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Jonathan Turner - The Cycling Sommelier: Slovenia Explorations in 2022

For those avid readers of TheRLWS Blog, I firmly ditched my bike from the travels through Spain back in May of this year and opted for Shanks’s pony whilst in Slovenia during August aided and abetted by car rental for the longer journeys. Rebecca has suggested that any contributions be more of travelogue in style, so I will try to enhance my wine usings with travel experiences and useful tips along the way……

The family holiday started about an hour’s drive (or a day’s walk) south-west of the capital Ljubljana, close to the Italian Border. The Hotel Grahor proved to be an excellent base to explore the local area, including historic villages, the Predjama medieval castle and spectacular Skocjan Caves with one of the world’s largest underground chambers at a volume of 2.2 m cubic metres. Not a bad place to store wine if it didn’t regularly flood in the winter……

It was no coincidence that our adventures commenced in the Karst (or Kras) area which is within Primorska, one of Slovenia’s three principal wine regions, as my wife had tried to pre-empt my inevitable fascination with the country’s wine industry.

We started with the family run Orel Winery located in the beautiful hamlet of Avber. After a courteous, if rather noisy, welcome from the family’s two donkeys, we were warmly greeted by Barbara who treated us to a masterclass in sampling local wines. After a brief tour of the cellar, the only remaining task was to prove that I could fit into the fermentation tanks in the event that I were to be hired as a cellar hand. That call has yet to come….

So, with my appetite firmly whetted, I managed to sneak away one afternoon whilst the family family was enjoying the hotel pool and visit the Vinakras Co-operative in nearby Sezana. Having declared my wine credentials, Igor - the co-operative manager - was keen to expand my knowledge of Karst wines. He explained the local terroir which influenced the regional styles, not least the Terra Rossa soils (proof, WSET L3 students, that it does occur outside of Coonawarra!) over the limestone plateau with altitudes of 300-400m contributing to the freshness of the wine.

I had, in fact, done a little homework prior to the trip and was aware that Slovenian wines had fared well in the Decanter World Wine Awards 2022 including one platinum and seven gold awards. Once I had mentioned DWWA, Igor enthusiastically opened a bottle of the Teranton Grand Prestige which secured a silver award back in 2018 and also in 2022. It is made from Refosco grapes, aged in oak barrels for 4 years and then for a further 6 months in bottle giving it a full bodied complexity with flavours of dried fruit and spice.

My penance for an afternoon’s indulgence was an early morning hike around the local villages surrounding the hotel. But this proved to be an inspired suggestion by my wife as it provided wonderful photo opportunities amongst the vines – both traditional pergola and modern trellising - with the berries in the midst of veraison and ripening. In fact, the vines seemed to be all pervasive, growing in every garden along our route.

The morning’s exertion was rewarded by an early lunch in a local tavern – or Gostlina – where we enjoyed the menu of the day and I think I may have even relented to sample a local beer. Now, back to the travelogue…..

The second half of our stay in Slovenia was all about adrenaline sports, so we headed to

Lake Bled which is about 50km (or 12 hrs walk according to Google Maps) from the capital city, Ljubljana. A stunning glacial lake in the Julian Alps famous for its 17th Century Church on Bled Island, we sought out cultural diversity and manged to find an apartment immediately adjacent to the George Best Bar which is a well-know backpackers hostel.

We certainly made the most of our adventures, including mountain biking, canyoning and – something that I would most definitely recommend – Europe’s longest zip wire experience with 7 flights providing 4km of exhilaration. The scenery in the protected forest in the foothills of the mountains, as you fly across the valley with the river running too many metres below you, was absolutely stunning.

As remarkable a place as it is, Lake Bled is not within one of the Slovenia’s established wine regions, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying probably the most remarkable vinous experience of the entire holiday. From some idle time researching local wine prospects, I stumbled across The Hotel Triglav which proudly announced an extensive range of Slovenian Wine – with up to 70 available by the glass - and a WSET qualified sommelier.

Unaware that Rebecca’s classes extended into Central Europe, I felt obliged to stroll around the stunning Lake Bled on a Sunday afternoon, having first taken in the views from the medieval castle en route. I had the excellent good fortune to meet Luka Adamovic who, whilst not the sommelier, was absolutely passionate about Slovenian wine. Once again, the screenshot of the DWWA award winning Slovenian wines on my phone seemed to be the key to the cellar, and we started with a taste of the Isetenic Prestige sparkling wine which won a gold award.

From thereon in, I was in Adam’s hands, as he disappeared every 5 mins or so to retrieve a few more bottles from their cellar to sample. All in all, I tried 12 different Slovenian wines of

excellent quality, progressing from the traditional method sparkling wine, to light / full bodied whites, orange wine, medium to full bodied reds and then, finally, a sweet red wine.

Honestly, it was a real privilege to be treated to an impromptu tasting encompassing such a diverse selection of the Slovenia’s remarkable wines. How could I possibly match that experience? Obviously, it had to be on two wheels exploring the beautiful countryside and mountains around Lake Bled, once again proving that cycling and wine are such harmonious partners.

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An fascinating read Jonathan! My experience of Slovenian wines is zero but it now looks like it’ll have to go on my Vin de Plume Hampstead Village Voice roster.

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