Swafford on Wine: Disregard the calendar, reach for a rosé

It is at the start of summer when the subject of Rosé as the good-idea wine to take on a picnic and drink when the blanket is spread and out come sandwiches and salads and the sun rises high in the sky. Well, we’ve had a warm autumn start — global warming? — and I’m not ready to put away the picnic basket yet. And besides, a good rosé can find its way to my table almost any time of year as an alternative to that chardonnay when the entrée is seafood.

You can still find a selection of rosés wherever wines are sold locally — Fred Meyer, Safeway, etc. — but it is helpful to get some advice on the spot from a live person with inside knowledge of what is dry, sweet, crisp, etc. People like Zack Wahl at his Nye Beach Wine Cellar and Lyle Mattson in his wine corner at JC Market, both speak rosé. And Eric Vaughn has a big selection to choose from at Grocery Outlet — let him steer you toward one of his favorites from France’s Rhone or Provence regions.

I’ve heard recently that Slovenia will soon be the newest wine region of focus. Many of us know little about the country of Slovenia, its location or that they grow grapes and make wine there. One former citizen, an attractive model who became a naturalized American citizen and now lives part-time in Washington, D.C., has made a name for herself. One of her adult stepsons oversees a commercial winery and vineyard near Charlottesville, Va. owned by his father. The winery: Trump Vineyard Estates. The Slovenian stepmother: Melania. The father: ...but this is a wine column and I mustn’t get distracted.

Slovenia is a political and historical curiosity where, conceivably, four consecutive generations in the last 100 years, each could have been born a different nationality. A part of Austria until 1919, much of Slovenia became Italy until 1947 when Yugoslavia was formed and then became Slovenia with the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991.

It was Yugoslavia when I came through during my “wanderjahr” after the army and university. I had been skiing in the Austrian Alps and attending operas and concerts every other night for another three weeks in Vienna. I was on my way to Italy for a cultural rendezvous with another art-loving traveler who asked me to meet her in Florence, when I happened to pass through the charming town of Ptuj in what is now northeastern Slovenia.

It was in Ptuj — when you spit out a watermelon seed at a picnic, you have correctly pronounced the name of the town — that I first tasted a Slovenian wine. It was a sweet white drawn from the biggest cask I had ever seen. I thought at the time that if a door was put in place, one could live in it. Doing some research for this piece I found a website that took me to a spa where they have at least seven of these giant wine casks that rent by the night with photos of comfortable, built-in double beds... yes, Christina, on our next itinerary there will be a stop in Ptuj.

Slovenia’s best vineyards lie between the Alps and the Adriatic sea. They share terrain and wine styles with northern Italy’s Collio region just over the western border. In fact, many of the vineyards straddle the borders of the two countries. The principal wine grape of Slovenia is a white called rebula and can be finished from dry to sweet depending on the winemaker’s decision. The local winemakers believe in letting the “must” — the crushed pulp and skins — stay in contact with the juice for extended time during fermentation. This contact time, or maceration, can be for days or a few weeks and produces different and distinct flavors. An extended months-long maceration of these golden-skinned grapes can also produce a rustic “orange” wine.

I’m interested in trying these different wines as soon as possible, but we must wait. Slovenian wines may be a coming thing, but they aren’t here in Oregon yet. Perhaps it is time for me to return to Ptuj and fetch them for us here in Newport... and dream Rebulian dreams tucked in our thousand-gallon bedroom. Cheers!


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