Posted by: tomciocco | April 2, 2014

SLOVENIAN BLAUFRANKISCH: A WINE FROM A EUROPEAN CROSSROADS

A few moments scanning a map of Europe might eventually bring your eyes across the small nation of Slovenia. This very pretty and now quite prosperous was once part of the now defunct nation of Yugoslavia, but now, Slovenia is a full-fledged member of the European Union. But  again, the map holds the key to this proud nation’s largely unknown viticultural traditions.

Though Slovenia is a place with a strong ethnic identity and its own Slavic language spoken nowhere else, its official borders have been quite fluid over the centuries, and prior to independence, and prior to its inclusion in Yugoslavia, Slovenia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and returning to the map once again, today, independent Slovenia holds borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, as well as a small sliver of the Adriatic Sea. And while one’s neighbors always influence one’s view on the world, this goes at least double for a place like Slovenia, and no place more than at the dinner table.

So both in terms of food and drink, Slovenia clearly displays the influences of the culinary traditions of its larger, more powerful neighbors while still maintaining a unique identity. But in terms of viticulture Slovnia truly is a multi-culti poster child. Within its cozy borders grow Ribolla Gialla and Schioppettino (here called Pocalza), two varieties most closely associated with Friuli in Italy, Furmint from across the Hungarian border, Grasevina from Croatia, as well as tonight’s featured variety that is most closely associated with Austria, and this is to name just a few and not to mention a few handfuls of very scarce but exclusively Slovenia vines as well.

And in order to not sell Slovenia short, even though the lion’s share of Blaufrankisch is grown in Austria, carries a German-language name, and even on the label of this Slovenian wine bears this same German-language moniker, the origins of Blaufrankisch have never been conclusively proven to be rooted in Austria, and indeed the Slovenians have their own local name for this vine – Frankovna Crna – so it is entirely possible that Slovenia could be this dark and vivacious red variety’s home.

But regardless of where this vine originally hails from, there is no disputing the fact that it does exceptionally well in Slovenia, and this particular bottling clearly bears that out; it is made in a uniquely hearty, countrified, and decidedly Slovenian style that markedly diverges from the fresher, “clearer” styles that emanate from across the border. So whether it’s with this wine or some other, get yourself down to the crossroads.

I matched this homespun but still polished wine with a classic Slovenian menu that clearly shows its identity as a Slavic culture with strong Teutonic and Latin influences: a thick pasta and bean soup with smoked bacon, tomato paste, paprika, bay leaf, marjoram et al., followed by cevapcici (grilled beef and lamb “sausages” with mint, rosemary, thyme, parsley, garlic, etc.) with ajvar (a pureed red pepper and eggplant condiment) and stacalca (a side dish of mashed potatoes, green beans, garlic, lard and vinegar).

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Kobal Posavje, Slovenia Blaufrankisch 2011

Intense and unfiltered deep purple/garnet color. The nose is elegantly rustic with strong notes of prune, myrtle and mulberry fruit, behind which protrude bold aromas of brown spices, hazelnut butter, maple syrup, motor oil, pine needles, violet and subtle notes of new oak. The palate of the wine is full, rich and intense with a chewy texture, a prominent acidity and a firm tannic structure that carries deep flavors of black cherry, blood orange juice, black currants, damp, black earth and juniper berry. Long and powerful “sweet and sour” finish.

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