Location: Slovenia, Primorska
Grape(s): White- Ribula (Ribola Gialla), Sivi Pinot (Pinot Grigio), Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Friulano, Malvazija (Malvasia Istiriana), Renski Rizling (Riesling)
Red- Refosk (Refosco), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc
Soil(s): marl, limestone, clay
Climate: Mediterranean, with heavy rainfall and hail in summer
As we crossed the border from Italy into Slovenia, the first thing we did was slam on the brakes. So meone had a brilliant idea, “I should build a gas station 100 meters from the border from Italy”. It worked, gas in Italy is incredibly expensive. We paid an average of $8.90 per gallon for the time we were here. Spain wasn’t much better at $6.75, and France was somewhere in between. Slovenia was slightly cheaper than Spain, but as there was a line 20 cars deep, we chose to keep going. We arrived in the village of Vipolze as the weather began to look ominous. Winds seemed to be blowing from 3 different directions depending on which way you turned. It was as if the clouds were on separate tracks like traffic on a busy highway. After a few minutes spent figuring out exactly how the houses were labeled, we found Edi Simčic.
We met Edi as he was in the process of cleaning tanks and preparing for the oncoming harvest. I politely asked him if he spoke English, Russian, French, or Spanish… I went 0 for 4. As Edi spoke only Serbo-Croatian and Italian, we knew our entire visit would be handled by his son Aleks. Aleks Simčic is a fantastic oenologist in his own right and he gave us a thorough breakdown of the wines he and his dad have been crafting since 1990.
Goriska Brda as a region is an extension of the vineyards in Collio Friuli Orientali. While the names change, the region is one in the same. Actually, the Slovenian side boasts more hillsides while the Italian side is a bit more flat. The climate here is influenced from two directions. To the north are the Southern Alps, to the south is the Mediterranean. The Alps act as both a barrier and a highway for storms that track their way across Europe. Friuli and Primorska receive the most rainfall of any Italian/Slovenian region, as the Alps here are slightly lower and the storms get the chance to cross the mountains and head south. The combination of the “buria” or cold mountain wind and the warm strong southerly wind coming off the sea just 15 kilometers away makes the region a hotbed for intense storms. Hail is often an issue here, as the competing winds that we saw on our way in create the perfect conditions for strong storms. The moist warm air from the sea meets the cold air from the north, and bam, storms and hail.
The rolling hillsides of the region are covered by rocks and gravel that used to be found on the bottom of an ancient sea bed. As a result, the wines at Edi Simčic are some of the most mineral laden wines I have ever come across. The distinct flavor of dry rocks and sea salt permeates through every varietal acting as a binding agent for the typicity of style in the region. Every single white wine we tasted screamed a mineral profile much more intense than I have ever experienced. The wines are a true representation of the soil composition of the region. It was a very important goal of Aleks and Edi to convey, their wine is a perfect accompaniment to cured meats and fish.
Edi Simčic produces a great variety of wines that include many red and white varietals. Tasting his single vineyard Chardonnay called “Kozana” reminded me of great Meursault in Burgundy. The gun flint and crushed rocks on the nose balanced with semi-ripe fruit would baffle anyone trying to blind taste both side by side. His Rebula, fermented with a little skin contact gave the wine a slight tannic profile while enhancing the aromatics of the varietal. Rebula is a grape whose flavor is derived from the bit of juice closest to the skin of the grape, without it the wines taste simple and bland, but with a little contact intense herbal and stone fruit aromatics permeate a wine of great complexity- it is by far the best Ribula I have tasted thus far. Every wine form the Civi Pinot, to the Tokata (Friulano), to Sauvignon, to the Malvazija were fantastic. The Malvazija had strong notes of chamomile and macadamia to balance the lychee and pineapple fruit profile, again the best Malvasia we tasted on this trip. The reds were incredibly soft considering the up to 4 years of French oak aging. Merlot here can express both terroir and fruit notes better than their counterparts in Friuli. The “Kolos” which is a barrel selection of the best Duet Lex blends (80% Merlot & 20% Cabernet Sauv and Franc), was a complex and silky wine that finished with a strong tannic profile that was consistent with the extended oak aging. The beauty here was in the subtlety of the oak, the aging was not overpowering on the nose, but massive on the finish- a characteristic rarely found in most wines. Another interesting note, the biggest challenge Aleks and Edi face when dealing with red varietals is ripeness. There is so much rain in Goriska Brda that harvesting has to occur before the heaviest rains begin in October. It makes the months of August and September absolutely crucial. Though these challenges, the reds maintain a level of freshness and purity of fruit one does not see in Merlot from other regions in Italy. In Toscana, it is overripe. In Alto Adige, it tasted under ripe. In Goriska Brda, it was sublime. I am sure it is a testiment to the high quality of production here at Simčic. Every wine we sampled was perfectly crafted.
The other side of Collio is a wonderous place. The wines we tasted on that Saturday afternoon were some of the most high quality wines we experienced on the entire trip. Aleks and Edi were better able to convey their terroir than almost anyone else we visited. They are stars of the region.
Reeds Wines: 2009. Edi Simčič Sauvignon. Goriska Brda. $54, $36 to go
Key Wines: “Kozana” Chardonnay, “Duet” Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon Blend, Malvazia, Rebula