Is Slovenia the next Napa?

June 6, 2011

I have to be honest, I didn't even know Slovenia had a wine industry, let alone one of the oldest in the world. I do know the folks at Lush Wine & Spirits are big on Slovenian wines right now (GM Rachel Driver just recommended one from the producer Movia for my ABC segment last week), so I was curious about an invitation I had recently to attend a lunch at Blackbird, featuring the wines from Pullus, the oldest winery in Slovenia. 

Geographically speaking, the country is close to Italy and Austria, and its soil is a mix of gravel and clay. Even though Pullus has been in operation since 1239, it fully embraced modern winemaking practices after Slovenian independence in 1991. I love crisp, dry rieslings from Germany (especially near the Mosel River) as well as gewurztraminers from Alsace with a bit of residual sugar; even though the wine geeks have moved on, I'm also still enamored with the mineral, almost slate-like quality in grüner veltliners from Austria. So I was pleasantly surprised by the sauvignon blanc (suggested retail $15) and Traminer G (suggested retail $20) they led off with during the hors d' oeuvres - they both had great structure, and were so pleasant to sip (I kept thinking how great they'd be on a porch in the heat of summer).

With our first course - a simple salad of bibb lettuces with candied walnuts and apples with buttermilk dressing - they poured both a pinot grigio as well as a sauvignon blanc (suggested retail $20), both from 2009. Can you tell which is which in the picture below?

Oddly enough, the rose-hued wine on the left is the pinot grigio. The pinkish color is a result of the grapes staying in contact with the juice a bit longer in the fermentation tanks, kind of like rosé. The Wine Advocate gave it a score of 90 points, and even though the flowery tasting notes describe the nose as "fresh and graceful with apple-blossom, fresh, dew-speckled strawberries and peach with fine delineation," I would agree this is a great summer wine for lighter courses, especially with a suggested retail of about $15.

My main course was an arctic char - perfectly cooked, incidentally - with flageolets (beans) apples and pumpernickel. They poured a Cuvee 7 Barrel from '05 (sadly, not available in Chicago yet), which was lush, a little buttery and certainly strong enough to complement the meaty fish and earthy beans. I would have been happy to drink this wine by itself. But the '06 pinot noir (suggested retail $25) wasn't bad either (it was initially intended to be paired with Colorado lamb), since this pairing reminded me more of something you'd see in Oregon - pinot and roasted salmon. The tannins were soft enough in the pinot, since it had a little bit of age on it, and I would have happily served a steak or even roast pork in place of the fish.

Here are some places in the area where you can find these great wines from Pullus. Cheers.

City:

South Loop Market
1720 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 115

Lush Wine & Spirits
1412 W. Chicago Ave.
1257 S. Halsted
2232 W. Roscoe

The Noble Grape
820 N. Bishop St., 1st Fl.

Wine Discount Center
1826 N. Elston Ave.

Europa Galleria
340 W. Superior

Suburbs:

Famous Liquors 
7714 W. Madison Ave., Forest Park

Wine Discount Center
1350 Old Skokie Rd., Highland Park

Hill Grove Cellars
800 Hill Grove Rd., Western Springs

WineStyles
1348 N. Shermer Rd., Northbrook