Slovenia is a middle-European country that was once part of the former Yugoslavia, whose western Goriška province borders the Friuli region of NE Italy. The border between them runs through a small wine area with a violent history, known to Italians as the Collio and Brda to the Slovenes.
Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this area bore witness to bloody encounters during both world wars. The current border was established at the end of World War Two and remained the frontline during the Cold War that followed.
Those that drew up the border were neither respecters of existing family relationships or property ownership – it frequently runs straight through vineyard holdings. Whereas today you don’t even need to show a passport to cross over, during the Cold War workers were only allowed across a heavily patrolled divide by day and a curfew operated at night. Consequently, the location of the winery dictates whether the wines that come from this area are Italian or Slovene.
In the meantime individual Italian estates were able to develop their winemaking reputations while the Slovenes were forced into collective farming and obscurity. In 1991 Slovenia declared independence and the end of communism. Increasing prosperity and stability were further enhanced by them joining the EU in 2004. Now there are a number of Slovenian winemakers that are becoming known for their stunning artisanal wines
Similar red and white grape varieties are grown on both sides of the border, but reputations on both sides are generally founded on white wine. However, the Slovenian wine style is different because the border has separated winegrowing and winemaking traditions. While there are exceptions to this, the Slovene whites are in general richer, more complex and long-lived compared to their fresher Italian counterparts. A terrific example is Teodor Belo reserve white, made by Marjan and Salko Simčič.
Marjan and Salko (there are other local winegrowers called Simčič) own 16 hectares of vines. As with many of their counterparts, the vineyards straddle the border, with half in Slovenian Goriška Brda and half in Italy’s Collio.
Teodor, like many Slovene whites, is a blend – of 60% Ribolla with 20% Sauvignonasse (aka Friulano) and 20% Pinot Grigio. The grapes are traditionally farmed without modern synthetic chemicals and are late-harvested by hand.
The Simčič wines are also made naturally, without fining or filtering or adding sulphur dioxide before final blending. The white grapes are macerated before fermentation to extract every last bit of flavour and complexity. This extended skin-contact is unusual outside Slovenia and in the wrong hands produces clumsy, heavy wines.
However, Simčič has a modern winery with new technology, so the result is a structured wine of considerable complexity and deep colour but where freshness and drinkability is also retained. A combination of stainless steel and oak casks are employed for fermentation, with maturation of the three base wines on their lees taking 28 months in various woods before final blending and bottling – only 5,133 bottles were made of the 2004 vintage, with bottling in February 2007.
Teodor is a distinctive and terroir driven white wine that is capable of further ageing and is excellent with food. It needs chilling, but 14 degrees C is quite enough – any colder and it won’t reveal all its nuances.
In the glass it’s a deep brassy yellow, flecked with amber. The nose is distinctive and striking, with hints of dried flowers, butterscotch and vanilla.
The palate is Burgundian in texture and elegance – a great compliment. It is very rich, highly extracted and intense, yet balances that with sheer complexity and depth of flavour and just enough fresh acidity. It is creamily textured, with a long dry finish and mineral undertow. Pear and cider-apple fruit suggest a hint of oxidation, while butterscotch, fig and quince jostle for attention. A touch of honey and a tang of peel suggest a very slight influence of botrytis from the vineyard. An Italianate bitter note – probably the influence of Ribolla –makes a final counterpoint.
This is both a stunning and an intellectually interesting wine that also makes a great introduction to Slovenian wine for the uninitiated.
It’s drinking well now but with the capacity for more development over the next five years. Fish dishes or cheese are the obvious matches, but wild mushroom risotto is near perfect.
In the USA, Hi-Time Wine Cellars of Costa Mesa, CA (www.hitimewine.net) stock it for $25.98.