If you follow my Instagram account, you may have noticed the two months I spent in Maribor this summer were fairly, um, boozy!
I didn’t plan it that way.
I can’t really explain what drew me to Maribor – I knew I wanted to visit Slovenia so I was browsing Airbnb for accommodation. I’d left my booking late (as usual!) so I couldn’t find anything affordable at the coast, which was my original intention. Then I stumbled upon a flat in Maribor and it sung to me. I looked up Maribor on several travel sites – it was described as a place of quiet charm, surrounded by vineyards, with Pohorje, its majestic ski mountain, a hiker’s paradise in summer.
Turns out my intuition did me some favours – Maribor wine is renowned in Slovenia and my Airbnb accommodation was run by Marko, one of the Find Eat Local team, a Slovenian startup that promotes and lists local food and wine places. So we teamed up for a few tastings…
The Charming City of Maribor
The capital of the Štajerska region and Slovenia’s second city, Maribor sits on the River Drava in the northeast of the country. It’s a small city, very friendly and somehow intimate.
There are a few places of interest dotted in and around the Old Town, although Maribor suffered intense bombing at the end of the Second World War and many of the replacement buildings are nothing special.
But it’s Maribor’s vibe that drew me in. It’s a very chilled out place with lots of lovely places to eat and drink, especially along the banks of the Drava. There are plenty of clean, green places in and around the city for active types or those, like me, who simply love walking in nature. And it’s one of Slovenia’s main wine-growing areas.
Maribor Wine Heritage
Slovenia has three wine regions. In the southeast of the country is Posavje, a hotspot for Modra Frankinja (Blaufränkish) and Cviček, a relatively low alcohol red wine composed of at least four different varieties: 70% reds and 30% whites. The most productive wine-growing region, Primorska, is in the southwest. This region has a Mediterranean climate and its hot dry summers are great for full-bodied whites and reds, especially Refošk.
Maribor belongs to the Podravje region in the northeast and the green hills of Štajerska form the largest wine-growing area in Slovenia. Sitting on the northeastern part of the Slovenian Alps, the climate here is comparatively cool, but while the area produces less wine than the smaller Primorska region, the wines made here are premium quality, noble, aromatic white wines ranging from dry to sweet.
Laški Rizlings predominate in Štajerska, although wine connoisseurs rave about Maribor’s Renski Rizlings. You can also find Sauvignon, Šipon, Chardonnay, Zeleni Silvanec, Traminec, Rumeni Muškat, and Sivi Pinot. There are only a few reds grown in the area, Modra Frankinja, Modri Pinot and Žametna Črnina. The final red in this list, Žametna Črnina, forms part of Maribor’s most famous wine story: The Old Vine (Stara Trta).
The Old Vine House (Stara Trta)
On the banks of the River Drava in a part of the Old Town known as Lent is a 16th century building. Growing across its front is the world’s oldest grapevine, as confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records. The vine is a rare red variety known as Žametovka or Žametna Črnina, and it’s been growing in this spot for at least 400–450 years (depending who you ask).
It’s survived against the odds – the building has suffered several fires throughout its history and was almost destroyed in a bombing raid during the Second World War. Amazingly, the vine still produces fat juicy grapes every year, and harvest and pruning time are an excuse for a Maribor wine festival! Apparently the wine isn’t particularly drinkable now but it produces around 100 bottles each year that are highly prized and symbolic, and mostly used as gifts for visiting dignitaries.
The building was renovated in 2007 and is now a museum showcasing the story of the Old Vine, plus a centre for tasting local wines from the Štajerska region. I popped in one afternoon for a tasting…
The guy who did my tasting was super knowledgeable. He listened to which vineyards I’d visited and asked about my favourite wines, and he chose the wines for this tasting based on my answers. Damn he did a good job! First up was a Ranina, a local variety indigenous to this area, from Steyer, a vineyard in Plitvica northeast of Maribor close to the Austrian border. Great start… Then I sampled a mouth-watering Rumeni Muškat from Gaube, a vineyard north of Maribor on the Austrian border. Finally I rounded off my tasting with a Blaufränkisch from Dveri Pax, a popular local producer with its own wine bar in Maribor. Sadly I did my tasting at the end of my time in Maribor, otherwise I would have gone home with several bottles of this delicious red!
I left the Old Vine House with two momentos: a small box of chocolates made with wine from the Old Vine which I sent to my family who, being the lovely family they are, saved me one for my recent trip back to the UK. God, it was good: rich, dark, smooth, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate. And it felt kind of special too, like eating a small piece of history. Slovenians do chocolate really well! The second momento was less sweet – another person doing a tasting accidentally knocked his glass to the floor which splatter-smashed quite magnificently, leaving a small trail of blood running down my ankle and, somehow, a small sliver of glass under one fingernail. Ah, the dangers of wine tasting!
Vinag Wine Cellar
The Old Vine House isn’t the only viticultural gem in Maribor, but the other, while no less impressive, is a lot less visible on surface level.
Beneath Maribor’s Trg Svobode (Freedom Square) is the Vinag Wine Cellar, one of the largest wine cellars in Europe, and the largest underneath any European city centre. Established in the mid-19th century, the cellar covers an area of 20,000m², stretches for an incredible 2.5 kilometres underground, and can hold up to 5.5 million litres of wine (so whatever it looked like from my Instagram pictures, I most definitely did not drink all the wine in Maribor!).
I went on a tour of the cellar with Marko and Jernej from Find Eat Local. Although we only ventured around a fraction of the tunnels, we passed row after row of old wooden barrels, saw giant modern stainless steel barrels, climbed inside gigantic concrete cisterns (well, I watched Marko slither in sideways – the entrance looked a little challenging for me!), were talked through various wine-making processes, and gazed through locked gates to the precious stores of old and valuable wines.
At the end of the trip, we huddled among the large stainless steel barrels to taste a selection of their wines. We tried 8 wines in total, mostly whites, although we also had their Pinky Cheek rosé, Modri Pinot and their classic sparkling wine. Standouts for me were the g-Pullos Traminec (which they amusingly bill as wine to hit your g-spot!) and the Modri Pinot (special thanks to Vinag for letting us take away the rest of that bottle, and gifting us a bottle of the sparkling). What a great tasting and an interesting place, even though I was a little lightheaded when we left!
Note: The entrance to Vinag is rather forlorn. It doesn’t look as though it’s open from the main square; the shop that was on the square is closed. There’s a wine barrel outside and you have to walk under a deserted-looking arch to reach the building entrance. But it’s worth seeking out.
The Vinoo-co Wine Cruise
Vinoo.co is a Slovenian wine startup. They’ve developed an app to connect local winemakers with wine lovers for tastings and to buy wine, and they run numerous events to promote local wines. I joined one of their vinooXperience Drava trips accompanied by Marko and Jernej.
The event took place on a traditional wooden raft. There’s a long history of rafting in Maribor. Until the Second World War, it was a popular method of transporting timber from the forests of Pohorje, but as far back as 1280 wooden rafts were used to transport wine barrels.
Now the rafts are a tourist attraction. For this event they’d been decked out with pub-style benches and filled with drunkards wine lovers. We joined the raft just out of Maribor and slowly made our way down the river, while quaffing a fine selection of Slovenian wines.
There were three winemakers on the cruise from different regions of Slovenia: Joannes Protner representing Štajerska, and the other two from Primorska, Ščurek from Goriška Brda and Korenika & Moškon from Slovenian Istria.
I took along notepad and pen fully intending to keep notes of my tasting, but there was no hope (and no light). Instead, I figured it was a great time to try out Instagram Stories. And you know it was, but it was really stupid to make notes about which wines I’d liked the most. Because we all know what happens to Instagram Stories after 24 hours…
As far as I can remember, the cruise was great fun. We tried three wines from each of the winemakers, and no, there was no spitting involved so things started getting a little blurred for me mid-evening! However, my hazy memory tells me that my favourites were Joannes’ Renski Rizling, Ščurek’s Modri Pinot, and Korenika & Moškon’s Malvazija.
Amusingly some of my photos get increasingly blurred as the evening wore on, but when I looked at them the next day I realised we’d tried at least 11 different wines – apparently there were a number of ‘specials’ tagged on the end. I’m not used to drinking much any more. As I’m travelling alone I take great care not to drink a lot, especially when I have to walk home afterwards as I like my senses to be alert. Plus, hangovers definitely get worse as the years tick by! So I had double whammy the next day when I woke with a throbbing head (and had a day’s wine tasting ahead of me) and realised I’d accepted a lift home from somebody on the cruise who’d downed at least 15 glasses of wine! Despite his insistence the following day that he is perfectly OK driving drunk, he was clearly in no fit state to drive. Normally I’d never get in a car with people who’ve been drinking, so this was equally poor judgement on my half although I was grateful I didn’t have to walk home. Fortunately it was a short drive and I lived to tell the tale.
Because this has turned into a mammoth post, I’ll publish in two parts. The second part of my Maribor wine adventures – the visits to local vineyards – will be published next week. Stay tuned…
Huge thanks to Marko and Jernej from Find Eat Local for their (slightly drunken) wine tours, and to the Old Vine House, Vinag Wine Cellar and vinoo.co for their hospitality and fine wines. Parts of my Maribor wine adventures were organised as a media trip with Find Eat Local, and parts I carried out independently. My words, thoughts and opinions, however, remain my own throughout.
Maribor is a wonderful little city and I would happily return (and drink more Maribor wine!). I stayed in an Airbnb for the two months I was in town. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, sign up via my link for a discount off your first stay. Check the latest hotel prices on Agoda, and see TripAdvisor for hotel, hostel and guest house reviews.
When visiting Slovenia, it’s a legal requirement to advise the police that you’re in the country – otherwise you’re liable for a rather large fine. Usually this is done by your accommodation providers who take a copy of your passport or ID card and register it with the authorities. If they don’t and you’re staying longer than three days, ask them or take yourself to the nearest police station and register yourself.
Have you ever been to Maribor for a wine-tasting adventure? Do you have any favourite Slovenian wines?