It could all have gone so wrong. Our roving editor-at-large Roger Jones takes his son and 18 friends to Prague for a significant birthday. Instead of wearing bunny ears and downing flaming shots, Roger starts discovering Czech wines with varietals and winemaking methods he is unfamiliar with. And likes them very much.
Both in Prague and back at his Michelin-starred restaurant Roger Jones tastes a range of Czech wines, and recommends the ones to buy in the UK.
Czech wines, ever tried any?
It certainly had not come onto my radar until I decided to take my son and 18 of his friends to Prague to celebrate his 21st birthday and, as my thoughts were that my wife and I would probably restrict ourselves to wine rather than go down the ‘Prague Party Shot & Cocktail Experience’ with the youngsters, I did a bit of research and managed to locate a few bastions of Czech wine.
Having booked a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants (there are only two) we were treated to an amazing food and wine matching on our first night at Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise, the food highlighted the ancient Czech cuisine, using a superb array of vegetables (with a tiny amount of fish and meat making a cameo appearance), matched by nine Czech wines plus a sparkling beer, Matuska.
The food was outstanding, but equally we were excited and enthralled with the wines, although they did serve a Chianti Classico in the middle of all the Czech wines!
This clearly opened our minds and the following day we followed this up with a visit to the main Vinograf Wine Bar, which has three outlets in the city. Here they list pretty much all the best wines made in Czech, although we failed to find a red that satisfied our taste buds.
Whilst I was tweeting the Czech experience I was contacted by Basket Press Wines a new prolific Czech-only UK wine importer who arranged to visit me on my return, here I was introduced to further quality wines including a sparkling wine and an awesome Pinot Noir amongst other wines.
Finally, by chance, whilst judging at the Decanter World Wine Awards I noticed on the daily Gold Table (an opportunity where judges can see how other regional judges rate Gold level wines) that a sparkling wine from the Czech/Hungarian region had won a Gold, you will have to wait and see what this was but it was fabulous, I hope it was from Czech but either way the depth, character and deep aged intensity of flavour marks it out as a sparkling wine that I will definitely buy.
Before the tastings here’s a little background research
Before we dive into the Czech wines a bit of theory: all wines produced in the Czech Republic come under the state guidance, and have four categories;
Stoini Vino – Table Wine
This is the lowest category and can include grapes from any country in the EU
Moravske Zemske Vino – Country Wine
Wine produced from grapes solely from the Czech Republic.
Jakostini Vino – Quality Wine
Wine produced from within a Single Wine Region, and only grape varieties listed in the State Register of Grape Varieties.
Jakostini Vino Priviastkem – Quality Wines with Special Attributes
- Kabinetni Vino – (Kabinet) Normally relate to light wines
- Posdni Sber – (late harvest) Normally full, dry or semi dry wines
- Vyber Z Hroznu – (special selection of grapes) Full bodied with higher alcohol
- Vyber Z Bobuli – (special selection of berries) Ripened on the wine, full, semi sweet or sweet wines.
- Vyber Z Cibeb – (special selection of botrytis berries) Wines affected by noble rot.
- Le Dove Vino – (ice wine) Grapes need to be picked at a max temp of -7c and must be frozen when pressed
- Slamove Vino – (straw wines) Grapes have to be dried for at least 3 months on straw mats, or hung in a well-ventilated place.
Basket Press Wines was set up by husband and wife team Jiri and Zainab Majeriková. Jiri is originally from Czech and has worked in the UK drinks industry for 15 years. Zainab’s background includes wine and food journalism, being a sommelier, and then working as an account manager with one of London’s top wine merchants.
Basket Press Wines sources wines from Moravia in the South East part of the Czech Republic, although there are also wines produced in the Bohemia Region which borders Germany, whilst the Moravia wine region borders Austria. The Moravia region is subdivided into sub regions VOC Valtice, VOC Znojmo, VOC Modre Hory, VOC Mikulov, VOC Palava, VOC Blatnice.
Given that Moravia neighbours Austria it shares similar topography, and shows superb potential to not only grow similar Austrian varieties but also Burgundian.
There has been a major improvement in quality after years of neglect, during the communist regime that led to mass production, high yields and very little focus on terroir and quality.
Jiri and Zainab from Basket Press Wines have invested a lot of time and effort to pick out the winemakers who have steered away from the somewhat base, old-fashioned practices but instead are revisiting more traditional, low-intervention ways.
After discovering the top quality of winemaking and the new thinking, the duo felt the need to bring these wines to the UK and hopefully do them justice by giving them the right exposure.
The following wines were tasted with Jiri and Zainab at The Harrow at Little Bedwyn. We tasted through some 16 wines and these are the highlights. Prices marked are trade prices.
Ktasna Hora, Ryzlink Rynsky, Dolni Poddvorov, Moravia, 2013 (£9.85)
Jaroslav Osicka, Chardonnay, Bratacky, Boretice, Moravia, 2012 (£16)
This has an influence of the wines of Jura, slightly funky with some ‘flor’ attributes, deep full-flavoured with lots of fruit, but an underlying funkiness that gives it great character. It also has age and is currently drinking well.
Ota Sevcik, Pinoty, Boretice, Moravia, 2015 (£15.60)
Ota Sevcik, Blanc de Pinot Noir, Boretice, Moravia, 2015 (£15.60)
There is a touch of Pinot Gris added to this outstanding wine; salmon pink colour, richly textured, lovely balance, strawberries and rhubarb, touch of spritz, like a vintage still champagne. Fabulous.
Jaroslav Springer, Pinot Noir, Ctvrte, Boretice, Moravia, 2015 (£15)
Ota Sevcik, Frankovka, Boretice, Moravia, 2015 (£16.50)
This is Blaufrankisch and is an elegant, fresh, light bright wine that has blackberries and spices running through it; a lovely, clean, vibrant wine.
These wines were tasted at Vinograf Wine Bar
Jakub Novak, Gruner Veltliner, Moravia, 2015
Vinarstvi Krasna Hora Sauvignon Barrel Selection 2015, Moravia
These wines were tasted at The Michelin-starred restaurant Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise.
Gala, Ryzlink Vlassky, Moravia, 2013
Welsch Riesling, bright and clean – the freshness is incredible – zesty, vibrant, hint of orange peel, limes and stone-fruit. Good minerality. Wine maker Jaromir Gala makes a range of wine including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and sparkling wines.
Hibernal, Petr Kocarik, Moravia, 2014
Veltlinske Zelene, Dva Duby, Weinperky, Miroslav, 2014
Matuska Sparkling Beer
Hoppy, meady, fruity, more of a sparkling Chenin Blanc than a beer.
So, in conclusion…
The Czech white wines are certainly a highlight with most of the finer quality wines coming from the South in the Moravia wine region.
The quality is very good and it will be interesting to see how these wines will evolve in the UK market, I certainly thought they were good enough to go on our list and have purchased half a dozen different wines. What was good about these wines are that they are food-friendly, light but impressive in taste and offer a different style to what I would normally drink.