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Meet Božidar, Danilo, and Rajko
In 2007, these three friends combined their family properties and finances to pursue a brighter future for themselves, their family, and their community in the small town of Ormož, population 2100.
This little town is WAY off the beaten track and, typical of the small Slovenian towns of the area, rather poor. The friends wanted to do something to help focus the town and build pride and income, so Verus (meaning “True” in Latin) was formed.
They purchased a recently closed bakery, converted it to a winery, and started hiring local people to help with the vineyard and production work. Everything in this operation is done by hand, everything is done by the local folks, and we are lucky in the Twin Cities to have these wines at our fingertips.
Verus has 12 hectares of vineyards (just under 30 acres), all located in eastern Slovenia near the Hungarian border. Sometimes it’s hard to wrap your head around stats like this. Many people have seen a brand of wine on the shelves of the cool wine shops around MSP for years, yet there is a disconnect between how small the operation is and how far the wines have to travel. I don’t know about you, but when I’ve seen a label for many years in the marketplace, I naturally assume it’s a pretty large operation to make enough wine to land in humble little Minnesota. No so here. Not even 30 acres.
Just look at these vineyards!
From the Verus website:
“The vines here are planted on steep slopes with up to 30 to 40% inclines. These slopes help to optimise the benefit from the sun’s rays which therefore fall perpendicularly onto the vineyards. To avoid the dangers of winter and spring frosts, the vineyards are above an altitude of 250 m. The vines are planted on east, south and west facing sites, some on the classic terraces contouring the hills, and some vertically, as the trellises plunge down them. The northern hillsides are predominantly covered with forest, while, below the vineyards, the valley floors have orchards, fields and meadows.
In this diverse, dynamic and exceptionally picturesque landscape, we cultivate 25ha of vineyards in carefully selected sites known for generations by their traditional names: Jeruzalem, Kog, Litmerk, Stanovščak, Pavlovski vrh, Brebrovnik, Radomerščak, Gomila.”
Our little secret: The Importer
But this is where the rubber hits the road. One of the first importers in America of these wines was Bourget Imports of Eagan, Minnesota, run by the local legend Annette Peters. Annette has a 30-year track record of finding the gems of Europe, often about five to ten years before the rest of the fine wine world in America does. As a result, we get more of this wine offered to us in Minnesota than in most other states.
Many of you have heard me say this before, but it’s worth repeating: we have one of the most dynamic and interesting wine scenes in the entire country, right here in the Twin Cities, mainly because of a handful of top-notch importers that go to Europe, do the hard work of bird-dogging new gems, and import it directly to Minnesota.
Importers like Annette have their secrets. I remember about 15 years ago, when I asked her how she found an amazing wine from the Loire that we were enjoying together she let me in on one of her secrets: there is a wine bar in Paris that she frequents and that wine bar always seems to be about three years ahead of the curve on trends and producers, which means they are five or six years ahead of America and about eight years ahead of Minnesota. (In 2005 they were pouring and promoting Natural Wine as a category!) The wine we were drinking at that moment was found through such connections.
Verus was found in much the same way: boots on the ground, tasting hundreds of wines, narrowing down the selection, driving to the wineries, meeting the families, and finally placing the order to ship to Eagan, Minnesota.
Verus Sauvignon Blanc
From the Verus website: “Verus Sauvignon comes from several vineyards, both old and young, on eastern, southern and western facing terrains. Therefore, by carefully selecting the time of harvest for each individual vineyard in each vintage, we can achieve the desired style of wine: the maximum intensity of the bouquet, an aroma of elderflowers, gooseberries, tropical fruit, nettles, capsicum, blackcurrant or cut grass. The wine is fresh, balanced, and has a full-bodied flavor.”
Our tasting note: This is serious Sauvignon Blanc, not just a citrus cornucopia presented in a glass. You can tell in the mid-palate and the roundness on the finish. This is Sauvignon Blanc through and through, but a glass that, after a sip or two, makes you tilt it away from you, pause, and say “damn!”
Verus Pinot Gris
Here is a review from an earlier vintage, which I also think accurately describes this wine:
“This is one of the finest examples of Pinot Gris that I have tasted in quite a while – a wonderful fresh exotic nose with melons, grapefruit and ginger. Zhis palate is medium-bodied and intense, with a superb quality of fruit, balanced by excellent acidity. It may seem pricey, but is worth every cent. Great on its own, with salads or with richer fish dishes.”
Angela’s tasting note: (paraphrased) “I’m not one to like wines like this but *&!k this is good….”
Great Pinot Gris shows off the roundness and completeness of the variety without sacrificing acidity. It’s a tricky balance, usually ignored by winemakers simply by harvesting early. If you want to know what really good Pinot Gris is all about, here you go.
This is one of my FAVORITE white wines of the moment. Furmint is best known as Hungary’s gem, especially for Tokaj’s legendary wines. Still, it’s planted throughout this Slovenian/Hungarian region and often fermented dry to make stunning white wines.
It’s a simplistic analogy, but if you think of a Venn diagram and Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, and unoaked Chardonnay combining their wonder twin powers to activate, you have Furmint.
It’s not an easy grape to grow due to its incredibly long hang time. As a result, you don’t see many dry Furmints on the market in America (most are consumed in Europe). We’re super lucky to have access to this.
From the winery website:
Furmint is our oldest variety. It was already around in Roman times and has been present in this region for over 1,000 years. It is completely at home in this region and occupies one fifth of all vineyards. The Slovenian name for Furmint, ‘šipon’, supposedly comes from the times of the Illyrian Provinces, when Napoleon’s soldiers, upon drinking the wine, exclaimed “c’est si bon” – which was interpreted as ‘šipon’ by the locals.
Furmint buds early and ripens late. It has the longest growth period which implies an excellent quality potential. Because it has large grapes it is of key importance for the quality that the crop on the vine is not too large. That is why the main, and most difficult, task is to maintain the correct load on the vines by thinning out the crop.
Verus Furmint is a wine with a uniquely gentle bouquet with hints of quince, pear, green apple, peach or lemon/lime. The wine has a full-bodied flavour with a pleasant freshness and ages very well.
Our tasting note: Tangerine and herbs. How often do you find that in a wine? OMG this is good.
A dessert wine from Hungary not to be missed
So while we’re on the subject of Furmint and this amazing region on the Slovenia/Hungary border, I would be a fool to not tell you about Evolucio Late Harvest Furmint.
Dessert wine is one of the most overlooked categories by consumers. And that’s a shame because the bang for the buck is gigantic, and the wines are often very age-worthy. In other words, you can buy them on a whim and forget about the wine until you need it.
There is no better way to wrap up an evening with friends than smacking your forehead with your open palm, exclaiming, “I forgot to bake an apple pie!” and then running off to open a delicious bottle of dessert wine for the group.
Our tasting note is not one we can type without getting into trouble. Let’s just say all sorts of bad words, slurred positively, are involved. Wow, this is fun. Tangerine, a touch of sweet (not too much), fantastic viscosity, and REFRESHING, which is not a word I use for many dessert wines. This is not a sweet wine that will make you think of a candy store — it’s more subtle and balanced than most.
All three Verus wines are a joy to serve, are of top quality, and will make you happy. They also support this little town in Slovenia, three families, and countless local workers who have found their stride in the competitive world of European wine.
If you’re a fan of Sauvignon Blanc in general (and who isn’t?), it’s a great wine to pour, especially if you’re in a New Zealand rut. This Pinot Gris shows off this grape’s true potential, often cut down in wine circles because of the endless firehose of cheap crappy Pinot Grigio being sprayed at us by big Italian producers. This Pinot Gris will help you realize the truth. The Furmint is a no-brainer and may become your new favorite white wine. The dessert wine is a gem, a diamond, and a bottle or two in the cellar will save your ass if you forgot to bake a pie.
Thank you, everyone! Spread the word about TCWE!
Sommelier, founder of Twin Cities Wine Education