Six Vipava Valley Whites – Tasting Notes

Slovenia's Vipava Valley district
Slovenia’s Vipava Valley district

When I’m in a new place these are the kinds of wines I like to explore: rare, local varietals, where you can taste the terroir, feel and sense the history. That’s what Slovenia’s Vipava Valley district, located in the western Primorska region, increasingly has on offer. For a time almost entirely ignored, these rare grapes –Zelen and Pinela– are making a comeback thanks to curious winemakers exploring their possibilities.

Up first, Zelen.

Zelen is a local autochthonous grape, believed to be indigenous to the Vipava Valley district and only grown in this district of Primorska. 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 before it began to make a comeback after the Yugoslav break-up in the early 1990s. Production remains low, but the grape has become a point of pride for a growing number of Vipava Valley vintners.

Its aromas are subtle, floral, but distinctive. On the palate it’s typically fruity with apple and pear notes, with moderate acidity and a medium finish. Some are made to age but it’s best enjoyed in its youth, within a year or two of its release.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]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 Sončni is pronounced SonCHnee. (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.)[/su_pullquote]Sveti Martin Zelen 2016
Vipava district, Primorska
Total production 4,000 bottles

Fruity; peaches, apricots and apples on the nose and palate. It spent four months in acacia barrels, woodiness that’s apparent on the nose. It has slightly more body that the typical Zelen. €13 (tasted October 2017)

Pasji Rep Zelen 2015
Vipava district, Primorska

Pasji Rep, which means Dog Tail, is an organic operation in the village of Podnanos; Zelen is among their standard-bearing wines. Slightly lighter in style, with apple and pear notes. Elegant and precise. Truly enjoyable. €10 (tasted October 2017)

Poljšak Zelen 2015
Vipava district, Primorska

Located in the village of Gradišče, the Poljšak family has been producing grapes for more than two centuries; they began bottling in 1995 with a strong focus on Zelen. Typical aromas on the nose, crisp fruit, some lingering citrus. It’s more sour-sweet on the palate than sweet-sour. A little short on finish but pleasant. €10 (tasted October 2017)

For more, see my Zelen page.


Pinela is another autochthonous varietal, grown almost exclusively in the Vipava Valley and (possibly) in Italy’s Friuli where it’s called Pinella. (The absolute verdict is still out though on whether these are the same grape.)

It too nearly disappeared in areas of present-day Slovenia where it was particularly susceptible to frost, mold and rot. Often used in blends, it began to appear more widely in varietal bottlings about two decades ago. It’s typically light lemon or yellowish in color, with a gentle floral bouquet and ample citrus notes on the palate with a medium finish. It’s dry, moderate in alcohol, generally crisp and fresh and at its best in its youth. But it can age well (see below).

Ferjančič Pinela 2016
Vipava district, Primorska

Light lemon gold in color, with an understated floral bouquet. The flavors are concentrated but not overwhelming – citrusy, grapefruit (mostly), some apricot, lemon. There’s a hint of nuttiness on the firm medium-long finish. Fresh and crisp, very dry. For those not familiar with the varietal, this is an excellent example with which to begin your Pinela exploration. €8 (tasted November 2017)

Sveti Martin Pinela 2016
Vipava district, Primorska
3,200 bottles

Spicy and crisp. Citrus notes, piney, apple (as in fresh-baked apple strudel). Decently-balanced but came off as bit young. A solid wine but I was more struck by their Zelen, above. €18 (tasted October 2017)

Sončni Škol Pinela 2009
Vipava district, Primorska

Yes, it’s a 2009 and it was superb. Buttery (!) as in buttered popcorn on the nose from the oak maturation. It’s the strongest in alcohol Pinela I’ve ever tasted but it wears it extremely well. It’s a beautiful elegant honeyed brown at the edges. Some spice on the palate, honey and pear notes. For full effect, this wine requires candlelight. I’m banking on it aging a bit more, so took home two bottles. €14 (tasted October 2017)

For more, see my Pinela page.

Five of these six wines were part of a thoroughly enjoyable tasting event hosted by friends who operate the Dekanter Wine Boutique on Gornji Trg in Ljubljana’s old town center. Space-wise, it’s the smallest shop in Ljubljana, but it packs a punch with personality.


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