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Some wine drinkers recoil at the sight of unfamiliar language and/or grape varieties. But not you, right? I know we don’t—in fact, a wine like today’s sumptuous Slovenian white is the kind of bottle sommeliers are instinctively drawn to. But before we get into all the details of Blažič’s Jakot, let’s be direct: This is a world-class European white wine from a historically significant grape and terroir. Slovenia would not be such a “new” frontier for fine wine had its production not been nationalized when it was part of Communist Yugoslavia (1945-1991). Further, had there not been widespread confusion around the grape once known in Italy/Slovenia as Tocai/Tokaj, the world would be better acquainted with this undeniably noble white. This is a delicious expression of a variety Blažič’s Italian neighbors now call Friulano, one that displays added dimension thanks to some brief skin contact. We cannot sleep on Slovenia any longer—these wines have arrived!
And if there’s one Slovenian winegrowing zone that has gained some traction with American consumers, it’s Goriska Brda. This hilly, bucolic region, which hugs the Italian border north of Trieste, is effectively the larger “half” of the appellation the Italians call Collio. Situated at a near-midpoint between the Julian Alps and the Adriatic Sea, this area has become known as an especially favorable growing zone for white varieties. The push-and-pull of cool mountain air and warm sea breezes is one of the keys to the region’s success: Vines are refreshed every evening, which lengthens the growing season to heighten aromatics and preserve acidity, but there’s also enough warmth and sun to deliver ripeness and depth. The soils of the area are dominated by a sandstone/limestone marl mixture known locally as ponka, lending the wines a palpable minerality.
Collio and Goriska Brda are effectively the same region, bisected by a national border—and how that border got drawn is an interesting piece of history. Before the Second World war, a chunk of territory that included the provinces of Gorizia, Trieste, Fiume, and Pola—most of which was known as Istria—was controlled by Italy. After WWII, however, some of that territory had been clawed back by the newly formed Yugoslavian state. During negotiations between Allied forces and Yugoslav leader Josip Tito, a British general named William Morgan established a temporary border, which became known as the “Morgan line.” When that border became permanent, it divided several historically contiguous wine regions, including Goriska Brda/Collio and Kras (Carso for the Italian portion).
Like a lot of producers in Brda, the Blažič family uses the name “Jakot” (“Tokaj” backwards) for its varietal expression of this variety, rather than use the new Italian name, Friulano. Long known as ‘Tocai Friulano’—which led many researchers to believe that it was the Furmint grape of Hungary’s Tokaji region—Friulano is a distant relative of Sauvignon Blanc known as Sauvignonasse, or Sauvignon Vert (‘green’ Sauvignon). Its name was officially changed by the EU in 2008, in a decree that gave Hungary sole use of the word “Tocai” on any labels. And while there are occasions when some Friulano wines resemble Sauvignon Blanc in style, it is only in the subtlest of ways and is rather rare. The best Friulanos are not overtly ‘green,’ either in color (they typically have more of a silvery cast) or in flavor (there’s much less, if none, of the pyrazine/herbal influence that characterizes Sauvignon Blanc). Friulano is typically more richly textured and lower in acidity than Sauvignon Blanc as well.
Current Blažič proprietor Borut Blažič, who first put his name on a bottle of wine from his family vineyards in 1993, farms about 10 hectares of vines according to organic principles, with the eventual goal of becoming officially certified. Like many of his Goriska Brda contemporaries, about a third of his holdings are on the Italian side. For this varietal wine (“Jakot” has become the semi-official name for the grape), fermentation is carried out in stainless steel, with the grapes left in contact with their skins for about five days at the start (Blažič draws inspiration from border-hugging Friulian “orange wine” impresarios such as Gravner and Radikon, and does produce other more resolutely orange styles; this wine displays a slight coppery cast, and the slightest hint of tea-like tannin, but still leads more with bruised orchard fruits and florals rather than more oxidative notes).
Classic Friulano markers such as apricot, citrus oil, wildflower honey, dried green herbs, wet stones, and a touch of almond skin jump from the glass and carry over to the medium-plus-bodied palate, which is framed by palpable minerality and refreshing acidity. The wine matured for two years in tank, and it doesn’t miss wood barrels one bit: It’s got substance, complexity, and balance, nicely structured for pairing with food. Serve it at 45-50 degrees in large all-purpose stems (or red Burgundy bowls) with a recipe culled from that part of the world (the great chef Lidia Bastianich hails from Istria, so she’d be the ultimate resource). Check out the attached for an authentic taste of this fascinating border region. You’ll be glad you took the leap of faith!
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