Monday, July 12, 2010

The Exciting Wines of the Czech Republic

Pictures: Czech Wine Glass and St. Wenceslas Square in Prague

The Exciting Wines of the Czech Republic

I spent a couple of days in the Czech Republic, on the way from Germany to Poland, and had the chance to taste some excellent wines from the country. The Czech Republic is well know for its outstanding beers, but very much absent from the international market when it comes to wine. However, the Czech Republic produces good wines, which will eventually become internationally better known. This posting provides a short introduction to the exciting wines of the Czech Republic.

In the coming weeks, I will also write about (1) Vinograf, a cosy winebar and arguably the best place in Prague to taste Czech wines, (2) about St. Wenceslas Vineyards, which is right in the middle of Prague, where you can taste the wines from Czech Republic and benefit from a gorgeous view of the city, and (3) Bohemian sparklers - the fathers of American sparklers, the Korbel brothers, immigrated from Bohemia into the US in the 1800s.

Pictures: Vinograf Winebar and view of Prague with St. Wenceslas Vineyards

The Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is a small landlocked country in Central Europe, south-east of Germany, bordering Austria to the south, Poland to the north and Slovakia to the south-east. Before World War I, for many centuries, the Czech Republic was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with Vienna its center, beginning in 1526, when Ferdinand of Habsburg was elected king of Bohemia. The first German speaking university is the Prague University, founded in 1348.

After World War I, the Czechs and Slovaks of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire were forced to merge together to form the new nation of Czechoslovakia. The country was annexed and occupied by Germany during World War II. After World War II, Czechoslovakia fell within the Soviet sphere of influence until 1989. On 1 January 1993, the country underwent a "velvet divorce" into its two national components, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech Republic is now a member of NATO (since 1999) and EU (since 2004).

The Czech Republic is not a large country, but is graced with hundreds of ancient castles, monasteries and stately mansions, and even entire towns that give the impression of being comprehensive artifacts. Prague certainly is a very impressive and entertaining town.

Czech Beer and Wine

The Czech Republik is the country where modern beer was invented (in Plzeň). Czechs are the heaviest beer drinkers in the world, with about 160 liters per capita annually. The best-known export brands are Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský Prazdroj) and Budweiser Budvar (Budějovický Budvar).

The latter should not be confused with the American Budweiser, which was created in 1876 in America by Adolphus Busch, owner of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. following a trip to Budweis in Bohemia; it is one of the highest selling beers in the United States.

There is also Czech wine, much less known internationally however. The Czech Republic is more or less absent from the international wine market.

Wine Regions: Moravia and Bohemia

The Czech Republic is a very small wine producing country, with just about 19,000 hectares of vineyards. This is less than Germany’s larger wine regions such as Rheinhessen or the Pfalz.

Pictures: Maps of Czech Republic, Bohemia and Moravia

More than 90 percent of the wine production is accounted for by the southern part of Moravia, particularly around the Danube tributaries Dyje, Svraka and Morava. The Moravian wine region is largely concentrated on the border with Austria. It is kind of a continuation of the Austrian “Weinviertel” region in the north-east of Austria. The Moravian Wine Region is divided into four sub-regions: Znojmo, Mikulov, Velké Pavlovice and Slovácko.

In Bohemia, north of Prague, vines are planted along the river Labe (Elbe) and its tributaries, totaling 400 hectares of vineyards only. It is a small wine region, although Bohemia acounts for more than half of the Czech Republic. It is one of the most northerly wine regions in Europe. Prague sits on the 50° north latitude, the same as Wiesbaden in the Rheingau. The original instigator of vine-planting in Bohemia was the Emperor Charles IV, who gave it impetus with his decrees issued in the year 1358. The wine region Bohemia is divided into two sub-regions: Mělník and Litoměřice.

No wine is grown in Czech Silesia, the third of the three Czech regions, in the north-east.

Grape Varities

About three quarters of Czech wine production consists of white varietals. The primary varieties are Muller-Thurgau, Pinot Blanc (Czech: Rulandské bílé), Gewürztraminer (Czech: Tramín červený) and Grüner Veltliner (Czech: Veltínské zelené). Typically, Czech white wines are dry, aromatic, and light wines.

There are also red varietals such as Frankovka (Blaufrankisch), Modrý Portugal (Blue Portugal, named after the grape, not the country), or Svatovavřinecké (Saint Lawrence).

Icewine and Sparkling Wine

I also tried ice wine (ledové víno) and straw wine (slámové víno) made by leaving the grapes to ripen on straw) – these wines are more expensive and are similar to dessert wines. Bohemian sparkling wines is also popular with Czechs.

History of Czech Wines

The history of Czech wine reaches back to the Romans, when they brought viticulture to the region during the ninth and tenth centuries. The first recorded mention of wineries in the Czech Republic was in 1057, referring to a newly established vineyard around Litomerice, about 30 miles north of Prague.

Picture: Emperor Charles IV

Nearby is the town of Melnik, a port stop on the itineraries of many river cruises. Here is where Emperor Charles IV, educated at the French Court, began first importing grapes from the Burgundy region of France. Since that time, Pinot Noir is native to the regions of Mělník, Kutná hora and Roudnice. Charles IV brought not only vines of Burgundian varieties, but also experienced winemakers and vineyard managers from France.

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  1. "very interesting... keep spreading the word!!!:)"

  2. Thanks for the overview. Can you recommend a Czech Gruner Veltliner?

  3. I have tasted a number of Gruener Veltliner. The one in the picture above was good, but I was also very pleasantly surprised by others.

  4. Love your blog. Its great you are writting about Czech wines. Do you know of any vineyards to visit near Mělník and Litoměřice? And maybe a list of your top 10 favorite Czech wines?

  5. Can I refer you to Jan Culik from Vinograf Wine Bar? he is better positioned, in Prague, to answer these questions.