Featured Wine: Slovenian Malvasia


When we talk wines from the Old World, it’s all to easy to start and stop our conversation in western Europe, with a venerable list of nations led by France, Italy, Spain and Germany. But there’s a whole other Old World of wine out there – in Eastern Europe – just waiting to be fully developed, marketed and then “discovered.” With the exception of Hungary’s famous Tokaji dessert wines, there has so far been little from the Balkans and the former Iron Curtain countries to rival the quality from South Africa, Argentina and other countries we associate with the New World explosion. But expect that to change as more eastern nations join the European Union and a new generation of wine-makers takes hold.

Expect, too, Slovenia to be leading the charge. One look at a European map and you will understand why. The first breakaway Republic from the former Yugoslavia borders both Austria and Italy, and makes wines similar in style to each. You’ll find acclaimed dessert wines in Podravje in the mountainous districts to the north, and Pinot Gris in increasing abundance in Primorska, the coastal area on the west of Slovenia. (I’m not sure what you find from Posavje, Slovenia’s third wine terriory, except perhaps bulk wine for domestic consumption: the Slovenians are the fourth-heaviest wine drinkers in the world.)

Malvasia from Slovenia. Hard to find (at least in the States), but easy to enjoy.

You’ll also find some Malvasia. At least we did. The Malvasia grape is common throughout much of Italy, but while it’s often the major component of wines from Friuli, which borders Slovenia, it’s rarely marketed under its own name. All the more reason to hail this wine from Koper, a sub-region of Primorska, which borders the very eastern edge of Italy and includes some of the Adriatic coast line. The color in the glass of the Santomas Koper Malvasia 2004 was so golden that I almost suspected oxidation, but as a subtle nose of orange blossom and spring flowers wafted upwards, I knew the hue was more a mark of solid weight than old age. The tint and the aroma got me thinking of Marsanne and Roussanne more so than Italian or Austrian white wines, and that hunch was confirmed as the wine hunkered down in the mouth with very little acidity on the attack and not much of a lingering finish, preferring to show off in the middle (palate) its plump, curvy, slightly oily and overall generous body.

If you thought I was imagining a female figure as I typed that last line, you were right. Wine often lends itself to somewhat sexual images of the human form; I liken this Malvasia to a late afternoon roll in the hay with a young, giving, buxom maiden. Such encounters are often short-lived. And in the case of the Santomas, the attraction had faded by the second night, as what little acidity ever existed completely disappeared and the wine fell apart. But it was a sensual experience while it lasted. My wife can verify as much.

More on Slovenian wine, here, here and here
Search for the Santomas Malvasia here
Find wines from the Primorski region here

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November 2021