What is Zelen?

An introduction to a rare white wine grape produced exclusively in Slovenia's Vipava Valley.

What is Zelen?

The short answer: Zelen a white local, or autochthonous wine grape, believed to be indigenous to Slovenia’s Vipava Valley district in the country’s western Primorska region. At the moment it’s not being produced anywhere else in the world. According to figures provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food (Apr 2018), 80 hectares (198 acres) of Zelen are currently being cultivated in Slovenia, primarily in the  Vipava Valley district. 

While the word zelen means green in Slovenian, its color can range from pale straw to a deep yellowish green prior to filtration –which is why it was likely given this name– but by the time it reaches the bottle it’s usually an attractive straw yellow. Its must is also very green prior to fermentation, another possibility for the origin of its name.

Like its other rare local brethren Klarnica and Pinela, it was largely ignored in Slovenia for much of the second half of the 20th century –in this particular case avoided for its low yield– during the mass production days of the Yugoslav federation. By the late 1980s it nearly vanished from the landscape, with less than two hectares of vines growing as recently as 1988. It began to make a comeback after independence in the early 1990s, and while production is still very low it’s become a point of pride for a growing number of Vipava Valley vintners. Production increased to about 65 hectares (160 acres) by 2009.

Its aromas are subtle, floral, but distinctive. On the palate it’s typically fruity with apple and pear notes, a moderate acidity, crisp with a medium finish. Some producers age it sur lies, giving it some added textures and nuttier notes. Produced in both stainless steel and oak, some Zelen wines are made to age but it’s generally best enjoyed in its youth, within a year or two of its release.

Zelen is a close relative to Italy’s Verduzzo, known as Verduc in Slovenia. 

Zelen Reviews:

  • Burja Zelen 2017 (barrel sample) / Vipava, Primorska [Feb 2018]
  • Colja Zelen 2016 / Vipava, Primorska [Jan 2018]
  • Ferjančič Zelen 2017 (barrel samples) / Vipava, Primorska [Feb 2018]
  • Ferjančič Zelen 2016 / Vipava, Primorska [Feb 2018]
  • Guerila Zelen 2016 / Vipava, Primorska [Feb 2018]
  • Pasji Rep Zelen 2015 [October 2017]
  • Poljšak Zelen 2015 [October 2017]
  • Sveti Martin Zelen 2016 [October 2017]

 

Last updated 08 May 2018
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