[This entry isn't finished yet - I need my tasting notes.]
Dan and I went to Slovenia last month. Slovenia [not Slovakia] is perhaps best known as the first Yugoslav republic to have left Yugoslavia [the war lasted ten days and there were very, very few deaths]. It's a small country [there are fewer Slovenes than residents of King County, Washington] with a wide range of terrain, from actual Alps [two kinds] to a bit of Hungarian-style puszta, plus a tiny Adriatic coastline and the deservedly famous Karst, home to fantastic caves [which we visited] and Lipica [home of stallions; this, we avoided].
I was originally interested in Slovenia simply because I am an occasional fan of Laibach, IRWIN, NSK, etc. If you're not familiar with that stuff, well, Laibach are a band from Slovenia perhaps best known for looking and sounding like German fascists with a real flair for over the top cover versions [most notably, a nearly-complete version of Let It Be; my favorite is their version of Queen's One Vision sung in the manner of a Nuremberg youth rally circa 1938]. Of course, the caves hold a special fascination for me as well. Wine never really entered into the equation at all.
We bought tickets to Ljubljana on easyJet for the princely sum of £30 each - round trip - and then I had to set about planning a five day vacation there. I did the math, and it turns out it was cheaper to actually hire a car and driver to drive us around the country, staying at a different hotel every night, with meals and wine tours thrown in. Why? I have no idea. I suspect the tour was subsidized by the Slovene wine industry to show some Americans how great their products are.
First of all, they're not. They suck ass. I didn't have a bottle of anything truly good while I was there. In fact, we gave up and stuck with beer after the first forty-eight hours.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here.
Landing at Ljubljana airport was fun: there are no jetways there, just a couple of big white "park here" circles in front of the terminal for incoming aircraft. The terminal was tiny - again, not surprising for such a small country. I had some trouble getting past Customs as my passport has no blank pages in it for entry stamps - yeah, I know. I should get new pages pasted in this summer. After a lot of "well, I'm really really sorry, but I don't know how to make you happy" the border guard relented and let me in. Whatever. Anyhow, we picked up our bags and left the terminal, where a young man stood holding a "Pratt-McKean" sign. Cool!
Jan, our guide and driver, was a 30-something Slovene who spoke excellent English, having learned it at the American school in Athens. Apparently, he was one of about three Slovenes who can speak modern Greek; he was going on to Athens after our tour to do translation work for the Slovene TV company sent to cover the 2004 Olympics. We set out for Maribor, the second city of Slovenia, in an Opel station wagon. The tour company even paid for the tolls on the motorways, which was great; eventually, we made it to Maribor, turning just before downtown to head up to a ski resort in the mountains, where we checked in to a perfectly nice double room. It being a Sunday, everything was pretty much closed, but we were able to walk around downtown Maribor that evening, the "high point" of the tour being a particularly old grapevine said to be the oldest in the country. Nice, but also kind of lame. We stopped in for a bottle of white wine [mix of at least five varities, no varietal character, vaguely sweet, but altogether OK] before heading back to the hotel for a quick dinner of Wiener schnitzel and French fries [Slovenia was part of the Hapsburg empire for so long that apparently they forgot to invent their own cuisine]. I promptly fell asleep at about 8 PM. Yay for jet lag!
Monday morning marked the official beginning of our wine tasting extravaganza. In the morning, we headed for Radgonske gorice, which would appear to be one of Slovenia's best regarded producers of sparkling wines, aka penina. I was amused to see that the Austrian border was located about a two minute walk from their cellars, which had been recently renovated, presumably so as to attract Austrians across the border. We tried their short list of wines, being their cheap whites and cheap sparkling wines. I'll save the tasting notes for later, but basically everything was ordinary and boring, but correct. To give you an idea on pricing, the sparkling wine [méthode traditionelle] was about US$7 a bottle.
[to be continued]