. The grape is also known as Rebula on the Slovenia side.

The wine had a bright golden color. The nose was attractive with stone fruit aromas. The palate was round with some weight and subdued flavors of apple and pear. But I have to say that I was slightly disappointed by the wine. I was expecting much more acidity and fresher flavors. Maybe it was too much oak, maybe too much lees. Who knows?

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