One of the highlights of travelling is anticipation. Today, we’re travelling within the country of Slovenia, an hour’s drive east of Ljubljana, to the steep hills of the upper Dolenjska region.
Slovenia boasts many culinary hotspots that are scattered all around the country, making it an ideal destination for food travellers. You can travel over the next hill or plain, and find yourself in a new gastronomic region marked by its own specialities.
I’ve known about this pop-up dinner for a while now, so I’ve had plenty of time to look forward to it. Enough time for anticipation to build!
It’s a Thursday evening. We arrive at the Slapšak estate in a tiny village called Telče, just a 20-minute drive away from Sevnica. Does Sevnica ring a bell? Yes, that’s right, it is Melania Trump’s hometown.
The sun is dipping behind the vineyards and church steeples. A singer-guitarist duo named Maja and Robi perform a mix of Slovenian and international evergreens, including French chansons, that add to the romantic atmosphere.
Enter winemaker François Botton who, in his still-very-evident French accent, lets us in on the winemaking methods he brought over from Champagne.
A Bit of Champagne in Slovenia
Love is what first drew François to Slovenia in 2009. But it was also the vines of Dolenjska that he felt drawn to. Quite soon after setting foot in his second home, he recognised the vines’ potential and decided to channel his French winemaking expertise and perform his magic there. So, he kicked off a new chapter in the story of a family of Slovenian winemakers.
“That’s when the French-Slovenian brand name was born: Domaine Slapšak, a symbol of the marriage between French techniques and Slovenian traditions,” he explained.
Champagne is running through François’ veins. He played in the region’s vineyards as a child and worked for Champagne houses like Roederer and Ruinart, backed by a formal winemaking degree from Reims University.
Now, in Slovenia, François makes sparkling wine (‘penina’ in Slovene) according to the traditional method: the wine goes through a secondary fermentation in the bottle. He uses the endemic Slovenian grape variety žametna črnina that reaches exactly the same maturity level as in the Champagne region. This gives the wine an optimal sugar/acid ratio for producing the sparkling wine.
François goes on to explain: “Most of our sparkling wines are non-vintage. We are the first in Slovenia to use a proportion of reserve wine in our blends. We maintain our wines’ signature flavour profiles by blending base wines from different vintages. This guarantees that whenever you open a bottle of Domaine Slapšak sparkling wine, you know what to expect.”
An Array of Delicious Platters
We stand on Domaine Slapšak estate’s terrace absorbing the Champagne influence and the captivating view of the hilly vineyards. I take my first glass of sparkling wine. It’s a Brut Réserve—Slapšak’s flagship wine, and as soon as the bubbles meet my tongue, I taste quality and finesse.
Meanwhile, the entire Gostilna Repovž team is busy serving up a nice dose of delicious starters: homemade prosciutto of Krškopolje pig (the only preserved Slovenian autochthonous breed of pig) from Arkade Cigoj farm, chargrilled veal, and Sataraš (a scramble of fried summer vegetables, fresh tomatoes, and eggs).
Once the singer-guitarist duo finish their first set, we step off the terrace into the dining room, take our seats and set off on a remarkable culinary journey filled with a variety of dishes. We eat everything, from beef carpaccio with horseradish and Brussels sprouts, and beef tartare with buckwheat popcorn, to lamb cooked in various ways, and an array of desserts.
All the Repovž dishes we try this evening are remarkable in their own way, and I greatly appreciate the restaurant’s passion for local produce and Slovenia’s culinary traditions. I’m aware that head chef Meta Repovž is very selective of her locally sourced ingredients, many of which she grows herself on the restaurant’s farm.
Slovenian Culinary Tradition: Snežne Kepe Dessert
Quite a few generous helpings of sweet surprises are served following dinner. Talking about Slovene culinary traditions, we’re presented with a dessert I’d never seen or heard of before: ‘snežne kepe’ (snowballs). Soft and delicate, creamy and delicious. These featherlite balls made from egg whites, sugar, and lemon juice hold a special place in many Slovenes’ hearts. A nostalgic dessert that brings back memories of eagerly capturing tasty white snowballs from a shared bowl.
Repovž expresses the versatility of these sweet snowballs served in a soothing vanilla sauce by presenting a multitude of toppings to go with them: passion fruit, baked and crushed biscuit dough, hazelnuts, raspberries in raspberry sauce. Everything is so delicious.
Gostilna Repovž: A Bib Gourmand Restaurant
Repovž restaurant is the recipient of the Michelin Bib Gourmand award, twice in a row since the Michelin guide was introduced in Slovenia in 2020.
Situated in the centre of Šentjanž village, not too far off from Domaine Slapšak, Repovž boasts beautiful surroundings of gently rolling hills and woodland. Patrons can enjoy modernised traditional Slovenian dishes within rustic-style dining rooms or on the terrace. Their signature dishes, locally sourced ingredients (many from the restaurant’s own farm), include Local trout, sheep’s yoghurt, lamb, cottage cheese, fermented red cabbage and the much loved dessert ‘snežne kepe’ (snowballs).
This culinary evening has turned out to be a huge success for Gostilna Repovž and Domaine Slapšak and I will look forward to seeing further collaborations between the two. I must admit that the ‘snežne kepe’ or snowballs have stolen a piece of my heart, and I’ll be back at Repovž for more.
About Denise Rejec
Denise Rejec is a freelance writer and journalist from Malta who specialises in covering Slovenia’s culinary and wine scene. She also writes her own blog Wine Dine Slovenia. Food, music, and the scent of the herb-infused, salty Mediterranean air over a sip of wine are just some of the things that make her world go round.