Interview with Darrel Joseph Distinguished wine journalist and competition judge

“Because Slovenia is a small, niche wine producing country with many ambitious, talented producers making remarkable wines, its reputation as a quality wine-producing country is growing slowly but ever so surely.”Darrel Joseph is an American-born international wine writer, judge and lecturer living in Vienna, Austria. He specialises in the wine regions of Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe, including Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and many Balkan countries. His writing has appeared in publications including Decanter, Harpers Wine & Spirit, Meininger’s Wine Business International, Wine Spectator and Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book. With his extensive tasting experience, Darrel judges in international wine competitions in Europe, including the renowned Decanter World Wine Awards in London. In addition, he conducts wine masterclasses, presentations, tastings and lectures throughout Europe. Darrel is also an editor and translator of numerous texts for wineries and wine organisations.When did you first become aware of Slovenia as a wine destination?
I heard about Slovenia’s wines back in the early 1990s, around the time I started to explore Austrian and Hungarian wines in depth. However, I began to cover Slovenian wine only around 10 years ago. Until then, I was preoccupied with the wines of Austria, Hungary and Germany. Then I began to spread out and look at other Central and Eastern European wine countries; Slovenia, being next door, warranted a closer look. It was interesting to see that many Austrian winemakers in the wine region of Südsteiermark had vineyards right up to the border of Slovenia. And it wasn’t long before they actually began renting and buying vineyards over the border, in Slovenia’s Štajerska, as well. Today, I visit Slovenia for wine purposes approximately 2-3 times per year.

How is Slovenia’s Wine Industry generally perceived by international wine professionals? How has this changed in the past decade or two?
Overall, if there is a perception of Slovenian wine, it is very positive. There are a number of top writers and sommeliers and restaurateurs around the world who have become familiar with Slovenia’s wines – some of the funky “orange” wines, for example, and indigenous grape varieties like Zelen and Pinela – and indeed they like the quality and individuality very much. This is pretty remarkable, considering that it wasn’t too long ago that Slovenia was barely heard of, especially when it was a state in Yugoslavia. Today, while more and more people are getting to know about the wines of Slovenia – now independent and an EU member country – many do not even make the Yugoslavia connection (especially the younger generations) and the lack of quality attached with the mass-production methods applied during that time. Of course, Slovenian wines are still relatively unknown on a broad scale. But because Slovenia is a small, niche wine producing country with many ambitious, talented producers making remarkable wines, its reputation as a quality wine-producing country is growing slowly but ever so surely.

Which Slovenian producers are you currently most excited about?
Of course the producers in the western part of the country, like Brda and Vipava Valley in Primorska, are making the biggest splash in terms of wonderful wines with international appeal (Movia, Ščurek, Simčič and Batič to name a few). And they get a lot of attention for them. But it is important to point out that inland regions, especially Štajerska in Podravje, have wineries to keep an eye on, including Lubaj, Verus, Hlebec, Conrad Fürst & Söhne, Miro Munda and Kolarić. Some of the most stunning wines now on the scene are made by Bojan Kobal of the Kobal Winery in Ptuj. Absolutely fine, beautiful specimens!  The Marof winery in the Prekmurje region is highly impressive as well.

How does Slovenian wine differ from that produced in neighbouring countries?
This involves a lengthy answer, much too lengthy to go into here. So I will just make a few points. Slovenia has a few wine regions and these have their own terroir and climatic conditions. The sub-regions near Istria (Vipava, Brda, etc) have a Mediterranean influence, while the inland regions have mainly a continental climate. Croatia has similar conditions (except for Dalmatia, which is completely different). And inland Slovenia is somewhat similar to the Steiermark region of Austria, as Steiermark becomes Stajerska in Slovenia. And of course, there is Goriška Brda in the west, where the vineyards flow into Italy’s Collio. So, Croatia, Austria and Italy would be the first comparisons. Slovenia can distinguish itself especially by its “orange” wines – those long-macerated wines that can often exude orange peel and mandarin aromas and flavours. The “orange” wine is a style, and Slovenia has gained popularity abroad with it. Austria and Croatia make some of these wines also, but Slovenia has garnered prominent attention for them.

How does Slovenia compare to other, more established European wine producing countries in terms of quality and price?
In terms of producing high quality wines, I would say that Slovenia can compete with most countries. It also has a good showing of entry level and mid-level wines. Price can be an issue in that many established countries are able to produce large volumes of wines that can be sold at consumer-friendly prices (importers getting them at a cheap price). With Slovenian wines, this is not easy, because volumes tend to be low, and it is hard for producers to sell their wines at low prices.