Before I’d even had a chance to say hello to Kim he was stretched out in the sunlight with indulgent abandon and was either snoring or thinking out loud very audibly. A guest began to chat with Boris Lieber, epicure, buckwheat cooking buff and owner-proprietor of Slovenia’s highly regarded Pension Lieber. I’d just arrived for the first time in a few years and, over a glass of good Slovenian merlot, was about to recall my first rain-soaked dead-of-night visit in 1993 when Kim began his sonorous serenade.
“Kim seems at peace with the world,” I said to Boris’ son Sashta, who explained that their pet French bulldog dozed off quickly when denied attention, as he now was.
Being denied attention is a fate that never befalls Pension Lieber, a popular stop for visitors from Austria, Bavaria, Italy and Switzerland, as well as from all over Slovenia, who return again and again to enjoy the spontaneous service, the friendly ambience and the always excellent Slovenian dishes and wines.
One guest the Liebers remember particularly well was the Japanese general manager of a world-famous Kansai-based corporation’s branch in nearby Ljubljana, Slovenia’s historic capital, who chose to spend his entire year in Slovenia at Pension Lieber. Not least, said Boris, he enjoyed the Slovenian wines. More of them are entering Japan, and I recommend them.
Japanese are among the informed international travelers who seek out this oasis of spontaneous hospitality. After a winery tour of western Slovenia, where the country borders with Italy’s northeast province of Friuli, a stay at Pension Lieber is the perfect place to enjoy a good rest and consider where you’ve been and where you’re going next.
From Pension Lieber one can easily go to many places. On the second Saturday in September every year (Sept. 9 this year), that includes a festival at the nearby juncture of Slovenia’s borders with Austria and Italy. It’s a rare event, and the wine will flow.
Not least, I suspect, Pension Lieber’s guests enjoy Boris Lieber himself, a modest, thoughtful man who deeply loves people and Japan, and waxes eloquent on the subject of buckwheat (soba), one of Slovenia’s important agricultural products, together with the grape.
Lieber presides over the always spic-and-span kitchen, where he has created numerous buckwheat dishes generously praised even by Japanese soba connoisseurs, who sometimes invite him here to cook them for sizable gourmet banquets. These dishes are not the kind you can rush out and find at your nearest convenience store, to be sure. They’re distinctive, like soba itself. Lieber’s buckwheat blueberry tart topped with whipped cream and paired with a Slovenian merlot is glorious.
Although some of the excellent Slovenian wines on his list, such as Movia and Dolfo, are not sold in Japan, you’ll find limited quantities here of other good ones.
Slovenia is about the size of Israel and has just under 2 million people, and despite its 2-millennia-long wine history and vigorous wine culture its production volume is limited. Even so, for years Slovenia has exported wine to the United States (its top market), Canada and Germany. Credibility, an important factor in international trade, has come naturally to Slovenia, a brave little land destined for European Union membership.
When EU entry comes, there’s no doubt that Slovenians everywhere will celebrate it with wine made all over Slovenia. Although its northeast corner near Austria and Hungary is strictly white wine country (Riesling, chardonnay, traminer, sauvignon blanc, muscat, the unusual sipon, etc.), in the west near Trieste and Italy both reds and whites are produced, and brandy as well.
Goriska Brda in the west adjoining Italy is a region renowned for wine and abounding in remarkable tourist attractions. Grapes include the international varietals cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, Riesling, chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot blanc and sauvignon blanc. Others are peculiar to the region, such as the black refosco and the ancient, legendary teran (perhaps the original health drink) and the white grapes malvasia and zelen, fascinating and unusual.
Among the fine makers to note are Vinag (northeast Slovenia), and Vipava and Vinakoper in the west. Mark down these names as well as Movia and Dolfo, fixtures on the Pension Lieber wine list. Movia has a fine little wine bar in the heart of Ljubljana where you can enjoy several glasses of good reds and whites for the price of one glass of overpriced plonk in Tokyo. I’ve omitted some other fine makers. Slovenia has quite a few, and it’s possible that more of them will be imported.
For updates and a list of importers contact the Slovenian Embassy at (03) 5570-6275, fax (03) 5570-6075. Ask for information concerning the wine-producing regions in Slovenia — and for such attractions as the famous Lipica show horse stables, the extraordinary Postoina natural caverns, Bled resort, the Slovenian Alps, golf, tennis, horseback riding and the coastal cities of Piran and Portoroz, with their excellent seafood restaurants.
All of them and Ljubljana, the vibrant capital, are within an hour or two of one another. Winery visits can be easily arranged. Go for it.