One small step for the world of wine, one giant leap for Slovakia. This was the message that came out of The World of Slovak Wine tasting earlier this month in London. The first ever UK wine tasting devoted to Slovak wine was a small, focused affair that has helped put the wines on the map, with sommeliers, indies and niche wine consultants all raving about what they found and eager to discover more. Elizabeth Gabay MW who was showing a Rosé she has co-produced with Vladimir Magula reports from the event.
“The Slovak wines were of high quality and good value price point. Wines sufficiently different from our existing collection, and would fit the portfolio of underrated wine regions we embrace.” says Cong Cong Bo of Cambridge’s Amphora Wines.
A tasting of 60 Slovak wines from 16 producers is a relatively small event, but a monumentally huge step for a country with so little international awareness of its vibrant wine scene – and the response was accordingly enthusiastic and curious.
While producers were excited to show their wines to the London market, the event highlighted the fact that everybody who attended knew almost nothing about Slovak wines and the region from which they come. In particular Slovak Tokaj raised more than a few eyebrows, leading to questions as to the differences between Slovak and Hungarian varieties and terroir.
Jaro Macik presenting his wines from Tokaj noted that “many UK professionals were surprised that there are 908 ha of the Tokaj region located in Slovakia and we have exactly the same varietals and wines as our neighbours from Hungarian Tokaj.” His Tokaj dry wines helped “burn the myth that wines from the region are just heavy and sweet”, and are available in over 15 countries worldwide and have been listed by Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal’s Michelin restaurants.
This lack of awareness should not be surprising considering that, until recently, Slovakia was very much a marginal wine producing area. Rosemary George MW admitted that she “had no idea what to expect and was intrigued by the range of grape varieties, including some that I had never heard of. [It was an] excitement discovering a new country.” Many of the varieties are unknown outside of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, having been bred locally by Dorota Pospíšilová and Ondrej Korpás in the 1950s to ripen in a marginal climate. Wines from these varieties were particularly appreciated by tasters for their freshness and strong varietal typicity.
Most of the producers exhibiting were small and part of the growing and exciting movement in natural wine production spreading throughout Slovakia, with Cong Cong Bo of Cambridge’s Amphora Wines telling me she was surprised by the high proportion of low intervention wines. Miso Kuropka of Slobodne noted that, amongst the visitors, fans of natural wines already knew the wines of Slovakia.
A high proportion of visitors appeared to be sommeliers, indies and niche wine consultants searching for something new. MW student Sandeep Ghaey found the range of wines he tasted to be extremely food friendly, different and unusual – but still within a framework of European style, making the wines very attractive. This was supported by my own conversations with the head sommelier Anthony Gopal at KOL presenting my wine Sen and the wines of Vladimir Magula (available through Basket Press). KOL’s restaurant wine list has a high proportion of Central European wines matching their Mexican-style food with the wines of Slobodne (available from Modal Wines) being their house wine.
Writer Kate Hawkings felt the “tasting was a revelation! So many interesting wines from this country of which I was shamefully ignorant – sleek, muscular traditional reds, intriguing whites made from native grapes and some thrilling orange wines buzzing with energy and a sense of place.”
For Hawkings the “standouts for me were Elizabeth Gabay’s sensational Sen 2020, a collaboration with Vino Magula, bright and crunchy with lovely herbaceous, savoury notes; Slobodne’s Eggstasy 2019, a skin-contact Riesling originally made in terracotta eggs, now in local oak; Martin Pomfy’s wild Tramin Cerveny Orange Gewürztraminer; Tokaj Macik’s Botrytis Late Harvest (as supplied to the Vatican where it’s the Pope’s favourite one, I was told). I also enjoyed the whole range by the Strekov 1075 winery (available through Roland Wines).”
Cong’s highlights also included Eggstasy, as well as “Slobodne’s Alternativa 2013, Magula’s wines, including Sen”, described as “low intervention but elegant and unique”, and “Macik’s Ronava Cuvee – tasty and high quality [and] Martin Pomfy’s Mavin Gruner – possibly the best Gruner I’ve tasted in the UK (available through Tanner’s Wines) and several excellent sweet wines.” Rohan Anderson, senior business specialist at the C&C group also noted Pomfy’s Gruner as well as Vino Magula’s Frankovka and Bott Frigyes’ Pinot Noir.
Anderson also commented that it “was great to see how Slovakia wine has progressed so well and so quickly over the past 10 years. Also great to see local varietals taking the stage and impressing.” Anderson also noted that he is “watching closely famous varieties like Pinot and Chardonnay as these varieties are showing some really exciting fruit notes not seen in other regions.”
Cong felt the wines were of “high quality and good value price point. Wines sufficiently different from our existing collection, and would fit the portfolio of underrated wine regions we embrace. Our customers are adventurous and not excessively bothered by regional reputation. Some customers ask for ‘natural wines’ and it’s good to have low intervention wines that are interesting, elegant and clean, and don’t taste like expensive cider.”
Richard Bampfield MW commented that he “knew nothing about the wines before but found much to like on the day. High quality reds and whites, some pretty sophisticated amber wines and a very tasty dry rosé from an Anglo/Slovak project! I found wines I enjoyed from both international and local grapes. The tasting certainly left me thirsty to try more.”
Many expressed a desire for future tastings of Slovak tastings – with a bigger venue and the possibility of seminars explaining the country and varieties – as Kate Hawkings summarised it, “Slovakia is clearly a country to watch.”