By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
Although Moravia is the smallest region of the Czech Republic it produces 96% of its wines, the remaining 4% being made in Bohemia. Like in many other wine regions throughout Europe, Czech vineyards were created in ancient times by the Romans and making wine has been an enduring tradition ever since. After being lost in limbo during the Soviet days and their poor quality mass production, Czech wines slowly but surely regain their past glory. There is more than beer to drink in the Czech Republic!
Ever heard of Moravia?
Moravia is the smallest region of the Czech Republic located in the Southeast part of the country close to Austria and Slovakia. 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. From Prague it would take you four hours to get there. 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.
Moravia’s production still is a niche production with mostly white wines made from a wide range of varieties carefully chosen to express 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’ll have 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.
Moravian wine tasting
Selling wines doesn’t come out of the blue and Moravian people have learned to do it right. In order to help foreign travellers to discover Czech wines they have created the “National Wine Centre” in Valtice. This small town is close to the Austrian border and lays in a lovely site called the “Pearl of South Moravia” listed as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. You can first visit the beautiful romantic castle recently 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.
Tasting in the Valtice National Wine CentreThe winners are showcased in the cellars for one year and the centre is closed every January to prepare the new exposition. From February till the end of December visitors can discover the huge vaulted cellar to taste and choose their favourite wines. This year 100 wines were selected out of 2,400. Several types of wine-tasting programmes allow wine amateurs to discover and taste this wide variety of wines (from 100 CZK, 3 £, for a wine tasting out of 16 pre-selected wines, to 500 CZK, 16£, for a tasting of your choice among all the wines showcased in the cellar).
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. 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/
The royal vineyards of Znojmo
Znojmo was founded in 1226 by Ottokar 1st. Going west from Valtice, a one-hour drive will take you to this old royal town perched on a high cliff above the Dyje River. In this sunny area orchards follow vineyards that produce rich in aromas white wines. Here wine maker grow well known French or German varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Blaufrankisch, Sylvaner, Riesling… and also little known local 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 by the impressive 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.
Sonberk, an absolute must see
Although Sonberk is a small vineyard (only 45 ha) it undoubtedly is one of the very best, if not the best winery in the Czech Republic 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/
Even if the Czech wine production is not a huge one its quality and diversity is surprising and you won’t regret your trip to Moravia. Visiting this beautiful hilly region 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
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny