Czech wines, the successful rebirth of ancient vineyards – World Meanderings (n°45)
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Like in many other wine regions throughout Europe, Czech vineyards were created in ancient times by the Romans. After being lost in limbo during the Soviet days they slowly but surely regain their past qualities, thanks to passionate men.
96% of Czech wines are produced in Moravia, the remaining 4% in Bohemia. Moravia is the smallest region of the Czech Republic located in the Southeast part of the country close to Austria and Slovakia. Actually the easiest way to get there is to fly to Vienna Airport, rent a car and drive North to the Czech border that is only a one-hour drive away. Moravia is on the same latitude as the Alsace vineyards in France and enjoys the same climatic conditions ideal for vine growing: hot sunny summers, cold winters and the right amount of humidity in spring and autumn times.
Like most wine making regions in Eastern Europe, Moravia produces mostly white wines made from a wide range of varieties expressing all the qualities of the different terroirs. With only 17,000 ha of vineyards Moravia doesn’t produce huge quantities of wines and export is almost non-existent. These quantities won’t grow in the future since winemakers favour quality rather than quantity and furthermore the European Union imposes strict quotas on wine producers. So, to taste and drink Moravian wines you need to go there and visit this beautiful hilly region. This is also the good way to take a few bottles back home and have a very unusual wine tasting with your friends.
The best way for a first discovery of Czech wines is to go to the “National Wine Centre” in Valtice. Valtice is a small town close to the Austrian border that lays in a lovely location called the “Pearl of South Moravia” and is listed as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. You can first visit the beautiful romantic castle lately restored with the help of the EU. The National Wine Centre is located in the historical premises of the chateau. Each year this non-profit organisation sets a wine contest to select the 100 best wines produced in the Czech Republic. It is the highest wine competition in the Czech Republic.
The selected wines are on display in the cellars for one year and the centre is closed every January to prepare the new exposition. Visitors can choose from several types of wine-tasting programmes that allow them to discover the wide variety of wines and to feel free of buying or not. White, rosés or red wines, dry, semidry or sweet wines, ice or straw wines… the choice seems to be endless! After buying a ticket for one of the programmes you will be lent a wine-tasting glass then walk through the beautiful vaulted cellar and choose the wines you want to taste. The 399 CZK ticket (approximately 13£) will allow you to taste as many wines as you wish for 90 min and the 499 CZK ticket (17£) for 150 min. Each wine has a detailed description and a sommelier is always present to answer your questions. For group visits (from 8 people), you can have a tour supervised by a sommelier that will select and describe several wines. English speaking sommeliers are available for an extra 500 CZK. http://www.vinarskecentrum.cz/en/
Going West, a one-hour drive will take you to Znojmo, an old royal town perched on a high cliff overlooking the Dyje River. In this sunny area orchards follow vineyards producing rich in aromas white wines made with well known French or German varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Blaufrankisch, Sylvaner, Riesling… and also less used varieties that give Czech wines their uniqueness. Palava, Moravian Muscat, Saint-Laurent, Muller Thurgau… There are mostly single-varietal wines meant to be drunk young although some great vintage or late harvest wines would deserve cask aging. Close to Znojmo, Louka Monastery that once was the largest one in all Eastern Europe, now hosts the biggest wine producer in the Czech Republic, Znovim Znojmo. After visiting the wine museum you can have a wine tasting before going to their wine shop that offers a quality range of wines with a very good value for money.
One of the very best, if not the best winery in the Czech Republic is Sonberk, a small vineyard (only 45 ha) that has received many awards in prestigious international contests in Europe and in the US. The winery was created by a small group of wine lovers who bought several vineyards after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They never stop striving for excellence and their grapes are sustainably grown, handpicked and carefully selected. In order to maintain this high quality level they deliberately make small amount of wine, only 15,000 to 30,000 bottles per year depending on the quality of the vintage. Of course the best way to discover these unique wines is to taste them in the elegant Sonberk House but you can also order them online (they ship their wines worldwide). Prices are very good for this exceptional quality. http://www.sonberk.cz/en/
Visiting beautiful Moravia you will soon find out that Czech people don’t only drink beer! They also enjoy drinking Moravian wines and will be happy to make you discover them. All through the year many festivals are organised in Moravia, a wonderful opportunity to discover their hospitality and their zest for life.
More about the Czech Republic and Moravia: www.czechtourism.com
Related articles to discover the Czech Republic: http://b-c-ing-u.com/2017/05/04/amazing-destinies-bohemian-castles-world-meanderings-n42/
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes