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Slovenia is a tiny country sandwiched between Austria and Italy. For a country with such a small stature (area-wise), it over-delivers in terms of wine quality. It has nearly 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) of land dedicated to vineyards, 70% of production is white wine.
This doesn’t mean you should sleep on Slovenian red wine. Thanks to the cool air from the Alps and the proximity to the Adriatic Sea, the growing conditions for wine grapes in Slovenia is excellent. These ideal conditions allow for world-class Slovenian red wine made from both international and regional grapes.
Slovenian Red Wine
Slovenia is divided into three main wine regions: Podravje and Posavje in the easy with Primorska (Primorje) in the west bordering Italy. These three regions are broken down into several sub-regions as you can see below. Of the three main wine regions, it’s Primorska in the west that’s home to most of the high-quality Slovenian red wine.
Primorska is divided further into the wine districts of Slovenska Istria, Kras, Vipava, and Goriška Brda. In Slovenska Istra and Kras (which is an extension of Italy’s Carso region), you’ll find reds made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Barbera, and Refošk. Vipava has much of the same in addition to Modri Pinot (Pinot Noir), Modra Frankinja (Blaufrankisch), and even Schiopettino. Goriška Brda is an extension of Italy’s Collio region. Goriška Brda (Brda for short) is heavily focused on the Bordeaux grapes in addition to scant traces of Pinot Noir.
Reds from the eastern regions of Posavje and Podravje are mostly made from Modra Frankinja, Zweigelt, and Modri Pinot. While these regions are mostly renowned for whites, there are several gorgeous Slovenian red wines being made with the quality increasing in every vintage. I’ve lately been impressed with several Modri Pinots coming out of Štajerska (district of Podravje) in addition to Modra Frankinja from Bela Krajina (district of Posavje).
World-Class Wine Quality
I’m convinced that Slovenian red wines are of world-class quality. In my past encounters, it was Bordeaux blends from Goriška Brda usually reigned supreme. It’s refreshing to see that things are changing. When it comes to red wines, Slovenia is no longer a one-trick pony.
The Pinot Noirs continue to improve and there are some impressive examples to be found. I would have liked to include more in this article but didn’t get the chance to taste a big range this year. If you are a Pinot lover, keep your eye on Slovenia.
My hope is that producers in the east continue to focus on Blaufränkisch, a variety that is underappreciated. While ‘Super Istrian’ blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Refošk is a promising category in Slovenian Istra. There are excellent examples of this blend across the border in Croatia and there’s no reason that can be duplicated in Slovenia. The local red grape Refošk makes high-quality wines when done well. Still, too many examples have enamel-searing acidity and show a tad too much rusticity for most palates.
One of Slovenia’s top Sommeliers, Valentin Bufolin, has witnessed a noticeable improvement in Slovenian red wine over last few years. “We are located in two climatic zones, one warm and the other continental,” Valentin explains. “A lot has been done to understand better what terrain and climate can contribute and how appropriate clone selection can help.”
Valentin is bullish on the future of Slovenian red wine. “With the effects of global warming and technological development, new knowledge, clone selection, the introduction of new grape varieties, and identification of best plots, we will see more and more world-class reds from Slovenia.”
That’s great to hear but luckily for me (and the consumer), the future is now. Here are several impressive Slovenian red wines I tasted over the last year.
Slovenian Red Wine Recommendations:
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Slovene Istra (Primorska)
- Korenika & Moškon, Modri Pinot 2007
The Korenika & Moškon, Modri Pinot is an Old World-style of Pinot Noir aged in wood. This is a developed wine with notes of leather, tobacco, cherry, and a touch of mint. For a wine that’s nearly 13 years old, there is still a lot of vibrancy of the fruit. The cherry flavors and acidity are sharp and defined. The wine might be a tad too tannic for many Pinot Noir lovers but I really enjoy it. Score: 91/100
- Korenika & Moškon, Bis 2017
The Korenika & Moškon, Bis is a blend of Merlot and Pinot Noir aged in stainless steel. Many might disregard this lighter red but I absolutely adore it. Bursting with sweet & sour cherry fruit, graphite, tobacco, and a earth. The fruit is plush and mouth coating. The tannins are fine and smooth. A juicy, easy-going red with a hint of complexity. Get’s a slight uptick in score because of the drinkability and ‘delicious’ factor. Score: 90/100
- Zaro, Gran Morer 2016
The Zaro, Gran Morer is a ‘Super Istrian’ blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Refošk (Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso). There’s a beautiful rustic quality to this nose with notes of black cherry, black raspberry, iron, meat, and black pepper. Full-bodied on the palate, with high acidity. This is listed at 16% ABV but handles the alcohol well. It’s unique, a little wild, and very enjoyable. Score: 90/100
- Ražman, Refošk Ater 2015
The Ražman, Refošk Ater is a single-vineyard Refosco d’Istria (Terrano) aged in wood. It has a savage, Syrah-like nose. Notes of forest berry, rusty nail, iron, meat, and black pepper. It’s a juicy red at 12.5% alcohol. The acidity is high, so you will need some food to pair with this. It’s a tad rustic but fans of Italian reds should be right at home here. Chewy tannins. Score: 90/100
- Ražman, Popetris 2015
The Ražman, Popetris is blend of Refosco d’Istria, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Gorgeous nose with a blend of sour cherry, black raspberry, chewing tobacco, smoke, and pepper. Full in body, there is so much complexity here. The fruit hits first on the palate before all of the complexities take over. This still tastes remarkable young for its vintage date. Peppery finish and fine tannins. Score: 91+/100
Goriška Brda (Primorska)
- Movia, Pinot Noir 2013
The Movia, Pinot Noir isn’t the bright, fruity Pinot Noir that you know. This is considerably darker and denser. Aged in wood for 48 months, there are notes of leather, chocolate, blackberry, dried rose petal, and fall leaves. For a wine that ages for a long time, there is a lot of bright acidity. Long, forest berry finish. Score: 91/100
- Movia, Veliko Rdeče 2011
The Movia, Veliko Rdeče is a blend of mostly Merlot with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir aged for 72 months in barriques. This is a richer, riper version coming in at 13% ABV (the ones I’ve tasted in the past are 12-12.5%). Opens with a lot of red plum, black cherry, earth, incense, and pepper. Full-bodied and plush on the palate, it finishes with a charming graphite note. Big time tannins. It always ages well and this should be no exception. Score: 93+/100
- Edi Simčič, Duet Lex 2016
The Edi Simčič, Duet Lex is a blend of Merlot with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Big and burly with a touch of rusticity, which I love. Some basalmic notes with sweet black cherry, tobacco, cedar, black raspberry, and some earthy notes. Full bodied, this tastes a little Central Italian to me. Ripe, chewy tannins and a long finish. I don’t think this is a wine that will go decades in the bottle but it sure is delicious now. Score: 92/100
- Jakončič, Carolina Select 2013
The Jakončič, Carolina Select is 93% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon. It isn’t made every year. Notes of dried black cherry, cigar ash, cedar, and a touch of mocha. This is a real crowd-pleaser. The graphite notes from Merlot emerges on the palate. Full-bodied and chewy with ripe tannins. Long finish. This wine always ages gracefully and this vintage should be no different. It will be released next year and should be kept in the cellar for another five to ten years. Score: 93/100
- Marjan Simčič, ‘Opoka’ Pinot Noir 2016
The Marjan Simčič, ‘Opoka’ Pinot Noir is aged for 27 months in oak. This is a powerful, floral Pinot Noir with notes of cherry, raspberry, chalk, earth, and a touch of white pepper. This is gorgeous on the palate and has a good balance between fruit and savory flavors. It’s silky and round up front with ripe, firm tannins. This has the fruit, acidity, and structure to age beautifully. The tannins are very Burgundian. We believe that this is the best Pinot Noir made in Ex-Yugoslavia vintage after vintage. Score: 93+/100
- Marjan Simčič, Teodor Rosso 2014
The Marjan Simčič, Teodor Rosso is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 48 months in oak. Notes of cherry, cassis, tobacco, earth, and mocha. Very complex nose. It’s a big wine on the palate with plenty of dark fruit. The concentration and quality is pretty darn good for such a tough and rainy vintage. The tannins are bitter and espresso-like. This wine shows that you can be big and full bodied without being overly fruity. Score: 93/100
- Marjan Simčič, ‘Opoka’ Merlot 2015
Marjan Simčič, ‘Opoka’ Merlot is 100% Merlot aged in oak for a whopping 48 months. Dark purple in color. The nose is rich with notes of black cherry, red plum, graphite, violets, and just the right amount of toastiness from the wood. It isn’t a shy wine by any stretch, it’s rich on the palate and full-bodied with a generous amount of fruit. Nice floral and graphite notes on the finish that has bright acidity and big tannins. It’s gorgeous now and should age very well. Score: 93+/100
- Štekar, Merlot 2016
The Štekar, Merlot is pure Merlot that is aged for 11 months. It’s had some time to develop in the bottle. Don’t expect a big, brooding monster, but do expect a delicious red. Notes of tomato leaf, sour cherry, earth, and blood orange. This is silky smooth on the palate. It’s 15% alcohol but feels more like 12.5 or 13%. Fruity, earthy, and fun to drink with round tannins. My favorite red from this estate. Score: 90+/100
- Ronk, Selectus Red 2015
This is a Bordeaux blend of 70% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon aged in wood for 36 months. Notes of tobacco, mocha, and graphite accompany the dried red fruit flavors. It’s more of a medium bodied red. I could do with a little less wood but the fruit here is beautiful and the acidity is very pleasant. Developed tannins stick to the palate and just call for stews and meat. This is a red that a lot of people will like. Score: 89/100
- Ronk, Merlot 2015
The Ronk, Merlot from old vines and only saw stainless steel (18 months) and bottle age before release. Pure and impressive nose of black cherry, red plum, graphite, and violets. It’s a red that isn’t round and creamy, there’s plenty of acidity here that makes it more angular. Many palates might be turned off by the sharpness of the wine but I am adoring it along with the chewy tannins. Lengthy finish. Because it doesn’t see oak, the wine is very affordable too. The Selectus Red is a more premium wine but I prefer the Ronk Merlot. Score: 90/100
- Mulit, Rdeče 2018
The Mulit, Rdeče is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah aged in oak for 21 months. Pretty nose with sour cherry, red plum, meat, tobacco, and oak. The wood is noticeable here but the fruit underneath is pretty enough to handle it. The palate is vibrant thanks to the citrusy acidity. This only has 9% Syrah in the blend but the grape really stands out here. It’s more of an elegant, medium-bodied red with some chewy tannins. This is delicious now but has the potential to develop in the bottle. Suprisingly good stuff. Score: 91/100
- Klet Brda, ‘Bagueri Superior’ Merlot 2016
The Klet Brda, ‘Bagueri Superior’ is 100% Merlot aged in wood for 24 months. The wood is laid down a bit heavy on the nose but the palate brings it back. Notes of plum, oak, tobacco, cherry, and pepper. Plush and round on the palate, this is a full-bodied Merlot that’s easy to drink. Chewy tannins and a sweetish, vanilla finish. I don’t love this wine here but the fruit underneath is good and the wood should integrate with time. Score: 88/100
- Patrick Simčič, Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Patrick Simčič is a new guy on the block and his Cabernet Sauvignon aged in wood for three months and then in concrete. Notes of cherry, crushed violets, leather, and a touch of tobacco. Medium-bodied red that has some nice texture. The tannins here are well done, they are developed and refined. The tobacco-finish is the highlight of this non-fussy red. Score: 88/100
- Prinčič, Mihael Rdeče 2017
The Prinčič, Mihael Redeče is the premium red of the estate, it’s a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir. This red has some rusticity to it but in a charming way. Notes of graphite, red cherry, tobacco, earth, and a touch of pepper. It’s a medium-bodied red that is more savory on the palate than fruity. Nice nuances here and you can feel the wood but it should integrate with time. This is my first time tasting this wine and I’d be interested to see how it ages. It may turn into something very fine with another 5-10 years in the cellar. Score: 90+/100
- Prinčič, Modri Pinot 2017
This is 100% Pinot Noir with a pretty nose of raspberry, earth, leather, and a touch of violets. The nose is unmistakably Pinot Noir. Silky and juicy on the palate with plenty of forest berry fruits. The wood is present here but it never takes away from the prettiness of the wine. This is a brilliant effort for the price point. The tannins are a little grippy and add some tug to the finish. I highly recommend this wine because of its great price point. Score: 90/100
- Guerila, Amphora Extreme Red 2016
The Guerila, Amphora Extreme red is Barbera that saw six months of skin contact in amphora and another year of maturation in amphora. Notes of black cherry, hazelnut, dried cranberry, and smoked hickory. It’s surprising that this wine does not see would because I pick some up on the nose. The nose is very complex while the palate is more straightforward (this isn’t a knock). Pure red fruit flavors and pepper glide through the palate. There are some chewy tannins along with the high acidity that should keep this wine healthy in the cellar for many years. Score: 91+/100
- Guerila, Retro Red 2017
The Guerila, Retro Red is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Barbera aged for two years in large cask. Gorgeous nose of red plum, cherry, mocha, cedar, and pepper. It smells of an old world wine with tradition. Rich on the palate with plenty of fruit, this has a touch of rusticity found in Italian reds. Plenty of fruit, plenty of acidity, and chewy tannins and a unique rusty nail quality on the finish. This is fun to drink now and should improve immensely with time in the cellar. Score: 91/100
- Cultus, Red 2017
The Cultus, Red is a blend of approximately half and half Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with a dollop of Pinot Noir. It’s aged for 15-24 months in oak. A similar blend to the more famous Movia Veliko Rdeče. Out of the gate, this smells more like a cool climate red. Notes of cherry, red raspberry, bacon fat, and fall leaves come out here with a touch of perfume. Medium bodied on the palate, the wood comes on heavy at first but the fruit with time in the mouth. Juicy acidity and good tannin management. It would be interesting to hold onto this for another five years. On most occasions I would complain about the oak but for this wine, it just seems to work. Score: 90/100
- Tilia Estate, White Label Merlot 2016
The Tilia Estate, White Label Merlot is 100% Merlot aged in French oak for 16 months. Its shows some bottle age along with notes of plum, black cherry, violets, and mocha. Full bodied and big on the palate. The wood is heavy on the nose but is well integrated on the palate. There is a core of dark fruit held together by some big time tannins. It’s a wine for big meats and winter food. This has the fruit and tannins to last at least another ten years in the cellar. Score: 92/100
- Tilia Estate, ‘Merljaki’ Pinot Noir 2017
The Tilia Estate, ‘Merljaki’ Pinot Noir is a single vineyard Pinot Noir aged in wood for 16 months. The nose is unmistakably Pinot Noir with notes of cool raspberry, cherry, earth, and tobacco. It doesn’t have the perfume notes that I’d like to see from the grape though. Pretty mouthfeel with plenty of forest fruits. It has the acidity and structure to suggest it could improve even further with time. Score: 90/100
- Mlečnik, Merlot 2011
The Mlečnik, Merlot is 100% Merlot. It’s an old school red that’s aged for two years in wood and a long time in the bottle before release. This is the current vintage. Notes of dried rose petal, dried red plum, tobacco, tomato leaf, and graphite jump out of the glass. The nose smells like a developed wine but the palate is still very fruity. It’s not a big, round, fruity red. This is one with plenty of earthy tones and an angular feel thanks to the grippy tannins. This wine has a target audience, including me. Score: 92/100
- Vipava 1894, ‘Lanthieri’ Storia 2017
The Vipava 1894, ‘Lanthieri’ Storia is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot aged in wood. Notes of cherry, tobacco, mocha, and graphite. It’s more of a medium-bodied Bordeaux blend. Some might want a little more fruit here but the oak integration is still stellar. Tight with chewy tannins on the back end. This is delicious with food and should probably but on nice weight with bottle age. Score: 89/100
- Vipava 1894, ‘Lanthieri’ Modri Pinot 2018
The Vipava 1894, ‘Lanthieri’ Pinot Noir that spent 20 months in small and large oak barrels. Made in a very ‘New World’ style, this is bright and fruity on the first smell. Notes of cherry, raspberry, earth, and a touch of perfume. The palate is medium-bodied with crunchy red fruits. This wine is so close to being a home run, the wood just shows a little too much on the palate (which might not be a detractor for some). Regardless, with food this really shines thanks to the vibrant acidity. Score: 89/100
- Burja, Reddo 2018
The Burja, Reddo is a blend of Schiopettino, Blaufränkisch, and Refošk that’s aged in wood for 18 months. It’s a darker red with impressive notes of black cherry, black pepper, forest twigs, earth, and rusty nail. Full-bodied on the palate, it’s fruiter in the mouth than on the nose. There’s an attractive streak of citrusy acidity combined with dark chocolate on the finish. There’s a lot to like here and it should age well in the bottle. Score: 92/100
- Vino Kupljen, Skywalker 2018
The Vino Kupljen, Skywalker is a blend of Merlot with a touch of Pinot Noir and Blaufränkisch aged in oak. It’s a fine cool weather red with notes of cherry, cedar, and a touch of forest floor. It’s not the most complex red in the world but it’s fun to drink. Medium-bodied with a moderate amount of alcohol and soft tannins. Score: 88/100
- Kobal, Blaufränkisch 2019
This is 100% Blaufrankisch aged in wood. This was just bottled when I tasted it. Full of dark cherry, black raspberry, capsicum, graphite, and purple flower. This is clean and precise. It’s a juicy red that isn’t complex but very fun to drink. This is the type of wine I want to have slightly chilled at a bistro. It’s unpretentious and fun to drink. Fans of Beaujolais will find a lot to like here. My score here might be a little higher than most on this but I’m biased towards this type of red. Score: 90/100
Bela Krajina (Posavje)
- Šuklje, Lodoma 2018
The Šuklje, Lodoma is 100% Blaufränkisch that is aged in used barriques. It’s an attractive Austrian style red with notes of blackberry, cherry licorice, crushed violets, and a touch of pepper. The palate is crisp, clean, and spicy on the finish. There’s plenty of forest fruits upfront and the spiciness and complexity come towards the end. The tannins are soft and plush. An excellent red to drink at lunch or before the heavy meats start coming out. Quite a surprise from this unknown region. Score: 90/100
- Šuklje, Vrbanjka 2018
The Šuklje, Vrbanjka is 100% Blaufränkisch aged in 500L barrels. Single vineyard wine. Notes of black cherry, strawberry, mocha, earth, meat, and pepper. The nose is of a pure cool-climate red. This is plush and has plenty of fruitiness to draw you in along with the complexity to keep you thinking. Chewy tannins on the backend, substantially more than the Lodoma. This is a wine that is fun now but should improve with some time in the cellar. Vibrant acidity. Score: 91/100
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