Visit a Winery: Kabaj in Goriška Brda, Slovenia

The Region The border between Northeast Italy, and Western Slovenia runs from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea, dividing a terroir important to both. Known as ‘Collio’ in Italy, and ‘Brda’ in Slovenia, their shared meaning is ‘hills’. Due to its proximity to both the Alps and the Adriatic sea, Brda enjoys climate conditions most favorable for growing vines as well as cherries, peaches, apricots, pears, apples, figs, plums, and olives. Winters are mild and summers can be hot. Cool northeast winds help remove humidity and mildew in the vineyards. The region is known for white varieties such as Rebula, Sauvignonasse (formerly Tocai Fruilano), Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc as well as international reds like Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The Winery Winemaker Jean-Michel Morel is originally from France but after meeting his wife Katja Kabaj in a nearby Italian winery, decided to relocate to Slovenia and rebuild the Kabaj family estate. Jean-Michel, a Wine & Spirits Magazine 100 Wineries winner in 2013, makes world-class wines using local varieties and winemaking techniques. His skin-macerated white wines including Rebula (known as ‘the queen of Brda’), Ravan (an old local name for the grape formerly known as Tocai Friullano) and Sivi … Continue reading Visit a Winery: Kabaj in Goriška Brda, Slovenia

A memorable stay at the Kabaj Guest House

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 … Continue reading A memorable stay at the Kabaj Guest House

Curious & Thirsty – Slovenian Wine Goggles

Historically vineyards have covered much of Slovenia’s countryside. In them you find grapes brought over the thousands of years of human movement. Coupled with the diversity of climate, topography, wine production methods, and localized taste, Slovenian wines are extremely different region to region. In the US we are largely unaware of this. Blue Danube Wine Co. — the company I am a part of — has been working for close to ten years to change this. For me wine is more than beverage, it is the ultimate lens to view Slovenia through. It is made in some of the country’s most beautiful locations, accompanies the best food, and attracts interesting people. Both those who make it and drink it. I return repeatedly to enjoy of course the wine but also the atmosphere, the cuisine and my friends there. It has taught me the value of returning to a destination. Slovenia is a place I would like to one day call a second home. For those who like to Travel Curious Often and want to learn more about Slovenia and its wines, read the full article here.

The SF Chronicle: the whites of Central Europe are ideal wines for winter

Finally! Some recent rainstorms and snow falling over the Sierra Nevada gave us a small peek at winter weather as well as cravings of cheese fondue accompanied by one of those crisp and mineral Alpine wines that go so well with hard cheese. But winter with its rich food is also a great time to expand our wine horizons argues Jon Bonné, wine columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Beyond the Alps, he recommends exploring Slovenia, a country bordering the eastern section of the Alps as well as neighboring Hungary and Croatia. What the wines of these regions share, he writes, is “a bridge between that lean mineral cut of the mountains and the richness and exoticism of ripe, fleshy grapes.” These countries have been growing grapes for centuries and offer an incredible diversity of native grape varieties that are just coming to international awareness: spicy Furmint, the dominant grape in Tokaj, Muscat-like Irsai Olivér also from Hungary, crisp and floral Rebula, called Ribolla Gialla in nearby Friuli, aromatic Malvasia Istriana from the Istrian Peninsula at the north of the Adriatic sea, and many more. Check out Jon Bonné’s recommendations, you’ll find some of Blue Danube’s best selling wines: the … Continue reading The SF Chronicle: the whites of Central Europe are ideal wines for winter

Experience Croatia and Slovenia’s Istria Region in the Flesh!

Being able to meet the people, eat the local food, attempt the language, and imbue every glass of wine with first hand experiences is why we got into the wine business. Context makes everything taste better. Plus, once you’ve visited, every time you have a wine from that place you’re immediately transported back. With this in mind, everyone at Blue Danube is happy to announce a partnership with Savor The Experience Tours, a company that has been running small group tours to Slovenia and Croatia for the past 9 years. As a Blue Danube Supporter, you’ll get 11 nights of winery visits, special feasts, and olive oil while staying with family run B&B’s. And once you return, you’ll have a gift certificate with us to purchase the wines stateside and relive the whole thing over again with friends and family. This October, don’t miss this unique opportunity to meet with some of Blue Danube’s best producers: Kabaj, Piquentum, and Kogl. For more information please contact info@savortheexperiencetours.com or call 206.529.4237.

Kabaj: TOP 100 Winery of the Year!

Congratulations Jean-Michel Morel! Kabaj wines have been praised by many wine critics and publications including Ed Behr’s “The Art of Eating”, Eric Asimov of the New York Times, Wine Enthusiast, Tasting Table National. Now we are thrilled that Wine & Spirits Magazine recently named KABAJ TOP 100 Winery of the Year. Jean-Michel and his family farm small plots of vineyards, where the Alps meet the Adriatic, on the Slovenian/Italian border in Goriška Brda, Slovenia. The name of the winery, Kabaj, is his wife Katja’s maiden name; Brda is their terroir: a special intersection of climate, geology, and culture that Jean intertwines into wine. Reflective of the diversity of their origin, there is something primal about them. Kabaj makes no fresh wine. Everything is aged and made to age. Dense in character, but never heavy, tension is drawn from minerality and grape tannin more than acidity. Less fruity than savory, the whites often have a textural quality akin to fine tea. They hate to be cold and typically show their best just below the temperature of their environment and company. The reds, made primarily from Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, are vinified in typical Bordeaux fashion and are intensely mineral … Continue reading Kabaj: TOP 100 Winery of the Year!

Are orange wines the Kardashians of wine?

For a brief primer on “Orange Wines”, read this article by Richard Betts: Why Tecate Is Greater Than Orange Wine. Tart and pulpy, it strips the veneer of mystique off this totally misunderstood category of wine. First, it is important to point out that “Orange Wines” are not made out of oranges. They are white wines that are fermented on the skins like red wine, turning orange instead of red. Macerated white wine is the more appropriate term but what a unattractive name for a style. Not all “Orange Wines” are created equal; some are the product of tradition and experience and some are experiments. Success and failure exists among both schools but I do agree with Betts that most of them can go away. For me, they are too often plagued with any combination of over-extraction, oxidation, volatility, bacteria and sometimes things you can’t identify but do not enjoy. However, when they are right, they are right. Kabaj—mentioned as one of the exceptions in the article—is one of the masters. Subtlety, elegance, precision, texture, minerality, longevity define their wines. Since I will be there this time next week, now is a good moment to reaffirm my love of the … Continue reading Are orange wines the Kardashians of wine?

Why This Bottle Really? 2010 Kabaj Rebula

It was a nice surprise to find the 2010 Kabaj Rebula reviewed in the current issue of The Art of Eating. The Art of Eating is a quarterly publication that has nothing to do with these glossy food magazines that have more ads than recipes. It is instead all about telling stories that underscore the connection between traditions and the sense of place, stories about artisanal food and drinks and the people that make them. So in some way, this was not so surprising to find the Slovenian winery featured in the magazine. The Kabaj family has been farming vineyards on the terraced hills of Goriška Brda for generations but it is only in 1993 that Katja Kabaj and her French-born husband Jean-Michel Morel released their first vintage. Jean-Michel Morel, a Bordeaux-educated winemaker, proudly combines traditional winemaking—using some ancient techniques he studied in Georgia— with modern facilities built recently on the property. His approach is not to produce a fresh, crisp, fruit-driven international style. Instead, he vinifies his whites with long skin contact during maceration, goes through full malolactic fermentation on the lees, and ages them at least 12 months in large oak barrels. The article was written by Joe … Continue reading Why This Bottle Really? 2010 Kabaj Rebula

Kudos for Kabaj, Kogl, and Batič

Wine & Spirits Magazine recently published excellent reviews of our Slovenian producers Kabaj, Kogl, and Batič: 91 Points Kabaj 2006 Goriška Brda Cuvée Morel: Winemaker Jean-Michel Morel bases this blend on merlot (60 percent) along with cabernets sauvignon and franc and a small amount of petit verdot. But it is not merlot-easy. The musky scent and potent, gravelly tannins made it austere, a powerful, chewy red that needs bottle age. Already sophisticated, with a bit of a swagger in its personality, this is built to cellar. 91 Points Kabaj 2009 Goriška Brda Ravan: Ravan is another name for zeleni sauvignon, which is [tokaj] friulano across the border in Friuli. This one is golden in color and massively fruity, balancing its grassy passionfruit flavors with a clean, tense line of acidity. It ends on a smoky note. A match for roast partridge. 88 Points Kabaj 2009 Goriška Brda Rebula (Best Buy): Deep gold in color and smoky in its scent, this wine focuses on lees and tannins, holding juicy apple flavors underneath. The structure lends it a pleasing textual roundness, finishing firm, almost gruff. For braised dark meat chicken. 92 Points Kabaj 2007 Goriška Brda Amphora: Fermented as whole berries in … Continue reading Kudos for Kabaj, Kogl, and Batič

Blue Danube Tasting at Google

We have been pretty busy at Blue Danube Wine this spring. Several weeks ago, we were featured at Google’s Wine Wednesday, a biweekly tasting event organized by the Google wine club. To help the chefs of the hosting cafe prepare tidbits that could be paired with each wine, we had brought some wine samples to them ahead of time. We anticipated that few Googlers would be familiar with Central-Eastern European wines so we chose the following selection of wines from Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia, showcasing some of the best wines currently produced along the Danube river and the Dalmatian coast: 2010 Sommer Bergweingarten M Grüner Veltliner: founded in 1698, the Sommer Winery is now run by winemaker and Grüner Veltliner specialist Leo Sommer and his wife Silvane. The estate is located in the Neusiedlersee-Hügelland region near Lake Neusiedl in eastern Austria. The wine was dry, crisp, mineral with a good structure on the palate. The chefs chose to pair it with a creamy Morel and Aspargus Risotto. 2009 Kabaj Ravan: Kabaj Winery is owned and run by French-born winemaker Jean-Michel Morel and his wine Katja Kabaj. It is located in Goriška Brda in Western Slovenia, an appellation known as … Continue reading Blue Danube Tasting at Google