Unusual Wines From the Czech Republic
Wine from the Czech Republic? Surely not. Beer, of course, and maybe plum brandy or vodka, but wine? Admittedly, the Central European nation, bordered by Germany, Poland, Austria, and (its former mate) Slovakia, is not exactly an important producer of fermented grape juice. It's only the 32nd or 33rd largest wine-producing country in the world, turning out less than half what Japan (yes, Japan) does and slightly less than Canada (though twice the annual production of Turkmenistan). Wine grapes were first cultivated in the region of southern Moravia, though, in what is now the southeastern corner of the country, by the Romans, and Moravian wine was known throughout Europe in the Middle Ages.
The modern Czech wine industry can be said to date from 1995, two years after the former Czechoslovakia split peacefully into two nations, when a code of wine regulations was adopted, and many of the older producers began modernizing their production methods with an eye on the greater European market. The vast majority of Czech wines still come from Moravia, portions of which border on Austria's Weinviertel vineyard region (there are a few wineries in Bohemia, north of Prague), and a group of these has recently appeared on the American market.
Perhaps believing that the American consumer would only be confused by a host of new winery names, the importers have made the decision to bottle them all under the same name, Vino z Czech (Wine from Czech — or Czech Wine), though they come from a number of different producers. All have labels based on posters and other artworks by the Czech-born Alphonse Mucha, who became a pioneer of Art Nouveau in Paris and elsewhere. I tasted a selection of these wines recently, and found them, overall, to be clean and pleasant, if not overly complex, with good varietal character. Some specific notes:
Pinot Blanc 2009, Vinařství Vyskočil ($20). A slightly off-dry wine made from late-harvested grapes, with a generous varietal aroma, good body, and good varietal character on the palate, with suggestions of honey and apricots.
Rivaner 2011, Vinné sklepy Valtice ($15). Rivaner is an alternate name for Müller-Thurgau, a widely grown workhorse grape, descended from riesling. This one has a rich aroma and plenty of fruit on the palate, with good acidity and a lingering grapey finish.
Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Vinselekt Michlovský ($16). A delightful wine, reminiscent of good Austrian interpretations of the grape (and nothing at all like the ubiquitous sauvignon blancs of Chile or New Zealand), unmistakably sauvignon blanc in aroma, with a flavor of apples and peaches.
Welschriesling 2011, Vinařství Galant ($25). Welschriesling is a somewhat mysterious grape, apparently unrelated to the Rhine riesling of Germany (some sources suggest that it might have originated in northeastern France; others suggest that it was born in the Balkans). This example has a light floral aroma, and is slightly, but not unpleasantly, sourish, with plenty of acidity and a mineral edge.
Blauer Portugieser 2011, Spielberg CZ ($24). Made from a grape whose name means "Blue Portuguese" but which is grown primarily in Austria and Germany, with no proven connection to Portugal, this is a dark wine in color but a comparatively light one on the palate, with a spicy nose and a faint Christmas-candy flavor. A good wine to chill down a little.
Cabernet Moravia non-vintage, Vinařství Ludwig ($18). This is not traditional cabernet, but a variety grown only in Moravia, a cross between cabernet franc and zweigelt (the most widely planted red wine grape in Austria). I'd be hard-pressed to distinguish this from cabernet sauvignon (it lacks the stalky character often found in cabernet franc), but it's solid wine, reasonably tannic and suffused with fruit suggesting blackberries and black currants.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Vinné sklepy Valtice ($15). The least interesting of this group, well-made but light and anonymous, with some cabernet sauvignon character but no depth.