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Trip to Goriška Brda, Slovenia Part 2: History, Nature, the Capital and a Little More Grappa

Here we continue with our report on the recent trip to Slovenia and the Vinska Klet Goriška Brda Winery.  Good things just kept happening.

IMG_1682Sunday, or day three,  was all about history, and this region has plenty of it.  WWI brought long, bitter and fierce fighting to this region, as the mountains were won and lost, defended and conceded. A short drive from our hotel the WWI museum and tunnels at Mount Sabotin provided a first hand look at the world hundreds of thousands of men lived in during the years of 1915 through 1917.   Tunnels hewn into solid rock were their refuge, as ordinance rained on them from the skies. This area saw battles which used more ordinance per area than has ever been used before or since. Rock turned to rubble, sending deadly slices flying everywhere. Trenches were cut into the ground,

A poignant heart shape in the tunnels at Sabotin

A poignant heart shape in the tunnels at Sabotin

the rock and the snow and ice to protect the defenders. It was horrible. To appreciate that you only have to visit one of the sites of mass burial, where many of those hundreds of thousands now rest. It was a bloody war. One that devastated much of Europe, and which was keenly felt, and still strongly remembered here in Slovenia.

We had lunch on the mountain, along with

The most bitter drink in the world!

The most bitter drink in the world!

some wine and a horrible spirit made from a local root. The wines were the Quercus Merlot and Pinot Grigio and very good.  The spirit was possibly, and this time we agreed, the most bitter concoction ever made.  Janez said he liked it, and he was alone in that opinion!

After lunch we took a ride north along the river valley.  The Soča River winds its way through this area of the country, and the color is something I have never seen. From some distances and angles it is a surreal, almost fluorescent greenish blue, quite beautiful. That color strikes a vivid line through mountains and valleys, winding its way to the sea. We stopped just outside of Kobarid to take the short hike to Kozjak Waterall, a 25 minute walk well worth the

Kozjak Waterfall

Kozjak Waterfall

time. You work your way into a narrowing gorge that eventually ends in a spectacularly beautiful waterfall. Some of the last parts of the hike could be trying for those afraid of heights or falling, as the bridges get narrow and the surface is wet, but you won’t be disappointed. The entire walk was pretty breathtaking.

Then it was back to history, and a more in depth look at WWI story at the museum in Kobarid.  On the way we stopped at the Italian Charnal House just up the hill, opened by Mussolini and now home to the remains of 7014 Italian soldiers who fell in the first World War. The

The Italian Charnal House

The Italian Charnal House

mausoleum is simple and powerful, much like the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. It is not there to glorify what happened, just to remember it.

The Kobarid Museum itself is a detailed look at the campaigns in the nearby mountains, and has graphic photographs of what these poor men endured and suffered. It is recognized as one of the best museums in Europe and worth a visit.

Now it was time to lighten things up and that meant dinner, preceded with some Grappa. I loved the way we started every event and meal with a toast of something, lending a little extra celebration to each element of life over these four days. The people here certainly

Restavracija Kotlar

Restavracija Kotlar

celebrate life. Dinner tonight was pretty special as it was, according to Janez, at one of the top five restaurant in the country – Restavracija Kotlar.  While we had sampled cured meats, cheeses, beef and venison to date, this was all about seafood. The restaurant is know for it, and they certainly delivered. It started, of course, with a glass of sparkling wine, the Bagueri rose made in the classic method. After three days of Vinska Klet Goriska Brda sparklers I have a newfound respect for these wines. They are clean, extraordinarily well made and can give the French Champagnes a run for their money.

The food was spectacular, with a first course of octopus carpaccio, raw shrimp scampi and carpaccio of sea bass. The octopus was absolutely out of this world, maybe one of the best

Outrageous Octopus Carpaccio

Outrageous Octopus Carpaccio

seafood dishes I have ever had. We had the 2009 Bagueri Zero and the Rose sparklers with this, the Zero being a brut nature with no added sugar at the end. Some can be  harshly acidic, but this was not, rather clean and brisk and very good with the food. If you like your sparkling wine bone dry this is a good option.

Course two brought salads of octopus, fish and dunes. I never did find out exactly what dunes is, but I can tell you it is delicious. Once again the octopus shined. A Quercus 2014 Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were poured here. Although Chardonnay is not my favorite grape, I could easily appreciate the quality of the Quercus version. The wine is clean and brings beautiful tropical fruits. The Sauvignon Blanc was one of my favorite wines of the trip, an exceptional Sauvignon with peach and melon aromas and flavors. Clean and crisp it brings the texture and weight that only time on the lees give to these wines. They do that almost universally with their whites, and it is a style I prefer. I absolutely love this wine.

Dinner at Kotlar

Dinner at Kotlar

Onward we go, to course three, and a soft polenta with shrimp. This was very tasty, and was accompanied by the 2012 Bagueri SIVI Pinot Grigio and the 2013 Colliano Ribolla Gialla. the SIVI is maybe the best Pinot Grigio I have ever had. It’s not a wine I generally reach for, as I don’t associate the everyday varieties we see in the U.S. with a serious wine that brings complexity and structure to the fruit party. This one does, although the Bagueri line is not terribly inexpensive and many might find the price more than they’re used to paying for Pinot Grigio.  Do yourself a favor and see what this grape is capable of in the hands of a master. The Colliano wine was like all Colliano wines I have tried, very high quality and ridiculously high in value.

We weren’t done by a long shot, and a plate arrived with mussels and razor clams. Again the flavors were outstanding. In the glasses were the Bagueri Chardonnay 2011 and the 2011 Bagueri Sauvignon Blanc.   Once again the Chardonay is super high quality and should be tried by all Chardonnay lovers. The Bagueri Sauvignon is 20% fermented in oak barrels and picked much later in the year. The result is a wine that reaches 23-24 Brix, and 14% alcohol. It is rich and long and the color of light honey. This is serious Sauvignon Blanc.

And we’re still not done. Next a plate arrived of shrimps, prawns and calamari. The prawns

A+ Belo

A+ Belo

were full with heads on, the calamari long sections of large tubes. Everything was good, and the only complaint might be they weren’t quite as good as everything that preceded them. Wines were ratcheted up to their premium A+ Belo, or “white” blend comprised of Rebula, Pikolit (an ancient varietal) and Chardonnay. This wine is made from only the best of the best, a limited production run of about 3000 bottles and a very serious white wine for those who like top of the line. We also broke into the dessert wine category with the Markiz. The appassimento method is used here, with some of the grapes dried before pressing. What results is a sweet wine with significant sugars and a pleasing profile and finish.

The Motnik

The Motnik

There was one more special wine to try, and that was the Motnik, or the long, whole grape fermentation “orange” wine we had seen at the winery. The Motnik is really well made, totally cerebral and a wine worthy of drinking with those who appreciate fine wines and where they can go. It was served in a gorgeous glass. Many got a strong sage component to this, and the herb smoked barrels certainly contributed to the flavor profile. The wine makers get to play a little at the winery, and this is one result.  It is very different.

Wow, this was good. From the food to the wines to the exceptionally on point service throughout it was a meal I won’t soon forget. Bravo.

Now we move to our last day, a sad thought but an inevitable one. This was our trip to the capital, Ljubljana (lube-lee-ah-na). Situated in the middle of the country it was an hour and a half ride from our hotel if you drive rather fast. Thunderstorms greeted us at breakfast but they

A beautiful city

A beautiful city

subsided the more we drove eastward. Our time at the capital was dry, and that was good as Ljubljana is a classic European city with a large old section featuring shops and sidewalk cafes, as well as nearby modern, high end shopping, fine restaurants and the cultural elements of any large modern city. We spent a few hours walking, taking the time to ride the funiculare up to Ljubljanski grad, or Ljubljana Castle. This wonderfully renovated castle is more than five centuries old and sits on

View of the old city from the castle

View of the old city from the castle

a promontory high above the old city. From the top of its watchtower you get sweeping 360 degree views of the entire city. Inside the structure there is history and modern convenience with two restaurants. Function rooms were evident, and it is apparently a popular site for local events.

When you’re in a city like this it is imperative you take the time to relax and just enjoy the a ambiance. We stopped for beer and pizza at Fany & Mary to do just that. These relaxing down times are always one of my favorite memories of traveling.

Not surprisingly we were not done with the food, and a three course lunch awaited us at

Lunch at "Pen"

Lunch at “Pen”

Restavracija “Pen”. We started with a spinach ravioli in a butter sauce, followed with roast lamb then finished with a wonderful poppy seed mousse and cinnamon ice cream dessert all of which were accompanied by…… you guessed it, wine!   The Avia Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are ridiculous values, but the shining stars here were the Quercus and Bagueri Cabernet Sauvignons. I had been waiting for the big cabs to make an appearance and here they were. This is Slovenia, so these are

The lamb at "Pen"

The lamb at “Pen”

not 16% monsters. But they are medium+ bodied wines with exceptional fruit, complex notes, great color, well integrated tannins and balance. The Quercus 2013 was all about dark fruit, with leather notes and a little spice. The Bagueri was everything that Quercus was, just taken up a notch. They’re more like a Napa mountain cab than a valley floor example, and actually remind me of some of the excellent South African Cabernet Sauvigon we’ve had this year. There’s no question that whites take center stage in Brda, but do not discount these wines. They are significant reds, and I would (and most probably will) buy some when they hit my area. Good Cabernet here at what I suspect will be very attractive prices.

One final dinner awaited at the Hotel San Martin, and a glass of the Colliano Rebula Peneca started us off. Courses consisted of a veal and artichoke salad with tuna

Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Risotto

topping, similar to a fairly iconic northern Italian dish and quite tasty. Then a creamy risotto with porcini mushrooms followed, earthy and satisfying.   Next came the chicken legs filled with chestnuts and truffle sauce. I thought the chicken was outstanding, and the skin was a necessary and perfect element.   Lastly was a chocolate mousse on a rasberry brownie with peach sauce. Here they ran into my personal aversion to fruit on my chocolate, but the mousse itself was delicious.

As for the wines we enjoyed both the Quercus 2014 and Colliano 2012 Sauvignonasse. There are two grapes I have now discovered, and they are Rebula and Sauvignonasse. It is very cool to think that I helped pick some of what will become the 2015 Sauvignonasse. These are grapes you need to try, that will grow in popularity, and that can rival any other white varietal out there when done well.

We also had the Quercus 2014 Pinot Blanc and 2014 Pinot Grigio. The Pinot Blanc is the only wine of the trip I would say I didn’t care for, and it was the only one that wasn’t clean in both the aroma and flavor profiles in my opinion. Considering how many wines I’ve mentioned that is pretty amazing. The Pinot Grigio was excellent.

The Avia 2013 Cabernet Merlot made an appearance as well as that excellent 2011 Bagueri Cabernet Sauvignon. Lastly (actually not quite but more on that in a bit) the Quercus 2014 Moscatto-Verduzzo and the 2011 Pikolit closed the dinner. The Moscatto is moderately sweet and clean, although maybe not the best paring for the dessert. The Pikolit is sweet and unctuous, almost like a white port and very pure. I liked it quite a lot and it did go with the dessert well. I had a bit of the Cab Sauvignon left and that was made for chocolate.

So we were done, or so we thought, but a late night jaunt to the winery awaited. All was kept in secret until we made our way to the archive vault to find tables made up with glassware, cheese

Library wine!

Library wine!

and bread and candles illuminating the space. Completely by chance I received the responsibility, or privilege, of going back into the crypt like vault to select an aged encrusted bottle of 1961 from a stack in one alcove. A quick inspection with candlelight revealed a wine with substantial color and good clarity, so it was promising. There was a significant chance the wine could be spoiled. It was actually exceedingly good, still fruity and fresh after all these years. Silvan termed it “alive”. You can read more about that experience here. It was something I will never forget.

Life is full of journeys, people and places. Some are good, some are better and some are great. This was a great journey filled with memorable people and experiences. I did things I will never forget, and hopefully made some new friends I will see again. Four days could hardly have been better spent.

If you have not thought of Slovenia, and Brda, as a destination you need to think again. The people are some of the friendliest I have ever met. The country itself is beautiful, and it is very inexpensive to enjoy it all. See the vineyards and valleys, visit the wineries, take the drive along the Soča Valley and to Ljubljana.  There is so much more we didn’t get a chance to see and do.

Above all try the wines. Although relatively unknown for now, the Vinska Klet Goriška Brda winery is going to do IMG_1562great things, and really already is. Their wines are as good as anywhere, but also represent different varietals and different styles, bringing a wonderful balance of new and traditional ways to what’s in their bottles. Some are remarkably good, all are well made and most represent values somewhat hard to believe and certainly hard to beat. If you can’t find them ask your local wine shop to get them.

We’ll publish a more direct list and review of the wines we tried, as well as their price ranges (for those available in the U.S.) very soon. Many are going to migrate to our Value List.

My thanks go out to the people at Vinska Klet Goriška Brda, and especially to Michael and Janez, for their amazing hospitality. Also to the industry reps who put up with my constant note taking. They were great companions in the “Slovenian Nine”.   This was fun.

You can visit the winery’s website here: http://www.klet-brda.si/en

A votre santé!

2 comments to Trip to Goriška Brda, Slovenia Part 2: History, Nature, the Capital and a Little More Grappa

  • Anita Cook-Motard

    Neil, thank you for your amazing expression of this trip to Slovenia and the wines of Vinska Klet Goriška Brda Winery. I have great admiration and respect for your talent — my basic recap and photos of the trip on Facebook pale in comparison to your blog post. So, thanks again…………

    Goroshki!

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