Salon Sauvignon 2018 – A Crash Course in Slovenian Sauvignon Blanc

The eastern Slovenian town of Ptuj is the country’s oldest city, inhabited since the late Stone Age. The only hill for miles around lies at its center, topped by a castle that dates to the 12th century; not far from its shadow is one of the city’s greatest architectural and historical treasures, a Dominican Monastery whose roots go back to the late 13th century.

What’s gone on under and behind its marvelously arched hallways –sometimes plastered in sunlight, at others dimmed by the casts of long dark shadows– in the centuries since is the stuff of legend and local lore, with novelists and poets adding their colorful take as well. It’s safe to assume that wine played its part; oftentimes a significant one, given Ptuj’s key role in the area’s wine production and trade. Wine here pre-dates the Romans, so those roots run deep and strong. Last Saturday that all conspired to host the fourth Salon Sauvignon, a gathering of many of Slovenia’s finest producers of the classic Bordeaux varietal.

The Salon’s aim, said Stasa Cafuta Trcek, a coordinator of the event, is to cover the widest possible palette of Sauvignon Blanc in Stajerska and the wider region, and as much as is practical, to compliment that with international selections. Cafuta Trcek and her colleagues know the area, know the winemakers, and have watched their wines evolve. That’s resulted in a solid cross section of tastes and styles –and in a festival that in a few short years is already an important date on the national and regional wine calendar.

Forty-six winemakers –mostly from the Štajerska district– turned out to pour more than 100 wines, providing an excellent opportunity for a crash course in how the varietal does in this corner of the country. More than 400 answered that call, a significant turnout on what was by far the nicest Saturday of 2018. For wine-lovers and enthusiasts who came together in one of the country’s most charming cities, that was especially true.

With just a half a dozen wineries outside of Slovenia represented, the focus here is on the local. As a starting point and in general terms, Sauvignon Blanc in the country’s eastern Podravje region –and parts of the Štajerska /Styria district in particular– tend to me more aromatic, floral; those is the western reaches of the Primorska region –the Goriska Brda, Vipava and Slovenska Istra districts– more grassy.

Most were very crisp, and with primarily 2016 and 2017 being poured, fresh and fruity. I was especially glad to see some being made with aging in mind. Onwards.

The wines

I tasted about 45 of the wines on offer and took notes on 24, which are presented here alphabetically by district and region — after my top-five picks among those I tried. (I posted a top-10ish gallery on Instagram here.)

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Cilić Onyx Belo (white) 2015
Jagodina, Serbia
100% Sauvignon blanc, Winemaker Miša Cilić ages it in Serbian oak for eight months. Toasty caramel notes, ripe peaches and citrus on the nose and palate. Nicely balanced, great effort, terrific wine. I wanted to dance barefoot with Patti Smith.

Gaube Kaspar Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Štajerska Slovenija, Podravje, Slovenia
Oak aged for 12 months. Nice vanilla notes frame the tropical fruit and citrus mash-up. Slightly more reserved, almost shy. Delightful. Just 600 bottles produced. Want one? You’ll have to go knock on their door. I’m looking forward to a visit. I wanted to listen to Pollini play Chopin on an infinite loop. And I will as soon as I get a bottle.

Kobal Veliki Vrh Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Štajerska Slovenija, Podravje, Slovenia
This spent 18 months in oak but the wood barely announces its presence. Floral notes on the nose, really nice harmonious layers of honey, passion fruit and ripe peach on the palate, a lively lingering finish. An excellent wine with rhythm and oneness.

Kupljen 2016 Loona
Štajerska Slovenija, Podravje, Slovenia
100% Sauvignon Blanc. Aged for nine months in new French oak, unfiltered. Sensational tropical fruit, caramel-y on the edges, slight hint of vanilla but not toasty. Great finish; an alluring French-iness. Delicious now, it’ll improve for probably another decade. My favorite of the day. Suitable with Céu & Herbie.

Marof Breg Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Prekmurje, Podravje, Slovenia
Oak-aged for 18 months; a fuller style, with ripe pear and peach notes, a little buttery, but nicely rounded. A very nice wine which will still improve with age. There’s no rush, it’ll find its way.

Moving on.


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Podravje, Slovenia

Bregos Sauvignon Blanc Porthos 2017
Štajerska Slovenija, Podravje, Slovenia
A newish winery situated on the fringes of the city of Maribor, 2017 was their third bottled vintage. I was struck by the strong mineral notes that seemed to dominate the nose, but it gave way to pleasant citrusy notes. The most ‘different’ of those I tried. About 2500 bottles produced.

Frešer Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Štajerska Slovenija, Podravje, Slovenia
Typical citrus –but more lemon than lime maybe?– and green apples on the nose and palate. Most enjoyable for its long concentrated finish. Pleasantly refreshing.

Gaube Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Štajerska Slovenija, Podravje, Slovenia
Their fresh line, typical citrus but very nicely balanced in a delicious harmonious package. Drink it now.

Greif Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Štajerska Slovenija, Podravje, Slovenia
Lighter bodied, Green pepper and herbs on the nose, some floral notes.

Kobal Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Štajerska Slovenija, Podravje, Slovenia
Slightly fuller in style, nicely rounded with grapefruit and green apple notes and pleasant lingering finish.

Kogl Mea Culpa 2017
Štajerska Slovenija, Podravje, Slovenia
100% Sauvignon Blanc. On the lighter side of medium bodied, with delicate green pepper and tropical fruit notes. A delightful finish.

Kupljen 2017 Loona
Štajerska Slovenija, Podravje, Slovenia
Barrel sample. Fresh tropical fruit, passion fruit, vanilla on the edge. Really looking forward to seeing how it will fill out. When? Winemaker Samo Kupljen is undecided: he’ll release it either in October or next April.

Ptujska Klet Sauvignon Blanc 1971
Štajerska Slovenija, Podravje, Slovenia
A nice surprise dug out from one of Slovenia’s most celebrated archive cellars. An attractive light gold in color, some initial vegetal notes –pickled cucumbers and asparagus– paved the way for plenty of raisin-y and other dry fruit layers that will keep on giving for at least another handful of years. A very big surprise actually, a nice gift for those in your life that have a connection with the year 1971.

Ptujska Klet Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 1986
Štajerska Slovenija, Podravje, Slovenia
Unfortunately, this didn’t do much for me: in my glass it was prune-y, almost stilted. Maybe/possibly it needed more air? The verdict’s still out.

Šoster Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Štajerska Slovenija, Podravje, Slovenia
Nice tropical fruit notes, citrus, a little light, but playful. Looking forward to more from this newish organic winery.


Posavje, Slovenia

Šuklje Sauvignon Blanc 2016 and
Šuklje Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Bela Krajina, Posavje, Slovenia
Typical varietal characteristics: citrus, elderberry, notes of tropical fruit, nicely balanced. But it’s all slightly less pronounced than the majority of those from Štajerska; I’m not familiar enough with wines from Bela Krajina, but I’m wondering if that’s an area-specific trait. Both quite nice; the 2017 had a more Sancerre-lite aroma.


Primorska, Slovenia

Bagueri Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Goriska Brda, Primorska, Slovenia
The current release, eight months in oak. Pleasant strong citrus notes, some ripe pear, with a light bitter butter finish.

Tilia Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ‘Pretty good’
Vipava Valley, Primorska, Slovenia
The entry level line; typical fresh tropical fruit and grapefruit notes. Pleasant overall, a little short, but definitely lives up to its name.


And elsewhere…

Cilić Fume Blanc 2017
Jagodina, Serbia
100% Sauvignon Blanc, cask aged for eight months. Green apples, light citrus; fresh, with a lovely intensity for an entry level offering.

Cmrecnjak Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Zagorje – Međimurje, Croatia
Grapefruit and pineapple notes, but understated overall. That could be the bottle aging at work; a good choice for those looking for a more reserved style. About 13,000 bottles produced.

Cmrecnjak Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Zagorje – Međimurje, Croatia
Obviously more fresh and intense, with fuller tropical fruit notes and more upfront aromatics. I’m guessing their focus is on the freshness. And they do it well. About 13,000 bottles produced.

Henri Bourgeois Petit Bourgeois Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Loire, France
Strong typical ‘feline characteristic’ on the nose, green apple and pineapple on the nose and palate. Light, crisp.

And finally, a couple Cabernet Sauvignons I returned for a few times…


Korenika & Moškon Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Slovenska Istra, Primorska, Slovenia
Nice smoky strawberry and cherry notes, jammy, vanilla, and a bit of kinky leather, too. Another example of how reasonably priced Primorska Cabernet Sauvignons can age. Firmly structured. It’s got a few more years.

Korenika & Moškon Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
Slovenska Istra, Primorska, Slovenia
I first had this from a freshly opened bottle, so had to go back for seconds. (Life is hard that way sometimes.) It was still wound up pretty tightly, but the fruit began to emerge, nice layers of forest berries, some lightly toasty vanilla. Also full-bodied and a shade or two darker than the 2006. I’ve seen it available for under €20 in a few places. Worth seeking out.


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