Zelen is a white-wine grape variety that is both indigenous to and exclusively found in the Primorski wine region of western Slovenia. More precisely, it is mostly associated with its Vipava Valley and sub-region. The variety, named for its green appearance prior to filtration ("zelen" is Slovenian for "green") makes a wine that is light, crisp and herbaceous.
The low-yielding grape variety thrives in the windy Vipava, where the harsh climate means that growers must use indigenous grape varieties that have proved resistant to the winds, rather than more-fashionable international varieties. This has led to a small upsurge in popularity for the Zelen variety, and plantings are increasing steadily in the region.
Wines made from Zelen can be vinified either in stainless steel or in oak. It is often left to age on its lees, which provides some complexity, giving nuttier flavors and rounder texture to the otherwise crisp, fresh wines. Sometimes Zelen is used as a blending component with better-known varieties such as Ribolla and Malvasia, contributing acidity and a grassy component to the wines.
Wines have been made from Zelen for hundreds of years, although the grape variety nearly disappeared in the 20th Century. In the early 2000s, a group of Slovenian producers banded together to reinvigorate the grape variety, forming the Zelen Consortium.
This group hopes to improve the profile of the variety, as well as providing quality control.
Food pairings for Zelen wines include:
- Grilled fish with salad
- Creole-style prawns
- Thick-sliced ham on the bone