Monday, November 16, 2015

Trust Your Importer - Great Wines From Slovenia

Blue Danube Wines is one of those importers you want to check in with from time to time. For those who don't have an extensive knowledge of wines from countries other than the US, a good importer is a good thing to know. Importers tend to find the wines they like, and bring them home to the rest of us. So, if Slovenia, for instance, or some other Central European country catches your fancy, Blue Danube Wines has a full portfolio of wines that are uniformly great.

When I was invited by Blue Danube to attend a tasting reception with Jean-Michel Morel (pictured) of Kabaj Wines, how could I refuse? They had never steered me wrong before. The event was sparsely attended at Culver City's Hatchet Hall, which has a great tasting bar in the back of the restaurant.

Morel is described as a "bad ass" winemaker. He is actually quite personable and very friendly. His wines lifted Kabaj (ka BYE) to be included on Wine & Spirits Magazine Top 100 Wineries list for 2015. The winery is in Goriška Brda, Slovenia, right across the border from Italy’s Collio region. In their respective languages, Collio and Brda mean "hills." Brda’s hills of marl and flysch, are the remains of an ancient limestone seabed. Their steep slopes offer quite a range of micro climates.

For generations, the Kabaj family has grown grapes, but it was not until winemaker Morel married into the family that they started making their own wine. The first vintage of Kabaj wine came in 1993.

The Kabaj wines are produced mainly - 70% - from white grapes, and all wines are aged at least 12 months. When used, French oak is preferred. Morel is nothing if not passionate about his cellar techniques. "Step by step. We do it the right way. It is not to rush out the wine to the market. 2015? No. No." He was pretty emphatic about that, so I would take it as his winemaking philosophy.

All the Kabaj presented at the tasting showed intense minerality and great acidity.

2008 Rebula - You might know this grape better as Ribolla - it is Morel's signature grape.  Lovely savory apricot honey. Great acid, savory lime and lanolin. Fresh, lots of vigor. Great, unusual flavor.

2011 Ravan - This white is flinty from the limestone. Savory saline palate.
2012 Ravan - Less flinty, more apricot and pear.

2012 Sivi Pinot - We would call it a Pinot Grigio. Showing a pink blush, muted strawberry, cherry and lime flavors are persistent.

2010 Luisa - This white wine - orange, actually - shows a beautiful copper color in the glass. Mineral-driven, savory nose, earthy palate.

2010 Merlot - Smoky black cherry and coffee on the nose, with a palate of tart cherry and raspberry. Huge minerals.

2009 Cuvée Morel - Merlot,Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot make a nose of minerals and black cherry. There is a tart edge on the palate with earth, fine tannins and a raspberry finish.

2006 Amfora - This wine stays in contact with the grape skins an amazin one year. The beautiful, golden color is deep and rich. A nose of honeyed apricot, flint and limestone lead to a palate of savory apricot. Lots of age here, showing beautifully. A massive white wine.

Amfora wine has a history dating back thousands of years to the Georgian culture. Ribolla, Malvasia and Sauvignon Vert (Tokai) grapes are destemmed in clay pots and held with the skins after fermentation. In the first month, the wine is stirred six times a day, then the pots are closed for ten months. Then, it goes into oak barrels for another year.


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