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Adventures of a Wine Hooligan #2 - Slovenia and Croatia

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

2 days, 2 countries, 2 wineries, this trip was as fast as it was fabulous.

We started off in Slovenia, driving out to the region of Goriska Brda on the Italian boarder to meet Marjan Simcic, the winemaker-owner of the eponymous estate. The region is knows as the Tuscany of Slovenia for the incredible quality of the wines it produces and the number of awards they have garnered. Marjan is a true rock star of the region, with his long raven hair and piercing blue eyes, he is cultivating some extraordinarily complex wines from the local variety Ribolla as well as international varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Pinot Noir.

We met Marjan out in the beautiful hillside vineyards, a fitting spot to start our visit because for him, this is the heart and soul of the wines. Grown on poor marl soils known locally as Opoka, rich in mineral deposits left by a long ago ocean it results in a low yield of grapes rich in concentrated flavour and energy.

Back at the state of the art winey, Marjan took us through a comprehensive masterclass of his wines, getting his points passionately across, finger stabbing the air, laser like stare roving around the room. Like him the wines are intense, powerful and mesmeric. His Pinot Grigio sums up his approach to winemaking for it is all in the detail. It is absolutely nothing like the insipid mass produced examples we have become used to on our supermarket shelves, this is a richly fruited, pale copper coloured wine (the colour is derived from extended skin contact, a technique unusual in white wines, which imparts colour from the rosy Pinot Grigio skins, and a lovely savoury phenolic grip to the wine), intensely complex in flavour and beautifully textured it has a long fresh finish.

Pages and pages of notes later, we had a few hours of much needed down time before reconvening at the winery to do a barrel tasting and have a spot of dinner. A ‘spot of dinner’, ha! This is Marjan we are talking about. He had arranged for a Michelin star chef to come to the winery to cook for us. The food and the incredible theatre with which it was served were suitable accompaniments to the show stopping wines we were lucky enough to enjoy.

As we were finishing up our dinner, Slovenia’s top DJ was setting up in the corner to get the party started. Playing regularly at all the top clubs in Ibiza, it must have come as something of a shock to watch 10 half-cut and utterly tone deaf wine buffs dad-dancing with outrageous inhibition to his thumping tunes into the early hours. I am pretty confident that the bouncing on the spot move transcends generations and music genres.

The following morning we had to high-tail it over the boarder to Croatia. Two cars set off. One car arrived at the border. A frantic call to car #2 found that not only had they set off in completely the wrong direction (to Austria as it turns out), but one of the crew had left their passport at the winery. So after a ‘little’ detour and a lot of fruity language we all arrived in the gorgeous coastal wine region of Istria to visit Iviza Matosevic.

Equally spectacular in quality the two visits couldn’t have been more different! On arriving, Iviza strolls out of the winery in his shorts, a huge grin on his face, and tells us to hop in the back of the truck. Wineries are boring to taste wine at apparently. Dazed and confused we pile in wondering where on earth was more appropriate to taste his wine than in his winery.

The winding road took us down to a deep estuary running out into the Mediterranean sea where, bathed in sunshine was a little jetty next to an oyster farm. Now there is situational drinking and there is situational drinking, but never have I experienced anything so gorgeous as sitting on the jetty, feet dangling in the cool water, tasting through this beautiful range of wines.

The star variety in the region is Malvasia, and the Matosevic Malvasia is vibrant, citrusy, mineral driven with a glorious salty tang. Some of the group leapt into the water and did the tasting partially submerged. And finally, lounging in the sun drying off, topping up our glasses with our favourite from the range and watching as the oysters are hauled up, shucked and handed straight over for us to eat we ruminated on the fact that this might just be the greatest wine tasting venue in the world. The sparkle of sunlight on the water, the clink of glasses, carefree laughter, the splash of wavelets against the jetty, exclamations of delight over the wines – this is a memory that will stay with me forever, and each time I sip those wines, even sit in cold and rainy England, it still has the power to transport me back.

Ivica makes the most beautiful, velvety and complex red from a local variety called Teran. As the sun left the jetty we headed back to the winery to taste the reds, which are every bit as glorious as the whites. We had the tasting in a slightly more conventional setting but we were in for a surprise at the end. ‘Shark man’ the local shark fisherman who looked startlingly like Jason Momoa came and prepared the most incredible and unusual lunch for us, with everything from shark steak to shark fois gras.

And so stuffed full of shark and fine wine, we finally headed back to the airport (passports having been counted!) with memories of these extraordinary men, making extraordinary wines having firmly embedded themselves in our heads and our hearts.

All of these wines are available in the UK at Orbit Wines and Liberty Wines respectively

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