The Slovenia Times

Some like it red



Interview: Robert Gorjak, wine professional Slovenia is definitely the home of many passionate wine drinkers, but what about its own wine experts? Robert Gorjak is one of them. He calls himself a "wine writer" and travels around Europe writing about all sorts of wine. Recently, he also founded the Ljubljana-based "Belvin Wine School". Mr Gorjak, red or white? Well, some like it red, some white. I don't have a certain preference. I would say that it depends on my mood. Either red or white, I prefer good wines. A very diplomatic answer. What makes a "good wine"? To produce a really "good wine" requires dedication and effort from both the wine-grower and the wine-maker. A lot of knowledge and experience is needed, as well as healthy and ripe grapes. In the process of maturation you should disturb your wine as little as possible. Any intervention is likely to have unpleasant side effects. That sounds very profound. Who do you think is "allowed" to judge the quality of a wine? I think anybody is "allowed" to judge the quality of a wine. In a restaurant, everybody should, of course, make their own choice. If it comes to judging wines at competitions, things are a bit different, only experienced tasters are good enough to judge wines there. There are some details that inexperienced tasters are very likely to overlook. At seminars we run at the Belvin Wine School, I have experienced that a lot of people can barely detect a corked wine, or a wine that is just too old and is not good any more. A wine professional detects things like that with ease. You mentioned the wine school you founded in Ljubljana. What exactly do you teach the people attending your seminars? We teach our students how to approach wine, how to better understand wine. We discover how wine is made and why there are so many different wines out there. Wine is not just red or white. Of course, we also teach them how to taste, and very importantly, how to describe wine properly. Is everybody really able to become a wine expert or is it also a matter of talent and having the "right nose"? As long as they are open-minded and willing to learn continuously, most people have the ability to become wine experts. First of all you ought to be healthy enough to be able to detect and interpret different aromas, tastes and other sensations, as well as the levels of acidity, sugar and alcohol. The ability to concentrate is very important, too. A good memory also helps a lot; the rest is practise, practise, and more practise. The more you practise, the better you get. Last but not least, one should always think over a wine. A wine taster is not a machine. What are the most common traps and pitfalls in wine tasting? Generally, I don't like to judge wine without context. The context is very important. When I go skiing I prefer to go for a heavier red wine, when I am at the seaside I make it a light, refreshing white wine. It is hard to judge a wine out of context. Another mistake many wine tasters make is that they judge wine without asking themselves a very important question: "How much of this wine would I be willing to actually drink, not just taste?" Today, too many wines get high scores just because they are intense, full bodied, loaded with oak... Fine, elegant wines are losing at too many competitions because the wine testers keep forgetting that wine, first and foremost, is to be drunk - not to be judged. I think my "mission" is to educate people to better understand wine in order to enjoy it more. Therefore, I travel around Europe and write articles from wine regions to share my experiences with my readers. We organize seminars and monthly wine-tasting sessions at the Belvin Wine Club. My work can be found in many magazines, on my website, as well as in some books I contributed to, such as Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book and The Oxford Companion to Wine. I am a "wine writer" and "wine taster", but not a "sommelier", or an "oenologist". What is the difference? An oenologist is an expert in winemaking. They are usually employed at wine cellars or some institutes. Very often they are very good wine tasters, too. There are schools for oenologists in France, in Dijon, Montpellier or Bordeaux for example, but not in Slovenia. Sommeliers are people who are educated to select, recommend and serve wine in restaurants. To become a sommelier you need to finish a certain course. In Slovenia, there are two schools for sommeliers, one in Maribor and one in Nova Gorica. Some sommeliers are good tasters as well. The only problem is that many of them think that finishing a course automatically means they've become an expert. In fact, finishing a course is only the first step in gaining expertise. In England, for example, the most respected wine tasters and connoisseurs are wine writers. Michael Broadbent, Jancis Robinson, Steven Spurrier, Hugh Johnson, Oz Clarke are all respected names right around the globe. What about Robert Gorjak? Well, I am on my way. You are not only teaching. Currently you are also studying at the "WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) School" in London to get the internationally recognized Wine Diploma. Have you gained any new knowledge over there? I am definitely learning a lot there. The WSET education is really one of the best learning experiences that I have ever had. I've finished my first year exams and most of my second year "duties". Now I just need to complete one more essay and do my final research.... And after that? Becoming an "MW" (Master of Wine)? For wine lovers, acquiring this title is like becoming immortal. There are only 242 people in the whole world that have this title... ...and no one in Slovenia, so far! What about being the first? It really sounds like a dream for me. Not being first, but just becoming one. As was acquiring the WSET Diploma, which I'll get soon. However, right now I don't plan on going for the "MW". After finishing my diploma, I will take a rest for one or two years and then... ...let the dream come true? Who knows? I might be crazy enough to challenge myself. Let's go back to the drink itself. You have tested countless sorts of wine all around the world. Where, in your personal ranking, would you put Slovenian wine? The quality of Slovenian wine is rising, but that is a trend that can be seen all around the world at the moment. What I can say is that the best Slovenian wines are doing very well, they are really excellent. Therefore, it is not fair that Slovenian wine is hardly known among wine lovers outside of the country. Saying that, I think that it is our responsibility to spread the word, nobody else's. However, we are not in the Premier League yet. You described how the rest of the world is not aware of the quality of Slovenian wine. Indeed, Slovenian wine is mainly destined for the domestic market. Do you have any ideas on how to boost Slovenia's wine exports in the future? Slovenia is part of Europe, part of the so-called Old World. Here, we are not as skilled in marketing wine as in other parts of the world. We are not used to thinking about wine as a product, something to sell. At least we are still passionate about growing wine. We still sing in our vineyards. However, the accession to the European Union has already helped a lot. In the future, more and more visitors will come to Slovenia. Back home they will be excellent ambassadors for our wine. One last question, Mr Gorjak. Would a wine fanatic, as you are, ever go for a fresh, cold beer instead of a glass of wine? Funnily enough, after a long day of wine tasting, I usually really enjoy a beer.


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