Slovenia may be the only country with love in its name, but when my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a hostelry washing down a piece of old mare with a tough dried out red to the sound of blaring local radio, it was not the most auspicious start to a romantic long weekend in Ljubljana.
Wandering the quaint cobbled streets of the central city we took our chances with this establishment after my first choice of eatery was closed, the second fully booked and the third having next to nothing available from its menu. So we arrived at our final destination famished and toasted our first night out in the Slovenian capital with a malevolent merlot.
At least we had a bottle of wine back at our hotel, which we'd bought on the recommendation of the proprietor of a pleasant wine and food store earlier that day. However, on returning to our lodgings my heart sank with the hiss that accompanied its opening, heralding the fact that our modri pinot (pinot noir) was refermenting in the bottle. After a sniff revealed a bouquet of bad drains, we decided to call it a day on the wine front.
Our first foray into Slovensko vino in the country of its making was doubly disappointing as I'd heard such exciting things about what was happening with its wines. I'd also had the opportunity to try some promising and well priced sauvignon blancs in recent years - which were tipped to start giving our versions a run for their money - and sampled a magnificent biodynamic malvazija from Klinec in Britain just a few days before flying over.
After a spot of sightseeing the following day in this enchanting city, with its eclectic mix of baroque to art nouveau architecture overlooked by a medieval hilltop castle, we were feeling more positively effervescent. So when wine o'clock chimed, I persuaded my partner that there must be good wine for the drinking in a city that's the centre of such a long established winemaking nation.
Wine has been made in the country since pre-Roman times, with Slovenia also boasting the world's oldest vine: a gnarly 400-year-old growing in the city of Maribor. Its wine industry remained intact over the turbulent times of the past century, which saw the country go from being part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, then merged into Yugoslavia, before gaining independence in 1991.
Since going it alone it has started to make wines that have started to turn heads for the right reasons and thankfully on day two of our trip we tracked some down at Dvorni Bar. Here a helpful sommelier took us on a delicious journey of oenological discovery through Slovenia's diverse array of grape varieties that arose in this country at the crossroads of the Slav, Germanic and Latin worlds and bordering on the long established winegrowing nations of Italy, Hungary, Austria and Croatia.
There and in other more wine-focused establishments across the city we sampled fragrant blends of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot - with those of Edi Simcic and the Carolina label from Jakoncic particularly impressive, as well as the local peppery refosk in the red corner.
We enjoyed some distinctive and wonderfully intense whites, which tended to be dry and fuller bodied in style, such as Scurek's "Old Vineyard" blend of rebula, pikolit and pika, and a honeyed and peppery sivi pinot (pinot gris) from Erzetic. Many of the most interesting wines hailed from the Goriska Brda region right on the Italian border.
Our final night found us at a traditional inn, dining on local game and drinking refosk by candlelight. Despite the somewhat unpromising start to our visit, we reflected that we'd been rather beguiled by Ljubljana and won over by the best of Slovenia's wines. It was then that my beau proposed. And I'm happy to report that the wine, the food and I, all rose to this very special occasion.
A NEIGHBOURLY ROMANCE
Sadly I couldn't track down any Slovenian wines in New Zealand, so have recommended some seductive specimens from its neighbour, Italy.
Rivera Rupicolo Castel Del Monte Rosso Doc 2009 $19.99
Mouth-filling and supple black cherry fruit combines with notes of clove and an attractive savoury undertone in this montepulciano-dominant red. (From Glengarry.)
Ca' Morlin Prosecco Frizzante NV $15.99
This light and particularly dry example of one of Italy's most popular sparkling styles - with its fresh notes of pear and grapefruit - has a Kiwi twist, through the involvement of local winemaker, Matt Thompson from Saint Clairand Delta. (From wineimporter.co.nz)
Illuminati Riparosso Montepulciano 2010 $21.90
Another great value montepulciano from this consistently reliable label, boasting succulent berry fruit laced with spice and savoury notes. (From Glengarry.)