Valentan, Renski Rizling “Schlossberg”
As sommeliers, Valentan’s Renzki Riesling is the sort of remarkable discovery we live for. Made in limited quantities on an organic family farm in Slovenia—and never-before-seen on American shores—it’s a singular bottle that reminds us we’ll never uncover all the beauty that the world of wine has to offer.
This single-vineyard specialty hits every dry Riesling pleasure point—honeyed stone fruit, vibrant acidity, an inconceivable balance of intensity and weightlessness—while simultaneously singing with a soulfully sylvan and smoky core that’s totally distinct from Austrian or German examples. To be clear, it’s no novelty offered simply for novelty’s sake; that’s not enough for us. It’s the combination of uniqueness and undeniable excellence that took our breath away. The truth is, after tasting and selling wine for as long as we have, genuine surprises become rare. But this shocked us, wowed us, made us feel like young somms again, running around with our latest discovery telling anyone who’ll listen: “You have to try this!”
Look over a list of varieties grown at Valentan and you’ll quickly ascertain that this farm sits at the heart of a historical and viticultural crossroads. There are Central European varieties like Blaufränkisch and Welschriesling planted next to Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, classic benchmarks alongside cutting-edge hybrids. The Stajerska Valley that Valentan calls home was once at the heart of the Hapsburg Empire, and the wines made here show their far-reaching influence. Limestone-rich soils underlie rolling green hills, and the wines bristle with a kind of bucolic energy.
Viticulture proceeds at Valentan just as it did hundreds of years ago, as part of a diversified farming operation worked by and supporting a cohesive family unit. Owners Simon and Metka grow Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Blaufränkisch, and a handful of other varieties, but really their grapes are just one agricultural crop among many. Metka and Simon raise animals to produce their own charcuterie, grow grains and sell the flour, and cultivate vegetables. Their entire farm, EU-Certified Organic since 2010, is 20 hectares with grapes accounting for barely a fifth of that. The truth is, until about 200 years ago, this is how all grape growers operated, but these days it’s incredibly uncommon to find any vineyard that’s part of a larger agricultural ecosystem.
The Valentans’ Riesling (Renski Rizling in Slovenia) comes from 40-year-old vines in a single vineyard called “Schlossberg,” and as one might expect, winemaking is extremely hands-off. Spontaneous fermentations, no temperature control, and minimal sulfur additions are the name of the game, but the resulting wines are beautifully pure and clean. The 2019 Riesling was picked very ripe with a touch of botrytis; though it’s totally dry, in Europe it actually gets a “late harvest” label.
It makes for a stunning combination of fruit intensity with brisk freshness: juicy yellow peach, nectarine, apricot pit, yellow plum, creamed apple, ginger spice, honey, candied almond, and a faint whiff of petrol combine on the nose. The palate is soft, inviting, and deeply textured before Riesling’s signature acidity comes through to wash it clean and keep things refreshing. It’s generous, soulful, and delicious stuff, an utterly unique expression of this special variety. But considering how small the Valentan farm is, I expect we’ll only see dribs and drabs of their wines for the next few years. Enjoy!