|Image from Blue Danube Wine's website|
Though today's wine is from Slovenia, it is thought that Pinela (under the name Pinella) is originally from Italy. It is first mentioned all the way back in 1324 in the Catalogo delle varietà delle vitis del Regno Veneto, where it was said to be used in the wines of Udine, Friuli. It should be mentioned, though, that some sources (here and here) indicate that Pinela is actually indigenous to Slovenia, and, further, that there hasn't been any DNA analysis done to see whether the Pinella of Friuli and the Pinela of Slovenia are actually the same grape. It seems reasonable to assume that the two are the same, since the region of Friuli borders Slovenia and many of the Slovenian regions where Pinela can be found. Both Wine Grapes and the VIVC list the two grapes as synonyms, and that's good enough for me right now. Whatever the case may be, Italy claimed 72 hectares of Pinella in their 2000 agricultural census, while Slovenia claimed 50 hectares of Pinela (or sometimes Pinjela) in their 2009 census. The grape does not appear to be grown anywhere else in the world.
Slovenian wines are somewhat difficult to find on American shelves, but they've been growing vines and making wines in Slovenia for a very long time. The Celts and Illyrians were making wine in the area known as modern-day Slovenia long before the Romans began introducing viticulture into the areas where France and Germany are now found. Slovenia's history is turbulent, as the area has been conquered and occupied by a number of different European powers throughout its history. It was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until World War I, when the new State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs broke away and formed their own country. In 1928, this state merged with Serbia and in 1929, the country was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was invaded by the Axis powers in 1941 and control was divided between Germany, Italy and Hungary until 1945, when the Axis powers were defeated by the Allies.
After World War II, Yugoslavia became a communist state. Though not as restrictive as many of the other eastern-bloc communist governments, being a communist state had detrimental effects on the development of the wine industry. Josip Broz Tito was the leader of communist Yugoslavia until his death in 1980, at which point the political and economic climate of the region began to become less stable. In 1987, a group of Slovene intellectuals publicly began to call for Slovenia's independence from Yugoslavia and a movement towards democratization began in earnest. Several democratic amendments were passed in 1989, and in 1990, the Slovenian assembly changed the name of their region to the Republic of Slovenia. Later that year, 88% of the Slovenian electorate voted for a sovereign and independent Slovenia and the country became independent officially on June 25, 1991. The Yugoslav People's Army sent troops into the region on June 27 of that year and on July 7, a treaty was signed that ceased hostilities in the region. A new constitution was adopted in December of 1991 and the EU recognized Slovenia as an independent state in January of 1992, with the United Nations following suit in May of that year.
**UPDATE** An anonymous commenter has informed me that my understanding of post WWII, cold war era politics is a bit mistaken in the paragraph below. He/she says the following: "Just one note: Yugoslavia (including Slovenia), was not behind the iron-curtain. Yes, it was communist, but not part of the USSR controlled Warsaw-pact... What it meant in practice, was that free travel of people and goods was permitted and as such your statement incorrect that their position was like Romania, Hungary or Georgia. The first two were separate states behind the Iron Curtain, the latter was actually part of the USSR.
Your conclusions, that viticulture was falling behind modern standards remain correct. But the USSR had little to do with that. That was just the result of collective farming in a centrally governed market." I want to thank that commenter and I offer his/her gloss here in the main text in the hopes that it will help other readers. I'm not really sure how to fix my erroneous paragraph below, so I'm going to leave it as is so that the commenter's gloss makes sense in context.**
As we've seen with Romania and Georgia, spending time behind the Iron Curtain throughout the latter half of the 20th Century means that you were essentially isolated from the western World. There was not a lot of movement of ideas or commerce between communist and democratic nations. The former Soviet bloc countries have had to make up a lot of ground in a very small amount of time in order to carve out a presence in Western markets. The former Yugoslav republics and countries like Hungary have had a little bit better time of it because they are geographically closer to western Europe, making tourism easier, and because they were never as dependent on the USSR and post-Soviet Russia as countries like Georgia were. The degree of success that a given country has had following the end of the Cold War is, perhaps unsurprisingly, related to how well the country was functioning throughout the 20th Century, and while all of the former communist dictator states have had to play a bit of catch-up, some, like Slovenia, were better prepared and in a better position than others to do so relatively quickly.
All of which brings us back to Slovenian wine in general. Slovenia is just south of Austria, just east of Friuli in Italy, just north of Croatia and just west of Hungary. There are three major wine regions in Slovenia. Primorje is located in the western part of the country, just over the border from Italy, and this is where most of the wines that we see on US shelves come from. Brda is perhaps the most well known region within Primorje, but there is also Collio Goriziana (which is partly in Slovenia but which can be bottled as an Italian DOC), Koper and the Vipava Valley, where today's wine hails from. The other two major wine regions of Slovenia are located on the other side of the country with Podravje in the northeastern corner and Posavje in the southeast. Podravje (Drava Valley) is the largest of the three major regions of Slovenia and is known primarily for the production of white and sparkling wines. Posavje (Sava Valley) is the only major region to produce more red than white wine (as a nation, Slovenia's output is about 75% white), but much of the production here is of the bulk variety.
here). I bought the wine from the always excellent Blue Danube Wine Company for around $29. The first bottle that I ordered was corked, but Blue Danube quickly sent me a replacement. Pinela is a white grape, but this wine is made in an orange wine style, as the grapes are crushed and left to macerate on the skins for five days without any temperature control. Natural yeast fermentation is followed by 24 months of aging in old Slovenian oak barrels. The wine is bottled unfined, unfiltered (usually) and with minimal SO2 additions in the funky vessel seen at right. In the glass the wine was a medium golden bronze color. The nose was fairly intense with aromas of dried apple, cider, pear, dried leaves, hay, autumn spice and bergamot. On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acidity. There were flavors of dried leaves, dried apple, autumn spice, hay, orange peel and toasted nuts. It clocks in at 14.5% alcohol and does wear it a little clumsily, but overall it was an absolutely wonderful wine. It's warm and spicy with a great autumn vibe that would be deliciously appropriate at Thanksgiving, but which I'd be happy to enjoy any time. It is best served no colder than cellar temp and in the company of valued family and friends.