After landing at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport from San Francisco, we were less than 2 hours away from the Kabaj-Morel Guest House. The drive took us through the the Veneto flatlands until we reached the Friulian Hills and crossed seamlessly the Italian/Slovenian border. A few more kilometers driving through rolling hills of Brda and we were arrived at our destination: a deep yellow colored house glowing in the sunset, a large terrace overlooking small hilltop villages surrounded by vineyards and a big welcoming hug from Katja Kabaj.
Jean-Michel was busy talking to other guests but suddenly he was in front of us: “Let’s go to the cellar, let’s taste some wine!” he said. And here we are in the cellar underneath the house, with a glass of of golden Tocai — as Friulano is still called in the region. Not a bad way to fight the jet lag!
Jean — as his family calls him — is a force de la nature, larger than life. He works all day and then at night entertains his guests, sometimes until 3am! He makes his wines in his own image: intense and generous, in a no—compromise style: he will not play the ratings game. But even without trying his wines are internationally highly rated. Jean was even named a Top 100 winemaker of the Year 2013 by the American Wine and Spirits Magazine.
And Jean loves big bottles: magnums, double magnums, jeroboams! He has a humid and cool area in the cellar where he ages these big bottles wrapped in plastic to protect the label. What a feast to be able to taste an old vintage like the 2007 Beli Pinot that Jean opened for us!
But this was just the beginning of the evening. The cellar tasting was followed by a four-course tasting menu showcasing the local specialties:
After a good night of sleep and a solid breakfast of prosciutto, cheese, homemade jam, and a couple of foamy cappuccinos, we were back on the road for a tour of Goriska Brda.
The last day, Jean drove us around to see the vineyards. It rained a lot in July and August and the vintage will not be easy but Jean, hedging his bets, owns a mosaic of small lots spread across the hills, with different elevations, sun exposure levels and even one vineyard on the other side of the border.
“I’ll mostly do big bottles this year.” Jean told us after looking at a grape that showed some signs of rot. “Small quantities and in big bottles, that’s how I see it for this vintage.”
It was time to leave , but not yet! Jean had woken up early in the morning to prepare his famous Goulash and we had to try it! The meat melted in our mouth and the Rebula had surprisingly the right amount of tannins and acidity to go well with the dish.
Katja and Jean-Michel, we can’t thank you enough for your hospitality and generosity! And thanks to my husband Matthieu for his beautiful pictures!