Slovenia: A quick reference to wine terms, grapes and places

Map of Slovenia

Although Slovenia is not much larger than the U.S. state of New Jersey and you can drive across it on motorways from east to west in about three hours and north to south in even less time, there's surprising diversity of geography, geology, climate ... and, of course, wine ... in this small place.

Sometimes likened to "Europe in miniature" because of this variety, Slovenia touches the Adriatic along a short stretch of coast near the port city of Koper; it offers a Mediterranean-style climate along its border with Italy's Friuli-Venezia Giulia; it rises to craggy Alps in its northwestern corner adjacent to Austria, and flattens into rolling farmland on the Pannonian plain in its eastern corner bordering Hungary.

With the help of the map above (courtesy of Poslovna Skupnost za Vinogradnistvo in Vinarstvo Slovenije, the Union for Slovenian Viticulture and Enology), let's get oriented to Slovenia's basic wine regions - useful information if you plan a wine visit here.

Similar to other wine-growing countries, Slovenia sorts its wine regions geographically, dividing and subdividing its territory into specific sections whose names appear on wine labels and from which it is assumed that wines will bear some regional character. Wines are usually varietally labeled, indicating the grape variety from which the wine is made, although occasional blends may bear proprietary names. Finally, wine labels will often indicate the wine's quality level: "Vrhunsko" is the highest regulatory category, although some producers - in a move akin to the Italian use of "vina da tavola" - are now rejecting its use, labeling their wines simply "Kakovostno" ("good").

Geography: The regions

The three primary districts are Primorski (meaning "littoral" or "near the sea," shown in reddish-brown on Slovenia's southwestern corner, near Trieste in Italy); Posavski (the Sava river valley, shown in olive on the southeastern corner, near Zagreb in Croatia); and Podravski (the Drava river valley, shown in orange in the northeast, bordering Austria's Steiermark region and Hungary).

Each of these districts is further divided into smaller designated wine areas called "vinorodni okolis," similar to the French "appellation controllée" or Italian "D.O.C.," and these "okolis" in turn may be further modified by the name of the specific town, village or vineyard where the grapes were grown.

To make matters even more helpful or confusing, depending on your attitude, many Slovene wine maps will also overlay this information with 20 Vinsko Turisticnih Cest ("VTC" or "Touristic Wine Roads") identifying groups of neighboring wineries.

Here's a quick-reference card outlining some of these divisions. The appellations (Okolis) are shown in bold, with each appellation's WTCs (wine roads) listed beneath.

Primorski

Briski
Brda

Vipavski
Vipavska

Kraski
Kraska

Koprski
Istrska

Posavski

Belokrajnski
Belokrajnska

Dolenjski
Podgoryanska
Dolnje Dolenjska
Gornje Dolenjska

Bizeljsko-Sremiski
Bizeljska

Smarsko-Virstanjski
Smarsko Slovenjegoriska

Podravski

Haloze z Obrobnim Pogorjem
Haloska

Osrednje Slovenske Gorice
Ptujska
Srednje Slovenjegoriska
Ormoska

Ljutomersko-Ormoske Gorice
Jeruzalemska

Mariborski
Kapelska
Podpohorska
Mariborska
Pesniska

Prekmurske Gorice
Lendavska

Varieties: The grapes

Most of Slovenia's wine grapes are familiar varieties, many found worldwide and a few regional grapes shared with Slovenia's neighbors in Northeastern Italy (Ribolla and Tocai Friulano, for example) and Southern Austria (such as Kerner). The Slovene names for these grapes can fool you, though, although fortunately for visitors from farther West, Slovenia is one of the Slavic nations that uses our Roman alphabet and not the Russian Cyrillic. (Purists should note further that Slavic languages add two additional consontants using an accent mark, a small 'v' or inverted circumflex, over the "s" and "z" in some cases, changing their pronunciation. Unfortunately this accent is not available on non-Slavic keyboards.)

Here's a quick list of the varieties found most often, with the Slovene name given where it differs from the international grape name:

WHITE GRAPES (INTERNATIONAL)

Chardonnay
Furmint (Sipon)
Malvasia (Malvazija)
Muscat (Muskat)
Pinot Blanc (Beli Pinot)
Pinot Gris (Sivi Pinot)
Riesling (Renski Rizling)

Müller-Thurgau (Rizvanec)
Sauvignon Blanc (Sauvignon, also sometimes Muskatni Silvanec)
Sylvaner (Zeleni Silvanec)
Traminer (Traminec)
Welschriesling (Laski Rizling)

WHITE GRAPES (INDIGENOUS)

Pinela
Ranina
Ribolla (Rebula)

Tocai Friulano (Furlanski Tokaj)
Vitovska Grganja
Zelen

RED GRAPES (INTERNATIONAL)

Barbera
Cabernet Franc (Cabernet Frank)
Cabernet Sauvignon
Gamay
Merlot

Pinot Noir (Modri Pinot)
Prosecco (Prosek)
Refosco (Refosk)
Zweigelt

RED GRAPES (INDIGENOUS)

Malocrn

 

A Slovene wine glossary

Finally, here's a vocabulary list of common Slovene wine words that you may find on labels or along the wine roads.

Beli or Belo ("Beh-lee") - White, as in Beli Pinot
Brda ("Burr-da") - Hills, the Slovene analogue to Italy's Collio
Burgundec ("Boor-gun-dets") - Burgundy, sometimes used in "Modri Burgundec" ("blue Burgundy") as a synonym for Pinot Noir
Furlanski Tokaj ("Foor-lann-skee Toe-kye") - Tocai Friulano grape
Izbor ("Eez-bohr") - Selected. Often used like the German "Auslese" to denote wines made from grapes hand-picked for ripeness.
Kakovostno ("Ka-ko-vost-no") - "Good," a rating used by some producers who elect not to jump through the regulatory hoops required for the "Vrhunsko" quality rating.
Kras ("Krass") - Primorski wine region near Trieste, named after its "karst" soil; analogous to Italy's Carso
Laski Rizling ("Lash-kee Reez-ling") - Welschriesling grape
Malvazija ("Mahl-vah-zee-ya") - Malvasia grape
Modri ("Mow-dree") - Blue, as in Modri Pinot (Pinot Noir)
Podravski ("Poh-drahv-skee") - One of the three main wine regions, the Drava river valley in the northeast, bordering Austria's Steiermark region and Hungary.
Posavski ("Poh-sahv-skee") - One of the three main wine regions, the Sava river valley on the southeastern corner, near Zagreb in Croatia
Pozna ("Pohz-nah") - Late, as in "Pozna Trgatev," "Late Harvest"
Primorski ("Pree-mohr-skee") - One of Slovenia's three main wine regions, meaning "near the sea," on the southwestern corner near Trieste in Italy

Rdece ("Ur-det-see") - Red
Rebula ("Reh-boo-la") - Ribolla grape
Renski ("Renz-key") - Rhine, as in Renzki Rizling
Rizling ("Reez-ling") - Riesling
Rumeni ("Roo-meh-nee") - Yellow, as in Zeleni Rebula (Ribolla Gialla)
Silvanec ("Sil-vah-nets") - Silvaner grape
Sipon ("Shee-pon") - An indigenous white grape, akin to Hungary's Furmint
Sivi ("See-vee") - Gray, as in Sivi Pinot
Sladko ("Slahd-koe") - Sweet
Suhi Jagodni Izbor ("Soo-hee Yah-god-nee Eez-bor") - Dry berry selected, analogous to Trockenbeerenauslese
Suho ("Soo-ho") - Dry
Tera Rosa ("Teh-ra Roe-sa") - Red soil, the karst earth of the Kras region
Teran ("Teh-rahn") - A highly acidic, young-drinking red wine made from Refosk when grown in the Tera Rosa of Kras
Traminec ("Tra-mee-nets") - Traminer grape
Trgatev ("Turr-gah-tev") - Harvest
Veliko ("Veh-lee-ko") - Big or great
Vino ("Vee-no") - Wine
Vrhunsko ("Ver-hoon-sko") - Quality, highest wine rating under the official system. (But, see "Kakovostno")
Zeleni ("Zeh-leh-nee") - Green, as in Zeleni Muskat