To the uninitiated, the Slovenian language can be problematic. Most untrained tongues simply can’t handle too many consonants without an occasional vowel break to come up for air. Even after a glass of wine. Fortunately, much of that bewilderment doesn’t make its way to the country’s wine labels.
In most cases, the varietal figures prominently, so if you know what grape you’re looking for, you’ll already be off to a good start. On top of that, regulations allow English language descriptions to appear on labels, which makes it even easier for travelers.
But just as in most countries, there’s a lot that you’ll find on labels –much of it required by law– that won’t be immediately clear. This post will help bring clarity –and even joy!– to that situation.
For those of you who need a refresher (or are just eager to learn!), in Slovenian č, š and ž are pronounced “ch”, “sh”, and “zh”. ‘J’ is soft, as in the ‘y’ in you. So Goriška is pronounced GoReeShkah. (We’ll skip discussion of the tongue-twisting ‘lj’ for now; whenever you see those two letters together in that order as in the capital city’s name Ljubljana, it’s easier to just pretend that the ‘j’ isn’t there.)
SO, what’s on the label?
For starters, the type.
Most times this will be vino, or wine, more specifically still wine. Sparkling wine is peneče vino. Other types you might find include mošt, or grape must and mlado vino, young wine.
Belo is white. Rdeče is red.
Year (vintage), alcohol content and bottle size.
No translation required.
A single varietal designation requires that at least 85% of the wine in the bottle comes from that one grape variety. Blends will list the varietals in descending order. Most varietals grown in Slovenia use the internationally known name, or a Slovenian names that’s close enough to easily identify. There are of course exceptions –which makes discovering and exploring them so much fun!– including several local varieties that are rarely seen outside its borders. Here’s a list of the 52 varietals allowed in Slovenia, along with their English language counterparts.
In wine-making terms, Slovenia is divided into three regions: Podravje, in the northeast; Posavje in the southeast; and Primorska, in the west and southwest. These are further divided into districts. Podravje has two, Štajerska Slovenija and Prekmurje; Posavje three, Dolenjska, Bizeljsko Sremič and Bela Krajina; and Primorje four: Goriška Brda, Kras, Slovenska Istra and Vipava.
The majority of wines will be labeled by district with the designation Zaščiteno Geografsko Poreklo, or more simply its acronym ZGP. Those will further be characterized as kakovostno, or quality, and vrhunsko, top quality.
That quality designation is determined from a mandatory analysis during which each wine is tasted and scored before it hits the market.
Then there are the late harvest and dessert wine designations. These are very popular in Slovenia; the best are produced in Podravje and Posavje. Like their famous German cousins, they can be quite pricey as well. These will all be ZGP and vrhunsko.
Pozna Trgatev: Late harvest, equivalent is Spätlese. Harvest cannot begin less than ten days after the main harvest.
Izbor: Special late harvest, equivalent to Auslese. Only selected grapes dried naturally can be used.
Jagodni Izbor: Berry select, equivalent to Beerenauslese. Only the ripest and sweetest berries are used.
Vino Suhi Jagodni Izbor: Dry berry select, equivalent to Trockenbeerenauslese. A minumum sugar level of 32% in the grapes is required.
Ledeno Vino. Ice wine, or eiswein. Grapes must be harvested and pressed while frozen. Quite rare and yes, expensive.
Some wines have the designation Priznano Tradicionalno Poimenovanje (PTP), or recognized traditional designation. PTP is reserved for wines with regional (district) traditional distinction: Cviček, a blend of red and white grapes from Dolenjska and Teran, refosco (refošk) from Kras, are the most common. In the latter case, all Teran is from refosco, but not all refosco is Teran.
You might also come across deželno vino PGO. These indicate the region only, similar to the French Vin de Pays.
Dry to sweet.
For still wine, there are four classifications, based on residual sugar levels:
suho (dry), up to eight grams or residual sugar per liter;
polsuho (medium-dry), between eight and 14 grams;
polsladko (medium-sweet), between 14 and 40 grams;
and sladko (sweet), more than 40.
For sparkling wines, the designations, with their French equivalents, are:
popolnoma suho (brut nature), less than three grams of sugar per liter
izredno suho (extra brut), three to six grams;
zelo suho (brut), six to 12 grams;
suho (extra dry), 12 to 17 grams;
polsuho (sec), 17 to 32 grams;
polsladko (demi sec), 32 to 50 grams;
sladko (doux), more than 50.
Labels are required to indicate the number of bottles, or volume in liters, that have been produced of that particular wine, along with a registration number, which serves as a record of the analysis and quality test.
And finally, regulations don’t require that all the information appear on the front of the bottle. Which means plenty of really cool designs.