Ask the ... Sommelier of the Year 2013

more than a year ago
Gašper Čarman - Sommelier of the Year 2013

How is the Slovene sommelier of the year chosen? And what does the title entail?

The Sommelier of the year in Slovenia is chosen through a nationally based competition. This year, when I won, it was held at Zemono Castle in Vipava. The title is important because it allows you to compete at the European and World levels.

How did you get into the wine business?
I had been working in my family's restaurant Pri Danilu since I was a kid, and fell in love with the wine world quite early. I also worked a lot in the field of wine education in Slovenia and abroad, and in 2005 finally opened the first online wine shop in Slovenia, and then in 2009 the eVino Bar in Ljubljana.

How has the wine industry in Slovenia changed over the past 5-10 years?
It has changed a lot, especially in the last five years because of the economic crisis. People are taking more care about which wines they buy and how much they spend for the bottle. Some Slovenian producers have not changed their prices or wines, so they are having problems, while others that did are doing well. Another change is that now people are drinking more at home than in restaurants.

How does Slovenia's terrain and climate affect the wine produced here?
Slovenia has many different climates and many different types of soil, and therefore many different styles of wines. On one hand this is good, because you can find everything from light, fruity white wines, to full-bodied, mineral and structured whites, exceptional Pinot Noirs, some well-made reds, and more. The only problem with this diversity is that buyers need to be quite careful when selecting wines, because not all the wines perform great all the time.

Who are some of the most underrated wine producers in Slovenia?
Lisjak in Vipava valley has a great price to performance ratio, the same with Nafa, which is situatied close to Lisjak. In the Štajerska region Šumenjak is doing great job. Today the most important thing for buyers is to find wines with a good price to performance ratio, and that is also what occupies much of my time at the moment.

And your personal favourites?
Well, I usually don't like to mention any individual names, because most of the producers that eVino represent are in a way all my favourites. But, if I had to pick just one, I would say Burja from Vipava valley. Primož produces some of the most amazing wines that you can find anywhere in the ex-Yugoslavia region.

How have your tastes in wine changed over the years?
It changed mainly with my studies. At first I was researching mostly Slovene producers, and liked all of our domestic styles. And after my WSET education in London and after visiting many wine festivals abroad, I can still compare our wines with the best in the world. But I also became a bit sceptical about too many stories related to wine, for me the most important thing is what a wine shows in the glass. This is also my goal for my clients.

What are the best wines for pairing with traditional Slovene dishes?
It depend on the food. Lighter traditional dishes go with light fruity wines from the north, while stronger more complex dishes go best with full-bodied southern wines. There are also many nice sweet wines to combine with dessert.

When drinking wine, how important are things such as wine glasses, temperature, food, etc?
They are incredibly important. It is a big shame to open a nice bottle of wine and drink it in the wrong glass, or not at the perfect temperature. But the most important thing is always with whom you are having your favourite wine!

Why do Slovenians drink so much wine?
It's in our genes, probably. It's part of our culture, and even part of our national anthem. Slovenes are smart, so why would we drink something else when we have such great wine - the most interesting, natural and mystic drink in the world.

What is the most popular international wines amongst Slovene consumers?
Recently Portugese reds have been doing great, offering a perfect price to performance ratio. Also Pinot Grigio Jermann, and of course Treviso Prosecco.

Which region or wine district do you think offers the best overall wine tourism experience for visitors interested in a weekend trip?
Goriška Brda is currently the most developed, but a place where you can find great hospitality is Bela Krajina. Great food, good wine and nice people.

What basic tips would you have for visitors who are interested getting the most from wine tasting excursion in Slovenia, but are not exactly wine experts?
Everyone can enjoy wine tastings in Slovenia. Most producers are very passionate about their work, and for most of them it is way of life and not just a business. I am sure that people can have a really nice experience visiting any of the wine regions in Slovenia.

Where's the best place to start for someone who wants to learn more about Slovene wine and wine producers?
There is a lot of information on the internet, and there are lots of tasting happening all the time. But the best way to discover wine is to buy a mixed case and open the bottles with friends. Another nice way to learn more is to visit good restaurants with educated sommeliers, who can recommend the right wine with the food. Some restaurants also have wine lists with older vintages from the best Slovenian producers, which are always worth trying.

What's the best part of your job?
Meeting nice people, and seeing happy faces after I have recommended them some undiscovered and interesting Slovenian wine. But if I may say it as short as possible: being surrounded by good food, nice wine and happy people.


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