Wine Travel in Slovenia
Specialist: Miha Gantar
Based In: Ljubljana, Slovenia
What makes Slovenia a great choice for wine lovers?
Slovenia is known as an outdoor destination: hiking, biking, adventure sports—you name it, Slovenia has it. But very few travelers know about the variety and quality of local wines. We are super unknown in the wine world and it's unlikely that someone would buy a Slovenian bottle of wine from a wine shop in the US—unless they come here, try some, and get to know what we have to offer.
Slovenia has a longstanding winemaking tradition and lots of wine producers who are getting more and more international recognition. And the best thing about this is that the vast majority of Slovenian wine producers are very small—often, they are family businesses, run for several generations. If you go on a wine tasting you will most probably talk to the winemaker himself, a very personal and authentic experience.
Fun fact: the oldest still-producing wine tree in the world is in Maribor, Slovenia. It is around 440 years old and every year there is a harvest which was turned into a festival.
What can you tell us about Slovenian wine regions and varietals?
Except for the alpine and sub-alpine region, there are vineyards all over Slovenia. The climate and wine varietals change a lot from the southwest to the northeast. Apart from the "international" varietals like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, we also have quite a few autochthonous varietals such as Rebula, Pinela, and Zelen.
The southwestern regions (closer to Italy) have done a really good job attracting travelers from Italy who come frequently for a weekend or even a day trip—they were the first foreigners to discover the interesting wine-and-dine scene in Slovenia. Local winemakers and chefs began taking their skills and businesses to a higher level, and the mindset slowly expanded to other Slovenian wine regions. Several winemakers have made it on the international scene, winning prestigious awards, and many are experimenting with new wine trends including organic and orange wine production.
What are your favorite local wine experiences?
The most interesting pairing I have ever done is in my friend's salami cellar. He produces super special organic cold cuts. There is a science behind his meat curing and aging, and he pairs differently aged veal, pork, deer, and bear salamis and sausages with top-notch Slovenian wines.
You can also take part in the harvest at one of the vineyards. Harvest is usually a time when family and friends come together and work in the vineyard, with plenty of food and positive energy that accompanies the hard work. This takes place from late August until late September.
Attending Osmica is also fun. It's an old tradition of wine producers selling their unbottled wine and locally produced food at their homes. They are allowed to do this tax-free 8 days per year, and these events are usually organized in the Karst region and very popular with locals.
Wine Travel in New Zealand
Specialist: Valentin Puech
Based In: Auckland, New Zealand
What makes New Zealand a great choice for wine lovers?
Still a young wine producing region, New Zealand already shows an impressive diversity of wine styles, which shine internationally for their crisp and fruity flavors. These result from the clean air and sunshine in a moderate maritime climate, along with fertile alluvial soils.
What are some interesting facts about New Zealand wines?
New Zealand has 10 major wine-producing areas. The leading wine regions include Auckland, Gisborne, Wairarapa (Martinborough) and Hawke's Bay in the North Island and Marlborough, Central Otago and Canterbury in the South Island. Traditionally renowned for its Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand has now grown international reputation for its dense, concentrated Pinot Noir, often compared to French Burgundy. The other main varietals are Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and methode traditionelle wines.
What are your favorite local wine experiences?
For white wine enthusiasts, nothing will beat a pot of fresh green-lipped mussels straight from the sea with a lightly chilled Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. For an enhanced experience, I would highly recommend trying that as part of the Seafood Odyssea Tour in Picton, Marlborough Sounds (featured in this 12-day itinerary). For meat lovers, a must is slow-cooked lamb shank with a Central Otago Pinot Noir, best tried at the Botswana Butchery in Queenstown.
Another amazing option is to hop on a scenic seaplane flight to the secluded and award-winning Man O' War Vineyard on Waiheke Island, Auckland. This exclusive tour includes the flight and a wine tasting with lunch—a one-of-a-kind experience.
What will surprise travelers about wine in your country?
Wine regions cover almost the whole of NZ, making it very easy for wine lovers to combine wine tasting with traveling. Indeed NZ’s wine producing regions have a lot more to offer than just wine tasting. For example, after a day hiking some of the most beautiful walking tracks in the Mount Aspiring National park, you can go and indulge a wonderful Pinot Noir at Rippon Valley Vineyard in Wanaka (Central Otago). Or in Hawkes Bay, you can visit the Church Road Vineyard after an adventure spotting gannet birds along the remote shores of Cape Kidnappers.
Wine Travel in Argentina
Specialist: Veronica Crespi
Based In: Buenos Aires, Argentina
What makes Argentina a perfect destination for wine lovers?
More than 2,200 miles from north to south, one can find incredible wines throughout Argentina. In Jujuy province, you can try Torrontés, a white, aromatic strain, while expressive Malbecs are prominent in the Cuyo area. Even Patagonia has great wines, such as the Pinot Noir—a fantastic pairing for lamb roasted over the fire. And the wine is just an accessory to the other wonders: mountains, sea, and Argentina’s signature pampas lowlands.
What are the most popular wine varietals in Argentina?
Torrentes, exclusive and aromatic is one of many excellent varietals: hints of jasmines and roses to drink chill over a mountain sunset. Malbec, the French strain that found the perfect spot in our soil to bring the best of its character to light; intense plums and red berries, with a robust body to make the perfect match to our ¨asado´ barbecues, red meats, potatoes, and Andino tomatoes.
Lest we forget, Bonardas, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrahs. All of them with their own personalities according to their farming location, height, and soil. Exquisite Sauvignon Blancs cultivated over 1600 meters over sea level bringing a unique ‘acidity’ to the table. And last, but in no manner least, Chardonnays from the south that make excellent broths for sparklings, an ideal frame to an unforgettable course dinner in a winery.
What (and where) are your favorite local wine and food pairings in Argentina?
Mendoza province is an ideal place to hunt for the different terroirs that bring us amazing Malbecs and the cuisine to pair with them. Valle de Uco’s Chardonnay is excellent when matched with trout and other white meats. The vegetables cultivated just in the Andes' foothills are grown with glacial water, allowing them to match the freshness of wines with medium strains like Bonarda, Merlot, and Syrah. These and other pairings can be found at Espacio Trapiche-Bodega Trapiche in Maipú and Bodega Renacer in Lujan de Cuyo, among others.
What are your favorite wine experiences in Argentina?
One of the best things to experience is lunch in the mountains of Mendoza, arriving there accompanied by a chef who can make an incredible meal in the most unthought-of places. Get there via 4x4 ride, trek, or horseback ride.
You can also practice and learn some new skills at a winery, learning to make traditional Argentinian empanadas or perhaps some steak. Learn about the different pairings and savor each one as you do. Enjoy cycling? Perhaps a vineyard bike ride could be the best fit.
Wine Travel in Croatia
Specialist: Robert Pinčević
Based In: Ston, Croatia
What makes Croatia a great choice for wine lovers?
The tradition of growing and enjoying wine here is very strong—to this day, if you come to someones home, it's very likely that they will offer homemade wine as a welcome drink. All of Croatia, save for the mountains, is basically a collection of wine regions—some dating back to the time of the Greeks in the 7th century. Each region is famous for a particular varietal, and if you love wine, there will be something new for you to try wherever you go.
What are some fun facts about Croatian wines?
The most famous wine in Croatia is Dingač. Dingač is an actuary on the southern Pelješac peninsula, known for its vineyards that grow on steep slopes of up to 50 (or more!) degrees. Terrain configuration, soil type, and being close to the Adriatic sea makes this position very unique, and it was internationally recognized in1864 as a protected geographical origin—the first of its kind in Croatia.
On the neighboring island of Korčula, Pošip eventually became the first white wine in Croatia from a protected geographic origin. If you go northwest to Hvar, the most famous varietal is Babić. Split is known for its ancient Crljenak Kaštelski—more commonly known as Zinfandel! And yes: that means that Zinfandel actually originated in Croatia.
As you go North, white wines take over, while local Graševina is grown in the eastern region of Slavonia. And there, at the very eastern end of Croatia in a small town called Ilok, you will find the oldest wine cellar in the country!
What are your favorite local wine experiences?
The best experiences are actually stories about wine and the people behind it. Sit with a winemaker over a meal, and as you listen to his passion, stories behind the wine, and hard work, the wine tastes better and better with each sip. The best part is, old stories stay, but every year there is a new story—with different weather conditions and new innovations, each wine season is a new story worth experiencing.