2003 Matjaz Cetrtic Ferdinand Rdece Brda

Matjaz Cetrtic Ferdinand Rdece Brda It's long been rumored that the top producers in Italy's Collio appellation used to buy their fruit from black-market Slovenian grape dealers, just over the hills in Novo Gorica. That's because Goriska Brda (Slovene for "hills around Gorica") is one of the world's great winegrowing regions and, until the Iron Curtain fell in the late 1980s, winemaking in Slovenia was a state-run industry. (These Slovenian bureaucrat-winemakers brought new meaning to the phrase "industrial-grade wine.")

During the last fifteen years, a handful of tiny, independent Slovenian producers emerged, and their wines have gained the attention of the international wine industry. Matiaz Cetrtic is one of these rising stars.

Cetrtic farms fifteen acres of southeast-facing vineyards in the hills of Kojsko, a village that lies only a mile from the Italian border. The soil in this part of Goriska Brda is composed chiefly from marl and limestone, which is ideal for the vines but also prone to erosion. Local farmers, Cetrtic included, combat erosion with terraced vineyards that reduce soil runoff (caused by rainfall) by breaking the long, steep slopes into shorter sections.

While many European appellations suffered from extremely high temperatures during the infamous inferno summer of 2003--the year this wine was produced--Goriska Brda enjoyed a typical growing season of hot days and cool evenings thanks to its high elevation and the stabilizing influence of the Alps to the northwest and the Adriatic Sea just a few miles to the south.

In a good year, Cetrtic will produce only 2,500 cases of wine, and in 2003, he made just 500 cases of Rdece, which is a blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, two varieties that thrive in Goriska Brda. Without knowing the wine's origin, it's difficult to place it geographically. Is it Old World or New? Right Bank (predominantly Merlot) or Left (Cabernet)? Given the fairly middling quality of Merlot-Cabernet blends on the Italian side of the hillside, it's hard to imagine that such a wonderfully concentrated, structured Bordeaux Blend could come from Slovenia. Drink this muscular wine with grilled beef, game or aged cheeses. Don't tell too many friends about it--there's too little to go around. Drink now-2009.