WHAT: Pinot Grigio is not one of my favorite grapes, but occasionally I come across one that reminds me why this is such a popular wine.
The Giocato (jo-KAY-toh) Pinot Grigio is a bright, fresh wine with green apple, pear and melon flavors in addition to crisp minerality. It is not a wimpy, wishy-washy white you sometimes find with Pinot Grigio, but a powerful, dry gem filled with concentrated fruit. There is a lingering citrus aftertaste.
I brought this wine along on an Augusta Canal evening cruise, and we drank it so fast I wished we had brought another bottle. It seemed to get better with every sip.
It tasted like an Italian Pinot Grigio with touches of Alsace, especially the mineral notes. I had to look at the label to remind myself where the wine originated. It comes from Slovenia, not to be confused with Slovakia, which is better known for great beer. Americans tend to get confused about European geography, so here’s a quick lesson. Slovenia, part of the former Yugoslavia, shares a border with the far northeast portion of Italy. In fact, the Goriška Brda region that is home to Giocato is considered the continuation of Italy’s Collio DOC. Austria lies to the north.
Goriška Brda is part of the Primorska region, Slovenia’s most respected wine region. Slovenia has made great strides in improving the quality of its wines in the past 25 years, and luckily for consumers prices have lagged behind the quality improvements.
This Pinot Grigio is made from grapes hand selected from some of the best sites along the Italian border. The vineyards benefit from a mixture of warm Mediterranean sea air and the influence of cold winds from the Alps.
The wine is 100 percent Pinot Grigio fermented in stainless steel tanks. There is no barrel aging, nothing associated with oak. It is released immediately after fermentation with no bottle aging.
The wine is produced by Aleks Simcic (SEEM-chitch), widely considered one of the best winemakers in eastern Europe. Giocato is produced by the renowned Edi Simcic winery, owned by Aleks’ father. The Giocato label was developed for the American market.
Slovenia has always been the crossroads between north and south, east and west, so the wines have multiple influences. Accordingly, French, Italian, and German customs are evident in the growing and production of the grapes.
Pinot Grigio seems especially sensitive to the terroir where it is produced, so the influence of the Mediterranean and the mountains as well as the mineral-rich soil give the Giocato some pop.
I pulled this bottle from my cellar, but the 2012 vintage should be released right about now. It will not vary much from the 2011 taste profile.
WINERY: Wine grapes have been grown in the area since before the Roman Empire, back to the time of the Celts. Edi Simcic’s grandfather got the family started in the wine business, but when World War II ended Edi had to change how he operated.
When the Communists took power in 1948 Goriška Brda moved from Italy to the new Yugoslavia. Suddenly the wine producers were required to give a large portion of their grapes to the government, and the wine industry as they knew it ended.
Instead of selling his grapes wherever he could find the best price, Simcic now had to work for a 750-member, government-controlled cooperative. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it took only a year for the Simcic family to set up a company and begin selling their own wine again.
Starting with less than 9 acres in 1990, the Simcic estate has grown to about 30 acres of vines on the sloping hills to the south and west of the village of Vipolže.
In 25 years the Edi Simcic winery has become one of Slovenia’s stars, getting worldwide attention for its fine wines. Both Goriška Brda and Collio have grown in stature with lovers of quality wine.
Aleks Simcic works with other local winemakers to pick the most suitable vineyard sites, decide on varieties to grow and work on winemaking techniques.
The Simcic winery partnered with U.S. wine importer Small Vineyards – August Wine Group to develop Giocato to meet American market demands for wines of a simpler character with fresh mineral notes. The line consists of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Ribolla, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and the upcoming Pinot Noir.
GOES WITH: We sipped the wine with a few snacks, and it was delicious. But it is such a pleasant wine, it practically screams for food. The crisp acidity and mineral flavors would make it great with seafood or poultry.
“This could be my favorite wine,” said our friend Sandy, who really enjoyed the freshness of the Pinot Grigio as we glided along the Augusta Canal.
Sandy and her husband joined my wife, Teri, and me on a moonlight music cruise on the canal on a beautiful spring evening. We have done this before, and it is always a treat. You can bring your own drinks and snacks to enjoy while the Petersburg boat takes a leisurely spin along the canal. The Friday night cruises operate in April, May, June, September and October.
On this night the music was provided by Tara Scheyer and Erin Jacobs (who is Teri’s daughter), so we had an even better time. Both women have beautiful voices that blend together perfectly, turning an ordinary boat ride into a magical journey. They sang some of Tara’s creations and old favorites that had the full boat singing along. The talented Tara even brought along sticks for us all to play rhythmically on a couple of songs.
I could see this versatile wine with grilled shrimp that had been marinated in ginger and lime juice, barbecue chicken, pan fried crab cakes, a nice salad or fried green tomatoes.