Wine Border Regions – Slovenia & Croatia (Bizeljsko Sremič)
15th February 2021
Slovenia gives us nine wonderful grape producing districts, within three main regions located on the eastern and western sides of the land. These wine regions spread out to the borders and touch upon the neighbouring countries of Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. A total of 33,000 hectares of vineyards, 30,000 grape producers with 2,300 growers that are registered to make their own wines / labels to sell.
Slovenia wines, especially sparkling wines, have increased in popularity and awareness in recent years, they have taken home over 150 medals and trophies from the London Champagne and Sparkling Wine Awards.
I was last in the wine region of Bizeljsko Sremič as part of a press tour following judging at the 2018 Vino Ljubljana awards. Having now explored each of the wine regions of Slovenia, I can say that each owns its special characters and most certainly wineries – As we drove deeper into the Bizeljsko Sremič wine district the landscape started to make its own claim of being one of the finest.
The region runs right up to and quite literally only a stone’s throw away from the border with Croatia. As you sip wines with the winemaker in Slovenia at his winery of an evening, you can see the lights of the homes in Croatia being switched on – A total of 670km of the border is shared between two great wine producing countries of Slovenia and Croatia. This wine district is located on the eastern side of the country and alongside the 20,650 ha Kozjanski Park.
Visit to Vino Graben Winery 2018
As part of a tour of this region, we had the pleasure to visit several wineries, though for this article I want to look at those which are located extremely close to the border with Croatia. Our coach and driver faired very well as we explored the windy routes taking us up to wonderfully located cellars with breath-taking views especially for those loving their wine tourism. There are quite a few wineries to explore as you travel west to east in Bizeljsko Sremič so make sure you research a good route to take you past as many as possible if you ever decide to visit this area of Slovenia.
Visit to Istenič Winery 2018
Istenič winery can be found right next door to the border with Croatia. One of Slovenia’s most well known and highly praised wineries with a fine portfolio of sparkling wines and special vintages holding many medals and trophies from international judges and competitions.
The brand was really the passion and dedication of Janez Istenič who was initially a winemaker at one of Yugoslavia’s state cellars in the 1960’s. He would soon both gain experience of working over in France within the Champagne region and also a father-in-law who owned a small vineyard. Janez further saved to buy equipment and additional land so that he could put his ideas into fruition. in 1968 he produced his first wine under his guidance.
He was lured by bubbles from the beginning but the turning point came when he won a scholarship to study in France which took him to Champagne. On his return, he realised that his father-in-law’s vineyard, which produced wines with ‘distinct freshness’, had similarities with the high-acid grapes of Champagne.
“The winery is notable for its perfectionist approach using modern equipment to ensure the best quality free-run juice only and long slow maturation in bottle for fine and lasting bubbles. One feature of the winery is its focus on including an old traditional grape variety called Rumeni Plavec in several wines. It’s noted for fresh acidity but also adding a note of real local distinction. “
Let us take a look at one of Istenič’s sparkling wine labels and what for me is my personal favourite – The Prestige range, where there are several vintages to choose from, is highly popular amongst consumers and as each minute goes by the more senior labels are sold out – then the only way you can experience one is if you have a good friend who has one in their collection or you have a warm contact at the winery who likes you enough!
Istenič Prestige 2013 (60% Chardonnay 40% Pinot Noir) – Gold Medal Winner Meditation 2020 – Tasting notes: “Soft yellow floral, delicate yellow fruit skin on the nose. Beautiful floral notes, yellow blossom in character along with soft ripe yellow stone fruits in flavours. Tangerine skin and pineapple zest at the close. An orchestra of delicate flavours to relax to. I have also tasted the 2011 vintage which has the edge over the 2013, which makes me think that this wine has still much more to offer with further ageing.”
Though I tasted only a select few of their still wines, I would also give a warm mention to Vino Graben. I remember fondly my visit, a steep narrow road that our coach driver had to leave us at. The foot of the hill we enjoyed the walk up from to the views on offer (shown on the video). The winery is run and owned by Mihela and Janez Šekoranja since 1991 and there are 7 hectares with over 24,000 vines. Their range is vast and there are some very fine vintages with a broad variety of grapes used in the production – I do believe when I was there previously that even turnip wine was being produced!
Co-founder of Glass of Bubbly. Journalist and author focused on Champagne & Sparkling Wines and pairing them with foods.