At the 22nd Slovenian Wine Festival, we taste all of Slovenia’s top-rated wines and get a good insight into the country’s native varieties. Also featuring an interview with Sommelier & Vice President of the Slovenian Sommelier Association, Valentin Bufolin.
Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the 22nd Slovenian Wine Festival at Cankar Centre (Cankarjev dom) in Ljubljana. As usual, the hall was filled with wine enthusiasts, which this year amounted to more than 2,500 visitors spread over the two days of the festival. This is indeed Slovenia’s largest wine festival.
160 winemakers offered over 550 wine samples. Such a large variety of wines were available from within the main reception hall and four wine salons: the Modra Frankinja Salon, the Italian Wines Salon, the Mabat Salon (Mabat is a distributor of imported spirits, and Slovenian and foreign wines), and the Lidl Young Winemakers Salon.
Wine Notes From a Slovenian Sommelier
Attendees at the festival could also take part in seven workshops that were guided by renowned sommeliers and oenologists. I would have liked to attend the workshops, but the spaces were taken up by the time I placed my booking.
Thankfully, I got to speak with the renowned sommelier, Valentin Bufolin, who is also Vice President for the Slovenian Sommelier Association (Sommelier Slovenije). He led two very important workshops: one that focussed on the festival’s top-rated wines, and the other on Slovenia’s indigenous grape varieties.
I’ll shortly share my interview with Mr Bufolin in which he reveals what goes into selecting the festival’s winning wines. We also discuss Slovenia’s great native wine varieties that Slovenian winemakers are now paying more attention to than ever before.
But first, let’s see which are the 12 winning wines of the 22nd Slovenian Wine Festival:
White Sparkling Wines
- First place: Istenič d.o.o – Prestige Extra Brut 2013;
- Second place: Radgonske Gorice – Zlata (Gold) Radgonska Penina Selection Brut 2016
- Third place: Radgonske Gorice – Zlata Radgonska Penina Suho (Dry) 2016
Rosé Sparkling Wines
- First place: Istenič – Gourmet Rose Brut, 2015;
- Second place: Vino Kozinc – Joker Zara 2016
- Third place: Radgonske Gorice – Zlata Radgonska Penina Rosé Suho 2017
- First place: Marjan Jelenič – Jelenič Wines – Chardonnay 2015
- Second place: Joannes Protner – Renski Rizling 2010
- Third place: Vipava 1894 – Chardonnay Lanthieri 2017
- First place: Ferjančič – Fino Rdeče 2015
- Second place: Moro – Moro Margherita 2009
- Third place: Štokelj – Planta Rdeča 2016
Interview with Sommelier & Vice President of the Slovenian Sommelier Association, Valentin Bufolin
“Indigenous grape varieties offer a broader aspect to Slovenia’s wine culture and heritage”
– Valentin Bufolin
(Above photo of Valentin Bufolin by Klemen Razinger)
Wine Dine Slovenia: You led two workshops at the 22nd Slovenian Wine Festival. One centred on the top-rated wines at the festival, and the other about Slovenia’s indigenous grape varieties. What were the highlights for each workshop?
Valentin Bufolin: Attendees at the workshop on the festival’s top-rated wines could get an insight into the judging process for selecting the 12 winning wines of the 22nd Slovenian Wine Festival. We also went through the judges’ viewpoints on the wines and the olfactory sensations given off by each of the wines. I co-hosted this workshop with Prof. Dr Tatjana Košmerl, one of Slovenia’s greatest authorities on wine, and president of the Slovenian Wine Festival’s wine competition.
With the workshop on Slovenia’s indigenous grape varieties, I wanted to present the varieties that are less known among wine enthusiasts. Visitors at the workshop could taste wines produced from Ranina, Rumeni Plavec, Pinela, Zelén, Rebula, Šipon, Portugalka, Modra Frankinja, Barbera, and Refošk. On the other hand, I wanted to raise awareness of the fact that there’s a thin border between indigenous grape varieties and traditional grape varieties. Even though certain varieties—like Refošk, Malvazija, and Rebula—have yet to be proven to be indigenous, the media, some acclaimed publications, and even our law, still sometimes refer to them as indigenous.
What’s involved in the judging process for selecting the winning wines at the Slovenian Wine Festival?
The judging process is similar to other wine competitions, using the 100-point scale. Seven judges evaluated a total of 119 wine samples, 13 of which were sparkling, 6 rosé, 58 white, and 36 red wines. There were also three wines with residual sugar and three rosé wines. The number of wines that competed this year was higher than last year where 109 samples competed. Moreover, this year’s average score of 83,8 was higher than last year’s by 2,23 points.
What makes the chosen wines so special?
These 12 winning wines stand out because of their visual and olfactory qualities, and truly represent the very best one would look for in their categories.
Are there any winning wines with great ageing potential?
Absolutely! Apart from the ‘fresh’ winning wines that are best enjoyed now, there are also quite a few full-bodied ones, many of which have been matured in oak barrels. Such as Jelenič’s Chardonnay 2015 that won first place in the White Wines category, and Vipava 1894’s Chardonnay Lanthieri 2017, which has fruitier aromas with less wood impact. Very often, producers will know when their wines have winning potential. Such was the case with Joannes Protner’s Renski Rizling 2010 which came in second.
With regard to red wines, Ferjančič’s Fino Rdeče 2015 and Štokelj’s Planta Rdeča 2016 can both be aged even further. Moro’s Margherita 2009, however, is best enjoyed now.
When looking at ageing potential, we often forget about sparkling wines. Given their higher acidity content and Co2, they’re naturally gifted for maturation. All six winning sparkling wines are vintage wines that can be enjoyed now. Or they can also be laid to rest and consumed later.
You’re a wine aficionado of course, but also a great gourmet. What advice would you give to those looking to pair food with wines?
There are many parameters to consider when looking at food and wine pairing. I can definitely advise you to look at the intensity of flavour in a dish and then look for an optimal wine match. During these festive days, I’ll be enjoying some sea bass carpaccio while sipping on a glass of sparkling wine. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water 😉
Which are Slovenia’s indigenous grape varieties?
As I mentioned before, there’s a bit of confusion and misinformation with regards to Slovenia’s indigenous grape varieties, as people tend to confuse them with our traditional varieties. According to a list issued in 2004, Slovenia’s indigenous grape varieties are:
- Radgonska Ranina
- Rumeni Plavec
And to these, we can now add Modra Frankinja and Portugalka, as in 2016 they were confirmed to originate from Slovenia. We also know that Šipon is the Slovenian version of Furmint, the origin of which has yet to be proven.
Where can we find these indigenous grape varieties?
In Slovenia’s Primorska wine region, Rebula is the grape that’s very much associated with Brda, which together with Refošk, can also be found in the Vipava Valley. Other indigenous varieties of the Vipava Valley are Maločrn, Pinela, and Zelen. The Podravje wine-growing region is well suited for Ranfol, Radgonska Ranina, Šipon, and Žametovka. Žametovka is actually the oldest vine in the world; it’s planted in Maribor and is over 440 years old now. Rumeni Plavec is typical for Posavje’s Bizeljsko-Sremič district. And Frankinja and Portugalka are native to both Posavje and Podravje.
“When pairing food and wine, I suggest you to look at the intensity of flavour in a dish and then look for an optimal wine match.”Valentin Bufolin — Sommelier & Vice President of the Slovenian Sommelier Association
What do you think about these indigenous varieties? Which are the most popular in Slovenia?
Indigenous varieties offer a broader aspect to our wine culture and heritage, and add to the flora of a specific region. They were almost forgotten in the past due to business purposes, which is a shame. But some are now re-emerging, as is the case with Rumeni plavec. On the other hand, others like Rebula, Modra Frankinja, Refošk, Pinela, and Zelén need no introduction.
Slovenia is witnessing a revival of its indigenous grape varieties due to local initiatives and winemakers connecting and sharing their knowledge and experience. This gives winemakers a deeper understanding of the variety, allowing them to produce great results.
How do you see Slovenia’s wine scene further developing in the next five years or so?
Slovenia is already witnessing a burst in wine festivals. There are so many wine-related events one can attend. The quality of our wines is amazing, which is proven by the results obtained at numerous wine competitions. This is something we can be tremendously proud of. We can compete with the biggest names in the world, in terms of quality.
On the one hand, Slovenia is marked by its relatively small territory, which sometimes can play a negative impact. However, in my opinion, this represents an advantage—Slovenia is a jewel, a quality boutique wine country with a proven track record of spoiling peoples’ taste buds.
As a final note, we shouldn’t forget that there’s still a lot of scope to further educate both the public at large and those involved in the catering industry about wine and eno-gastronomy.
Food at Slovenian Wine Festival
The Slovenian Wine Festival is not only a feast for wine lovers, but also foodies like me. This year, the festival was even more tasty than last year, with a greater variety of food.
There was the typical Slovenian Kranjska Klobasa (Carniolan sausage) from Loške Mesnine that attracted people with wafts of smoked meat that filled one particular corner of the festival hall. Traditional Slovenian food from Haloze (a sub-region in the northeast of Slovenia) with a contemporay and cosmopilitan twist. A variety of cheeses presented by Siroljub… who doesn’t like cheese with wine?
Flavourful Homemade Treats
I took a great liking to the special homemade treats prepared by the lovely couple Uroš in Valentina (which is also their brand name). They had roasted almonds served with ground rosemary and salt, and a delicious spread made from a base of skuta (sour cheese), ground almonds, rosemary, salt, and olive oil. Their flagship product is Marmela, a unique spread made from large portions of fruit, nuts, and Slovenian milk. They had these delightful Marmela-based desserts in different flavours: pistachio, hazelnut, cherry, peach and raspberry.
Vegan or No Vegan?
I’d have really liked to get my hands on some food prepared by Kucha, which this year ranked 25th among Europe’s best vegan restaurants. However, they were gone by the time I arrived at their stand, which was strange considering it was not that late and there were still a couple of hours left to go at the festival. I can only guess their food went down so well with festivalgoers that they ran out of it in minutes.
23rd Slovenian Wine Festival 2020
The 23rd edition of the Slovenian Wine Festival is set to take place on November 19 and 20, 2020, at Cankarjev Dom in Ljubljana.
The aim of the festival is to preserve and promote the Slovenian winemaking culture and traditions by presenting the country’s wines to the inhabitants and visitors of Ljubljana.