My second stop, after a night in Ljubjana, was Edi Simčic in Goriška Brda. This is Slovenia’s most well known wine region, but it’s also a source of confusion because it’s a region that straddles the Italian border (where it’s the Collio region). The region was cut into two parts by the new border just after World War 2, with 2000 hectares on the Slovenian side and 1300 on the Italian side.
Many of the vineyards on the Italian side were owned by Slovenian producers, who were allowed to cross the border at multiple points with a special permits for double landowners. A number of what were Slovenian villages ended up on the Italian side, and many ‘Slovenian’ producers who are now famous, such as Gravner and Radikon are based in Italy. ‘When they set the border it was rough at the beginning,’ says Aleks Simčič, ‘but it never got fenced like other eastern countries.’ The new border meant that farmers here had quite close ties with Italy, because the main Italian towns were much closer than those in Slovenia.
I met with Aleks Simčič and his two sons, Jure and Jakob, who are both now involved in the business.
‘We have a heritage of socialism,’ says Aleks. ‘Some was positive (the vineyards were saved after the war) but on the other hand it damaged quality production with wine-focused cooperatives.’ He says that the coexistence of small producers and large cooperatives created political tensions that continue to this day. The main cooperative here, Klet Brda, does about half of the region’s wine.
‘After the war until the mid-1980s there was practically no small production and no private producers,’ he says. ‘People were just producing grapes looking for volume. If you want to make a high-profile wine you need a completely different way of producing it.’
Brda is one of the most developed wine regions in Slovenia. It’s quite densely planted, and has a lot of visibility internationally. ‘There’s some healthy competition here,’ says Aleks. ‘Most producers started in the same period, beginning from zero 35 years ago.’
His father (Edi) and mother worked in the cooperative, which was one of the main employers in the area, and his father had started work at the age of 15 because the economic situation was bad. He retired at the age of 54, and turned his attention to the vineyards that were on Aleks’ mother’s side of the family. There was no one to run them because her brothers had left for Argentina in the economic migration that took place after the war. He made his first wine in 1989 – 4000 bottles. Then gradually things developed. He went to the first wine shows in the 1990s, and in 2002 built a new cellar.
Edi Simčič now has 13.5 hectares spread across a number of plots, and is in the process of planting 1.3 ha more. ‘We don’t want to expand now,’ says Aleks, ‘but instead continue to focus on quality.’ Current production is 70-75 000 bottles a year. Aleks worked alongside his father while keeping a day job, managing for Castrol Lubricants, and then BP. He quit the job in 2014 to devote all his energies to the winery, and things have developed significantly. He is assisted by his sons Jure (29) and Jakob (25), and the two boys also have their own side project together, making small quantities of wine in the same cellar.
This region has a Mediterranean climate with an alpine influence, with a bit more rain than the east of the country, but most of it arriving in spring and autumn showers. The terrain is hilly, and soils are sedimentary. This used to be a seabed, and the soils deposited are now sandstone, clay and marl, varying with altitude and orientation. The tops of hills tend to have more marl and down the bottom there is more clay. Altitude ranges from 65-280 m and there are climatic impacts from the Adriatic sea 15 km away, and the alps.
The main white varieties are Rebula (Ribolla Gialla) which is around 25% of plantings, and then Sauvignonasse (Friulano) and Malvasia Istriana. International varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. For reds, the main varieties are Merlot (the second-most planted variety in the region), Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and a bit of Refosco. Some producers, including Edi Simčič, are also planting Schiopettino (Black Rebula) which has almost died out.
We did some vineyard touring.
First stop was Brežina, which is Rebula and some old vines of Cabernet Franc.
The second stop was to see some new plantings at Fojana, which is north facing (unusually), and also has some established Chardonnay and Merlot.
The third stop was a vineyard next to a church, called Sveti Duh, where there’s some interesting Rebula.
Then we at saw some Chardonnay at Polje, Kozana
Finally, the impressive new plantings-to-be in front of Jure’s house, a block called Kurinšče in Kozana. This is 1.3 ha of what will be mainly Merlot with some Rebula and perhaps some Cabernet Franc, in a south-facing bowl. There are some existing vines here, including Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
The winery is impressive, and was expanded in 2002, and more recently, when a stylish cellar door was added. Vinification is in all small-format French oak. ‘In the 1990s the first goal was to make concentrated wines,’ says Aleks. Maybe they were even over-concentrated. And we took a step back, adding some freshness.’
‘The concentration is not necessarily related to ripeness,’ says Jure. ‘Ripeness is different. You have the concentration because the vines are farmed in a certain way, and the yields are low.’
Edi Simčič Rebula 2020 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
13% alcohol. Wonderful intensity here: this is bright, linear and precise with a core of ripe citrus and some pear fruit, with concentration and precision. There’s a hint of orange peel detail and also some stony minerality with compact fruit and keen acidity. Everything is in excellent balance here. Taut and correct, but offering enough fruit. 93/100
Edi Simčič Rebula 2014 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
Yellow/gold in colour, this has subtle honey and nuts as well as spicy citrus fruit, with nice weight and lovely fresh lemony acidity on the finish. Complex, rounded with age, but with a directness and still a sense of vitality. Real energy on the finish, and drinking very well now. 94/100
Edi Simčič Single Vineyard Fojana Rebula 2019 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
Textured and layered, but still with freshness, showing citrus, pear and white peach and even a slight touch of honey. Pure and linear with grainy citrus notes behind the brighter fruit characters, and with good acidity providing support. Lovely weight and balance. 93/100
Jure & Jakob Simčič Sauvignonasse ‘I can’t stop’ 2018 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
14% alc. Made a pied de cuve, on skins 4-5 days, pressed to barrel for one year and then moved to stainless steel for another winter and bottled in Spring. Three used barriques. Very aromatic and fruity with vivid grape and citrus fruit. It’s layered and textural with nice richness on the mid-palate with some distinct spiciness. Honeyed, grapey and intense with lots of richness and a slight saline edge. So intriguing. 92/100
‘You need to taste a Friulano from someone to know how good they are,’ says Jakob. ‘It goes really fat picked too late, and picked too early it has a reductive tendency.’
Edi Simčič Tokata 2019 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
13.5%. Mid-harvest, has very think skin so tends to rot if it’a rainy. Matures very fast. Friulano aka Sauvignonasse. Semi-aromatic with some grape and melon on the nose, as well as some honey. Ripe, bold and almost salty with nice depth and texture with a nice hint of spice and bitterness, showing lovely depth. There’s a real mouthfeel here and the saline aftertaste is really interesting. Such a distinctive wine. 93/100
Edi Simčič Malvazija 2020 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
13.5% alcohol. Matures fast and can easily go to 14.5% alcohol, when it’s completely unbalanced, says Aleks. Lovely intensity and texture here with bold grapey fruit with some spicy citrus notes. Salty and spicy vivid with real volume in the mouth. Has fine herbs, white pepper, and finishes clean and pure, with salty intensity. Very fine. 94/100
Edi Simčič Triton 2019 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
13.5% alcohol. A blend of Rebula, Chardonnay and Sauvignonasse and a couple of other things – the entry level white. This is mouthfilling, rounded and supple with a core of sweet table grape, melon and honeyed fruit. There’s a depth and softness on the mid-palate, and more of that slight saline character, with a hint of bitterness. Soft, broad and generous with lots of character. 92/100
Edi Simčič Chardonnay 2018 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
Intense, rich, toasty nose with some mineral notes. Has meal, pear and peach. The palate is supple and generous with peach and melon fruit, backed up by some nice acidity with a fine mineral note on the finish. Bold but fresh with lots of flavour impact. 93/100
‘Just to get the ripeness is not a problem. It’s getting the balance,’ says Jure. ‘At some point in your winemaking life you start to do things ripe and then you overshoot, and realise you need to tighten things, without losing the concentration that is the benchmark of your wines.’
Edi Simčič Fojana Chardonnay 2018 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
14% alcohol. This is fresh and fruit driven with lovely intense pear and melon fruit, with a citrus core. Vivid and fleshy with a brightness and a saline twist on the finish, showing great concentration and power, but all within the context of freshness. Finishes fine. 95/100
Edi Simčič Kozana Chardonnay 2019 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
14.5% alcohol. This is so opulent and impactful with toast, meal and spice as well as peachy fruit, with some bold melon. Vivid and saline with a crystalline brightness and fine minerality sitting under the wall of ripe fruit, with the alcohol adding a bit of warmth. Remarkable stuff. 96/100
‘For the blended wines we do separate vinification so we get feedback on our viticulture – this is helpful to understand what we should be doing’, says Aleks.
Edi Simčič Triton Lex 2019 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
14% alcohol. Rebula, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, equal parts. This is dense but sweetly fruited with a lovely melon and pear character, as well as table grape and citrus. There’s a twist of brackish saltiness hanging in the background, with the emphasis on the bold fruit. Such concentration, with emphasis on the smooth texture and flow across the palate. 94/100
Edi Simčič Sauvignon 2018 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
14.5% alcohol. Intense aromatics of melon and pear with a hint of green. Rich, boldly flavoured palate with more melon and pear character, showing bold, rich fruit with some toasty frills. Finishes fresh and fruity. A really textural wine. 93/100
Edi Simčič Fojana Sauvignon 2018 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
14% alcohol. Nicely intense but also showing some freshness and detail. Bold crystalline citrus fruit with depth and ripeness, but also a sense of precision. Has layers of finely spiced flavour, and a touch of warmth on the finish. Lovely weight to this wine. 94/100
Edi Simčič Kozana Sauvignon 2019 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
14.5% alcohol. (House, new vineyard). Fresh, aromatic and bright with some pear and melon character, as well as some green hints adding interest. Bold and concentrated with some tropical notes, but also some freshness. The local forest cools down what otherwise is a warm terraced site. Fine tapering finish, with fresh citrus. 94/100
‘This region of Brda, Collio and Friuli has its own place in the Sauvignon World,’ says Jakob. ‘It’s more aromatic than the Loire but more mineral than the New Zealand ones.’
Jure & Jakob Simčič Can’t Stop Refošk 2019 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
11.5% alcohol. Destemmed. Refosco has very fragile grapes that break by themselves when you put them into a tank, so semi-carbonic maceration isn’t really possible. This is bright, aromatic and concentrated with sweet red cherry and plum fruits, with good acidity and a nice peppery framing. So fine, supple and textural with fresh red cherries and some pepper. Bright and beautifully judged: an infusion red rather than an extracted one with supple fruit and some lovely smooth texture, with an ease to it. Real finesse here. Stunning stuff. 94/100
Edi Simčič Duet 2019 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
13.5% alcohol. Merlot-dominant (80-90) blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Fermented in stainless steel then to used oak. Supple, fresh, sweetly fruited, juicy. Has red cherries, spice and plums with a concentrated sweetly fruited core, a really rounded and enticing mid-palate, and a long spicy finish. Textural and alive, with richness allied to freshness. Really impressive. 94/100
Edi Simčič Duet 2020 (blend sampled from stainless steel)
Fresh and supple, combining ripeness and elegance. It has a lovely finely spice frame to the sweet cherry and plum fruit, with sweetness and roundness on the mid-palate. Has some fine chalky notes but also a touch of spice, and smooth, mellow fruit, but also freshness. So intriguing. 95/100
Edi Simčič Duet Lex 2017 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
14% alcohol. Merlot dominant blend with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Elevage is 3.5 years in 80% new oak. Ripe, concentrated, mouthfilling and intense with a sweet core to the cherry and blackberry fruit. There’s some savoury, spicy detail here and it has a bit of tannin, but the core is a pure, luminous mid-palate of sweet cherries and plums, with a sense of opulence. Now fully ready to drink, bringing some complex tertiary notes into the midst of sweet, intense fruit. Wonderful fusion of fruit and oak. 94/100
Edi Simčič Duet Lex 2018 (Blend from stainless steel)
Fine earth and herb notes on the nose with sweet berries, plums and cherries. Opulent, sweet, pure fruits on the palate supported by spicy oak, with good tannins but also a sense of harmony, with a mellow early maturity glueing everything together, finishing slightly saline. Lovely concentration and intensity here: an impact wine. 94/100
‘At the end of the 1990s we decided to release the wines when they are already drinkable,’ says Aleks. ‘People are not willing any more to wait, and they don’t have the space to keep the wines for decades to age them.’
‘We are really lucky with our reds because we don’t have problems ripening them, but the acidity is really good, at 6-6.5 g/l TA.’
Edi Simčič Kolos 2017 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
14.5% alcohol. Best barrel selection of the Duet Lez, searching for hamony, balance and the perfect tannic structure. ‘At the end of the day, with red wines, there is a lot of truth in the tannins,’ says Jakob. ‘When you do the selection you can only rely on the tannins,’ says Aleks. Wonderful aromatics of spice, gravel, autumn leaves, blackcurrants and cherries. Concentrated, harmonious nose with a saline twist to the lovely layered, mineral-laced berry and black fruits. Good structure here but also finesse and harmony. There’s a great complexity to this wine already. 95/100
Edi Simčič Kozana Merlot 2016 Goriška Brda, Slovenia
Single vineyard, careful not to over-extract, 3.5 years in 90% new oak. 22 year old vines, but a really good site. Smoky, spicy, gravelly edge to the sweet red and black fruits on the nose. Amazing complexity, harmony and intensity on the palate with a core of sweet berry and black fruits with some spicy woody hints blending well with textured, sleek, smooth red cherry and berry fruits. Has a sweet fruit core, but also freshness and layers. Very fine indeed. 96/100
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UK agent: Bancroft Wines