Confusion Corner: Slovenia, Slavonia, Slovakia

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As a wine student, you’ve heard the terms…Slovenian Sivi Pinot and Slavonian Oak. You may also have heard that a tiny portion of the Tokaj region crosses the border of Hungary, extending into Slovakia.

You may have thought that these three terms—Slovenia, Slavonia, Slovakia—are so similar in spelling and pronunciation that they represent the exact same thing expressed in three similar languages. (I thought that for a very long time.) However, here’s the truth: these are three separate places in three distinct countries, and they each have their own fascinating story when it comes to wine.

So here goes:

Slovenia: Slovenia is one of the countries to emerge from the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918–1941)—later known as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1945–1992). Others include Croatia (more on that later), Montenegro, Bosnia–Herzegovina, and Serbia. Slovenia is a mountainous country located just to the east of Italy’s Friuli Venezia Giulia region.  Slovenia has been a member of the European Union since 2004.

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Slovenia’s wine connection: Slovenia—located between Italy, Austria, Croatia, and Hungary—has a long history of viticulture and wine production. Many of Slovenia’s wine regions are located along the border with Italy, and could almost be considered “extensions” of the Italian areas; these include Slovenia’s Goriška Brda region that rests alongside Italy’s Collio Goriziano DOC, as well as Slovenia’s Kras region/Italy’s Carso DOC. Slovenia has close to 22,300 ha/55,100 acres of vineyards. Approximately 75% of the country’s output is white wine; leading white grapes include Riesling, Gewürztraminer (Traminec), Müller-Thurgau (Rizvanec), Pinot Gris (Sivi Pinot), Sauvignon Blanc, and Ribolla Gialla.

Slavonia: Slavonia is—along with Istria, Central Croatia, and Dalmatia—one of the four historical regions of Croatia. Croatia—one of the countries to emerge from the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (along with Slovenia)—became a member of the EU in 2013. The Slavonian region is located in the eastern (inland) section of Croatia; it borders Hungary (to the north), Serbia (to the east), and Bosnia–Herzegovina (to the south).

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Slavonia’s wine connection: Croatia has a long and well-documented history of wine production as well as international fame as the native home of the Crljenak Kaštelanski grape variety and its lineage (including Primitivo and Zinfandel). Croatia’s vineyards are divided roughly into two sections—Kontinentalna Hrvatska (inland, or continental Croatia) and Primorska Hrvatska (coastal Croatia)—and contain several EU-designated geographical indications.

However…the region of Slavonia is particularly famous for its oak. The next time you hear of a wine being aged in Slavonian oak barrels, please direct your thoughts to the lightly forested, inland area of northern Croatia. Slavonian oak—known for its compact fibers, tight grain, and sweet aromas—allows wine to undergo a long, slow oxidation in the barrel. Large barrels made from Slavonian oak are all the rage in Tuscany, Veneto, and Piedmont. The next time you enjoy Amarone, Chianti Classico, or Barolo, check the winemaker’s notes—it might have spent some time in Slavonian oak.

Slovakia: Along with the Czech Republic, Slovakia is one of the two countries to emerge from the sovereign state of Czechoslovakia, which lasted from 1918 (upon the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) to 1993 (when it peacefully dissolved into the two countries). Slovakia is a landlocked country tucked between Poland, Ukraine, Hungary (to the south), Austria, and the Czech Republic. Slovakia has been a member of the EU since 2004.

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Slovakia’s wine connection: Slovakia has over 20,000 ha/49,000 acres of vineyards. The country has 400 wineries and nine EU-designated protected (PDO) regions. The majority of the vineyards are located along the country’s western border (alongside Austria) and southern border (alongside Hungary).  Leading white grapes include Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, and Pinot Gris; leading red grapes include Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir. Outside of Europe, the wines of Slovakia are not (yet) very well-known; however, the area is famous for its production of Tokajská—a small portion of  Hungary’s famous (and historic) Tokaj-producing region extends northward into Slovak territory. When Hungary and Slovakia joined the European Union in the early 2000s, both countries agreed to abide by the same standards in viticulture, wine production and labeling for the wines labeled as Tokaji or Tokajská.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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