The Slovenia Times

New York getting a taste for Slovenian wines

A festival of orange wines.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

Ruffian, an East Village wine bar and restaurant, is one in a growing number of establishments in New York that serves Slovenian wines. Co-owner Alexis Percival finds that Slovenia has plenty of "super high quality and well priced wines".

Percival first visited Slovenia and its winemakers in 2019 when she and her business partners opened a restaurant called Kindred in East Village.

"The restaurant's wine selection was dedicated to the region of the former Republic of Venice, from Italy, Slovenia and Croatia to the Greek islands. I fell in love with the Adriatic region and this was reflected in the wine selection," she has told the Slovenian Press Agency.

Kindred survived through the Covid pandemic, but like many other bars and restaurants had to close down eventually because the loss of revenue was just too great.

"Ruffian, which has been open since 2016, focuses on wines from Eastern and Central Europe," says Percival, one of few woman sommeliers who in 2018 founded a women's wine tasting group.

The best selling wines in the US are still those from the world's most famous wine regions such as France, Italy and Chile, but Percival says that New York is characterised by people who are willing to try new things, and that applies to wine too.

"This is great. Have you got something similar, or different?" Percival hears when they make presentations of new wines or at the restaurant on the 7th Street, not far from the Slovenian community's St Cyril's Church.

Percival became passionate about wine in France, where she lived after graduating from the University of Rhode Island. She moved to New York, where she began her career in wine as a waitress, importer of wines from Chile, then trained as a sommelier and now works as a wine consultant and event organiser.

In 2016 she joined Ruffian owner Patrick Cournot, and the wine bar has evolved into a haven for lovers of natural wines, with a huge selection of wines from Austria all the way to Georgia and south to North Macedonia and everything in between, including Slovenia.

Many people still say that they did not know that they make wine in Slovenia. Percival tells them: "Maybe you are not familiar with this place. Maybe you are not familiar with this grape, and maybe it has weird accents on it and you don't know how to pronounce it. But the wines are so beautifully made.

"For me the percentage of well made, well priced wines that drink so comfortably and accessible is through the roof from Slovenia. So I say just take a sip of it, there is nothing weird or scary about this wine at all. And generally speaking you'll get a huge value," she says.

One major hit in New York are amber or orange wines, which originate from Georgia. Visiting the country, winemakers from Slovenia and Italy discovered that their ancestors had made wine like this and started making them as well.

"When orange wines were emerging in New York market, Slovenia had so many answers for that style and an affordable price. And they are stable and delicious and it was just like a treasure trove for us," says Percival, who visited Slovenia and its winemakers a second time last May.

Her first Slovenian wine was probably Kristančič's Movia. "That was also my first known natural wine, like fully biodynamic wine that I had ... But Kabaj was the first wine that we saw in the New York market. Pretty widely and with the distinctive label."

Percival initially worked with Blue Danube importers, and later with others such as Emil Gaspari. Apart from Movia, Ruffian's wine list also includes wines from Zarova in Goriška Brda, Rodica in the Slovenian Istria and other winemakers.

Most of the wines are from Slovenia's western region, which is full of winemakers, but Ruffian's list also includes a Cviček or two. This is a light dry ruby red wine coming from the south-eastern region of Dolenjska that is made from red and white grape varieties.


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