Our five-minute drive from lunch at osmica Vrban in Šmihel to the Olive Oil and Wine Festival in Šempas gives me enough time to clear my palate in time for some olive oil, prosciutto (or ‘pršut’ as they say in Slovenia) and wine tasting.
I’ve reserved a spot at both tasting sessions at the festival: the first is an olive oil and food pairing, the second a prosciutto and wine pairing.
We enter the buzzing hall at the Šempas Cultural Centre where all the wine makers and olive oil producers are proudly presenting their fare to enthusiastic wine aficionados and a considerably smaller number of olive oil fans. After just a short while, I can conclude that the wines are by far the more popular consumable of the day.
I’ll be giving both oil and wine my undivided attention today, with the help of the olive oil tasting session later on.
Before that begins, I’ve enough time to try a couple of wines, so I go in eager search of Vina Sartori, which I picked out from the list of winemakers on the festival’s website last night, because of their sweet Refošk.
Monika of Vina Sartori pours me a glass of their Sweet Refošk 2015. It’s as I’d imagined it to be: smelling of red fruits, blackberry, blueberry, and cherry. It’s sweet, soft and smooth as I enjoy every sip. The colour is an intense dark ruby, with purple shades where the wine’s surface meets the glass. I’m now drawn to try their Refošk Rose. The smell of strawberry and cherry hits my nose, the taste is of fresh strawberries with a hint of lychee. This is sublime! As I leave Vina Sartori’s stand, I take a mental note to visit their winery next time I’m in Marezige.
I don’t get very far before Viljem Žižmond from Vina Guštin grabs my arm and pulls me toward his table. “What can I offer you, madam, what can I get you to try?” he asks. I’ll have something mature. He chooses his Merlot, a dark, dry, medium-bodied wine with plenty of tannins. Hmm, I picture this wine with a juicy steak!
Oh, it’s time for the tastings! Let’s climb up to the tasting room. Dr Vasilij Valenčič from the Institute for Oliveculture at the Science and Research Centre of Koper is conducting the one on olive oil and food.
To start, we taste the difference between high-quality extra virgin olive oil and virgin olive oil with sensory defects. The defective one is vinegary and musty… Eeeww! Blegh!
Next, we’re pairing two types of olive oil—Istrska Belica (stronger, more pungent) and Maurino (milder)—with food. Here goes:
|Classical bruschetta with tomato & basil||✔||✔|
|Delicate salad leaves||✔|
You’d be surprised, but olive oil and minestra are a great combination. Dr Valenčič remarks: “The antioxidants of the oil interact with the carbohydrates of the potato in the minestra.”
Here comes the most exciting part: We’re pairing a dessert cheesecake made from skuta (Slovenian ricotta) with olive oil with lemon. Such a simple dessert can be elevated by pouring a few drops of this citrusy oil. I ask how it’s made. “Whole lemons are pressed together with the olives, so you get the essential oils of both the olives and the lemons”, explains Dr Valenčič. Interesting, right?
We get chatting about the anti-oxidising properties of extra virgin olive oil, and confirm I’m doing quite well for myself with my one teaspoon a day!
And then… a knock at the door… Who’s there? Ivan Peršolja, President of the Sommelier Society of Slovenia. Dober dan!
He’s leading the prosciutto and wine pairing, and has brought some dry-cured ham from Italy and some other varieties from the region we’re now in—Primorska. Peršolja states that it’s more difficult to pair a wine with prosciutto from this area because it’s quite salty, as against the one from Italy.
“I know a producer in Goriška Brda that makes huge chunks of prosciutto weighing at least 42 kilos. The bigger the piece, the saltier it needs to be as it must be aged for longer. Every 10 kilos needs one year of aging!” exclaims Peršolja.
The good thing about these saltier cured meats made in Slovenia is that their shelf life is lengthened by as much as two years, and they’re tastier and more aromatic. This strong taste is further intensified by the fat, and special care is taken during the curing process so that this fat is not oxidised.
Peršolja adds that it’s done in a controlled environment where the humidity must not exceed 70%. When fermentation begins, the temperature must be high, and then lowered when fermentation is at its peak, and kept constant thereafter so the prosciutto ageing period is as long as possible. The result is a very sweet and white fat that feels like honey in the mouth. Yumm!
Even if you’ve banned fat from your diet, you might want to make an exception when it comes to the fat in prosciutto as it contains all the aromas and vitamins. It also makes the meat softer and keeps oxidation at bay.
And now, to the tasting! We first pair a three-years-old prosciutto from Turistična Kmetija pri Rjavčevih in Šempas and a four-years-old one from Turistična Kmetija Klinec in Medana, Goriška Brda, with UOU Vina‘s Malvasia Ivanka 2015. This is an excellent wine to pair with Slovenian pršut because it’s full-bodied with strong aromas.
“Generally, salty pršut pairs best with white wines: Pinela and Malvasia, which are softer varieties due to their higher glycerol content.”— Ivan Peršolja, President of the Sommelier Society of Slovenia
Peršolja also insists that we eat some bread to mellow down the saltiness of the prosciutto. It really does help.
Here’s another white, a Šipon 2017 from PRA-VinO Čurin-Prapotnik in Kog, Ljutomersko-Ormoške gorice, which we taste together with some prleška tünka. This unusual 200-year-old dish from Prlekija in northeastern Slovenia consists of pork meat preserved in spiced lard, and is mostly enjoyed by the locals as a home-made version.
Šipon’s piercingly high acidity makes this wine a great companion for this rich and fatty ham.
So, we’ve tried some white wines. What about the reds? How well do these pair with salty cured meats? Peršolja answers: “It’s best to choose a light red wine with the least tannins possible, some Merlot, some rosé, Batič from Vipava valley has a good rosé.”
On to a traditional pairing that’s typical of Slovenia’s Karst region: We try an 18-month old prosciutto with Teran, both from Winery Pri Starčih – Tavčar in Križ, Sežana. Peršolja laments that it’s very hard to find a Teran that goes well with salty prosciutto. “It’s too strong for the prosciutto we have today. Nowadays, prosciutto is less aromatic, and not as fatty. It’s changed in a way that’s caused it to not go so well with Teran.”
BUT! He’s extremely satisfied to have found this perfect marriage between Tavčar’s Teran and pršut. I can’t agree more, they certainly make a great pair! And Teran’s something really special: It’s considered to be the healthiest of red wines due to its higher acidity and you can really smell and taste the earth as you drink it, which brings to mind the rich, red soil on which it grows. It also gets me longing for those long summer evenings when you can smell the heat peeling off the ground even after the sun sets.
It’s almost 8pm and we’re still discussing Teran’s acidity levels and dreaming of summer. But we must say our goodbyes and head home to put our little one to sleep. Good thing there was a playground nearby to keep her occupied while we were at the tastings.
Kudos to the Tourist Association TIC Nova Gorica for putting this festival together and organising two very enlightening tasting sessions. Thanks to Dr Vasilij Valenčič and Ivan Peršolja for taking the time to answer my questions. Last but not least, thanks to my parents-in-law for watching over our little one while Jure and I enjoyed the festival.
I invite you to check out the best-matched prosciuttos and wines from Slovenia below. These pairing have been kindly provided by Sommelier Ivan Peršolja.
(Photos: Turistična zveza TIC Nova Gorica)
Prosciutto San Daniele with:
- Malvazija 2018 Kmetija Jogan Damijan, Damijan Jogan, Cikuti 10, 6276 Pobegi
- Jakot 2013 – Vina Fornazarič, Ivan Fornazarič, Vogrsko 167
Prosciutto Parma with:
- Malvazija 2017 Lepa Vida, Irena Ipavec Geržina, Osek 4b, 5261 Šempas
- Rose 2017 Jamšek 1887 vina, Ivan Jamšek, Manče 5, 5271 Vipava
Prosciutto San Daniele dolce with
- Sauvignonasse Poje 2016 Vina Aleksander, Aleksander Bužinel, Medana 21b, 5212 Dobrovo
- Malvazija 2013 Vina Božič 1902, Steljo Božič – Dopolnilna dejavnost na kmetiji, Ul. S. Allendeja 5, 6310 Izola
4 years old prosciutto from Turistična Kmetija Klinec, Medana, Goriška Brda – Nejka in Uroš Klinec Plešivo 51b, 5212 Dobrovo v Brdih, with:
- Refošk rose 2015 – Vina Sartori, Tomaž Sartori, Marezige 13b, 6273 Marezige
- UOU Malvazija Ivanka 2015 – Marinko Pintar, Tominčeva 11, 5250 Solkan
3 years old prosciutto from Turistična Kmetija pri Rjavčevih in Šempas paired with:
UOU’s Malvasia Ivanka 2015 – Marinko Pintar, Tominčeva 11, 5250 Solkan (an excellent wine to pair with Slovenian pršut because it’s full-bodied with strong aromas)
Sixth pairing (Classical):
18-month-old prosciutto with Teran PTP 2018, both from Winery Tavčar – Pri Starčih, Milena Tavčar, Križ 158
Prleška tünka with a Šipon 2017 from PRA-VinO Čurin-Prapotnik in Kog 14-15, 2276 Kog, Ljutomersko-Ormoške gorice
(Prleška tünka is a culinary specialty a few centuries-old from Prlekija, most popular as a home-made version; Šipon is an old variety from Styria, which also exists in Hungary’s Tokaj)
Šempas Olive Oil and Wine Festival: Quick Facts
A two-day festival held in Šempas, a village in the Vipava Valley in the Municipality of Nova Gorica in western Slovenia.
Founder and project manager: Dejana Baša, President of the Tourist Association TIC Nova Gorica.