In this first in a series of reports from Prague, drinks consultant Harry Crowther finds that if you scratch beneath the surface of ‘Stag Party central’ you will find a buzzing drinks scene with awesome bars and a new wine scene heavily influenced by Austrian and Hungarian vignerons. In this post, Crowther meets up with Milos Danihelka bartender from the L’Fleur whose love of Champagne has started his very own grower revolution. Listed as one of the world’s Top 50 Discovery bars, L’Fleur has an exciting range of cocktails but it is the wine list that now boasts 120 Champagnes with over 70 lines coming from the grower circuit, that has really got tongues wagging, and helped him set up his own on-trade importing business Terroirs Champagne.
“Many grower Champagnes are just as characterful (as Clos de Mesnil and Clos d’Ambonnay), are from single sites and are far more affordable – it’s the best way to showcase the true terroir of Champagne,” says Danihelka.
Prague is considered by many of us a cosy, winter weekend city break. Cobbled streets, a sea of spires and more pilsner than you can shake a stick at.
Scratch beneath a surface that consumes more beer than any other country in the world (per capita) and you will find some awesome bars, local-ish wine and a buzzing wine scene worth shouting about. The post communist era is seeing developments in the Czech wine game, with ownership back in the hands of producers and influence from Hungary and Austria, a new generation of vignerons is shaping the Czech wine game… watch this space.
A few months ago a colleague of mine earmarked a bar called L’Fleur as a must visit on my next rip to Prague. Nestled in the city’s old town this cocktail and Champagne bar blew me away. Cocktails: pretty damn good, but it was the stunning fizz offering that had me purring.
Forget Grande Marques and say hello to the best grower Champagne offering I have ever seen.
Half a dozen visits, an embarrassing amount of mezcal (always after the Champagne) and a few bottles of fizz later and I found myself sitting down with bartender, buyer and owner Milos Danihelka, the bartender who fell in love with Champagne – over a bottle of bubbles, of course!
When did your passion for Champagne begin?
I didn’t like Champagne at first… too much acidity and too expensive. During a trip to Champagne in 2008 visiting large, commercial houses I stopped off in Vertus to visit the Larmandier-Bernier Domaine, this is where it started for me, and this was the first time I spent money on Champagne.
What happened after that?
I worked a stint at Prague’s famous Hemmingway Bar which has a fantastic Champagne selection. There was a great grower focus from our supplier who I essentially became an ambassador for, but I wanted to see more wines from growers from the Champagne region in Prague.
Tell me about L’Fleur?
We opened L’Fleur in 2015, this is when I started to import Champagnes direct from growers in France that I wanted to showcase on my wine list.
I was, and still am a bartender, not a sommelier. I had success in this industry and took inspiration from bars across the world during my travels competing in mixology competitions.
Introducing new concepts to the consumer was the idea, and grower Champagne is a great way to do that!
L’Fleur now boasts around 120 Champagnes with 70+ lines coming from the grower circuit.
Why grower fizz? A case of single expression?
For me, it is the movement away from consistency. There is almost a Burgundian philosophy to many of these wines. Expression of terroir is vital. These are wines before they are Champagne.
Take Krug, for example; their most characterful wines are single vineyards (Clos de Mesnil and Clos d’Ambonnay), great wines but very expensive. Many grower champagnes are just as characterful, from single sites and are far more affordable – it’s the best way to showcase the true terroir of Champagne.
How has grower Champagne been received in Prague?
We are a beer drinking nation. It is not usual to spend big on sparkling wine so tourism is helping a lot with sales. But the on-trade have been very receptive to my portfolio.
When L’Fleur opened I started another company alongside it, Terroirs Champagne to import wines for my bar. After a short while restaurants and wine buyers started to approach me for Champagne, so I started to distribute, I offer a full education of all my products, history, law, production and so on.
How do you choose your producers?
At first I would send hundreds of emails to producers I wanted to work with, now I have a reputation it is a lot easier. It is simple, I want to work with the wines I love.
Thanks but I’ll pass on the Mezcal….
“Commercial, Grand Marque Champagne has its (gigantic) place in the market but these guys don’t need my help, it is the smaller producers I want to showcase, for me these are the true pioneers in Champagne.”
Whilst the impressive wine list at L’Fleur is home to one or two wines from the big boys (Krug/Perrier Jouet etc), Milos takes care to only list vintage or single vineyard cuvées from the aforementioned, “Take nothing away for these guys, I love the idea of blending and the skill involved in creating a consistent product”… he isn’t the anti-christ of large Champagne houses, but I love what he is doing with this project!
There is a back-in-time other worldly vibe to L’Fleur. Cathedral-esque inside, with a stained glass window backdrop and a crescent moon-shaped bar that stretches the length of the left hand side of the space. Anyone with half an interest in Champagne, should go, and if Milos happens to be on shift – strap in for a journey that’ll leave you clucking for more grower Champagne without a whisper of pilsner (or Mezcal) in sight.
And so on to the tasting…..
Jacques Lassaigne, ‘La Colline’, Blanc de Blancs 2013
From Monteux in the south. Soil is a compact piece of chalk that extends from the Côte de Blancs which is a rarity in the south of the region. South-facing vineyards, one year in Burgundian oak before secondary fermentation. An oxidative nose, rustic, bruised apple with a flash of peach after a second visit to the glass. Lots of tension, grip and a candied pear skin finish.
Pouillon, ‘Les Blanchiens’, 1er Cru, 2009
The Pouillon family has grown and sold grapes to other producers. Fruit is pressed in old basket press and the first fermentation takes place in oak. A 50/50 Chardonnay/ Pinot Noir blend, 60 months on lees. Dried orange with a stony backbone of minerality. Great length on the palate with a nutty, marzipan finish.
Jerome Prevost, ‘La Closerie’, NV
Prevost has a specific focus on Pinot Meunier. Only 10-15% of his wines are from reserve stocks as he aims to make terrior-specific Champagne. Laser-thin, sharp, pinpoint acidity, with a zesty vein of salinity. Slightly oxidative which leaves an enticing, subtle spicy edge.
A total pleasure to meet and drink with this man, if you ever find yourself in Prague and want fizz, you know where to go!
L’Fleur is French for ‘flower’. Milos named the bar after his late grandmother, Kveta (derived from Czech Kvet, or flower) who helped him with a leg up at the beginning of his career. Sadly she did not see L’Fleur open, “I like to think she is watching over us and would be proud of what we are doing here.”