There are lots of reasons to like Slovenia. The abundance of wine-related festivals and gatherings primary among them.
For the moment, I’m referring to Druženje s pinelo, or ‘Gathering with Pinela’ hereafter dubbed PinelaFest, an annual event celebrating Pinela, one of the country’s indigenous grapes which in Slovenia is grown only in the Vipava Valley district.
Although some Pinella is also produced a hop across the border in Italy’s Friuli, whether that’s the same grape is still being debated. In any case, Planina nad Ajdovsčino, a village of about 500 that lies at nearly 300 meters (984ft) above sea level and about 200 meters (656ft) above the valley floor to the north, fashions itself as the physical and spiritual home to Pinela, a dry citrusy, floral white that’s typically light lemon in color with medium to high acidity.
Grape-growing and wine-making are deeply rooted here, dating back more than two thousand years to the area’s Roman Empire days. As local lore has it, it was in Planina that the Romans planted the area’s first vines, which were spread throughout the valley. The village is composed of five settlements within a five-kilometer radius, rising in elevation from about 250 meters (820ft) above sea level at its northern end to just over 400 (1312ft) at its southernmost reaches. I arrived from the south, by bike from the Kras/Karst village of Stanjel, as the crow flies a distance of just 13 kilometers. But covering areas that form the border between the Kras and Vipava wine districts –not to mention the melding of the greater Kras and Vipava worlds– it was almost like coming from a different plane, all covered by vineyards in most directions.
Here in Planina, Pinela lies firmly in the heart of that tradition. The grape does best in lean marl soils at higher, more airy and sunny areas. All of those are in abundance in and around the village. About one-fifth of all the Pinela produced in the Vipava district, about 11 hectares (27 acres), comes from Planina, thus the annual Easter Monday PinelaFest which this year celebrated its 13th edition.
More than 250 people turned out to taste more than 30 wines poured by 18 Vipava district winemakers. I tried 16, took (limited) notes on 14 and included a dozen here that I encourage you to seek out. Prices aren’t listed but note that Pinela, even the best ones, usually don’t come with ultra premium price tags. The majority of these, if you can find them, will come in at under €10 retail.
Fedora Pinela 2016
Multi-layered, with lemon and grapefruit notes giving way to pineapple and melon. Pleasant lime on the long finish. Nicely concentrated. Well-crafted, quite nice. Half of the wine was macerated for 24 hours, released in December 2017.
Koron Pinela 2016
A little lighter-bodied that expected; understated floral aromas and strong grapefruit and typical citrus notes.
Koron Pinela 2017
A good example to me of why Pinela is best young and fresh, especially tasted in comparison to the 2016. The aromas are spring-like, the fruit invigorating. Lemon, orange, fairly well concentrated.
Miška Pinela 2016
Less pronounced on the nose, but nice tropical fruit on the palate, lighter citrus except for notes of very ripe grapefruit. Well-rounded medium finish. If I were to compile a top-five for the day, this would be on that list.
Trta Sparkling Pinela 2016
100% Pinela; semi-dry, but on the sweeter side of the scale. Fresh tangy citrus. Not quite my style but it does have appeal.
Pipan Pinela 2016
Very local; the winery was just one block away. Pipan sells mostly ‘odprto’, or open (bulk) wine so bottled production is small, in this case about 500 bottles this year. A little lighter in body, ripe lemon on the palate.
Marc Pinela 2017
Another small winery from Planina. Strong floral aromas really set this one apart; it’s not overly aggressive so that doesn’t turn me off but it’s probably too aromatic for some. Nice apricot notes.
Marc Pinela 2016
Either made in an entirely different less aromatic style as the 2017, or the aroma has mellowed considerably. There’s less citrus but more tropical fruit on the palate. Pleasant overall.
Jamšek Pinela Sparkling Wine 2016
Very dry, playful, full. Nice lingering lime. Impressive, fizzy apricot lends impression of sweetness.
Jamšek Pinela 2017
Not yet released. Nicely balanced, fresh, fragrant. Grapefruit and apricot on the palate and finish.
Jamšek Pinela 2007
Does Pinela age? This answered the question before it was even asked. A very nice surprise and special treat of the day. The aromas were tamed, but the fruitiness was still very much there. Not quite as robust but nicely rounded.
Žorž Pinela 2017
Not yet released, still filling out. Some fruit is there, good acidity.
Tasted 2 April 2018, prices indicated are local retail (Ljubljana, Slovenia)