The Czech Republic was formed in 1993, after the Velvet Revolution and the split with Slovakia. The country had been under communist control for decades and during this period winemakers were forced to turn their businesses over to the state. Vineyards were nationalised and turned into huge farms designed for easier and automated harvests, quantity not quality was favoured.
As Petr Ocenasek, a winemaker from Moravia, puts it;
“If ten comrades tasted one wine, you would have ten different opinions. That was in stark contrast with their ideology, appealing to uniformity in all areas.”
So, we can imagine what the wine culture was like during this period, mass produced blandness.
However, as with most cycles of life, things tend to go from one extreme to another, people react to homogeneity with a strong push for individuality.
Since the formation of the republic, producers have rediscovered the concept of terroir which, along with the introduction of modern winemaking techniques such as the use of stainless steel tanks and temperature-controlled fermentation, has led to an invigorated and exciting trend in winemaking.
Okay, let’s get the techs out of the way:
In preparation for EU membership, in 1995 the republic passed wine laws modelled on the German Wine Law. After EU reforms in 2008 the new terms CHZO and CHOP have been introduced, the former a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication), the latter a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin).
The most important wine producing region in the republic is Moravia, along the Austrian and Slovakian Borders. The climate is mild/continental with relatively low rainfall, on average a half to two-thirds that of Burgundy and Alsace which are on the same latitude. Warm days and cold nights mean that ripening is slowed down. Clay and sand dominate the soil. Two thirds of production is given to white varieties which yield highly aromatic, fresh and fruity wines with good acidity. The total area under vine is 17,500 ha.
Grape varieties grown include:
Riesling- Ryzlink Rýnský
Pinot Blanc - Rulandské Bílé
Gruner Veltliner - Veltlínské zelené
Silvaner - Sylvánské zelené
St Laurent - Svatovavřinecké
Blaufrankisch - Frankova
Blauer Portugieser - Modrý Portugal
Pinot Noir or Rulandské modré, has also become very popular in the newer vineyards of Moravia.
Fortunately winemaking techniques have fully recovered from the communist era. There is a group of small independent producers with a wonderfully descriptive moniker, the ‘Authentists’ or ‘Autentisté’.
Included in this group are; Petr Kocarik, Korab, Stavek, Ota Sevcik, Dobra Vinice, Jaroslav Osicka, Tomas Cacik.
The culture of natural winemaking has been promoted with the help of Bogdan Trojak, natural winemaker, distributor, poet and proprietor of Veltlin, a wine bar located in Prague. This establishment has become a hub for the natural winemaking scene. It’s the perfect venue for Trojak to showcase cult Czech wines. He also organizes an annual festival, Prague Drinks Wine, very much on the ‘to do’ list.
It is said that the Czechs drink more wine than their country can produce, an apocryphal exaggeration of course. However, much of the quality wine produced is exported to neighbouring Slovakia and Austria. So we are very privileged to be able to source high quality Czech wines for our customers. We currently have three producers' wines in stock.
Springer and Stapleton’s Orange Pinot Noir
Krasna Hora’s Blanc de Noir Sekt Nature, Ryzlink Rynsky and Pinot Noir
Dva Duby’s Impera Red
All of these wines are made with thoughtful winemaking practices, highly individual and of excellent quality. We are looking to extend the range of Czech wines we stock in the very near future. The quality of these wines is imbued with the energy and vigour of the producers. It’s like being part of a new scene, when all the protagonists have something exciting to contribute, before the new thing becomes ubiquitous, stolen by marketing and competitive sales. Fortunately, the winemakers of the Czech Republic remember the bland old days, when uniformity, conformity, were the normality. It will be a very long wait to return to the bad old days.
The meal I proposed to myself last week was prompted by a recent visit to KILN in Soho. For anyone who loves regional Thai food, sadly something the Thais over here neglect or underestimate would succeed, it’s a simple must. Fellow Thais in the Thai food industry - you might find this heartbreaking - but you didn’t do it so somebody else did, and gasp you might - they're not Thai?! Not even half?!.
The dish I had there was a Clay Pot Baked Glass Noodles with Tamworth Belly & Brown Crab meat, I attempted the more classic version of Goong Ob Woonsen with the help of mum over phone. It’s one of those - simply explained, utterly difficult to execute.
For all it’s spices and aromatics, it’s still considerably delicate compared to the rest within the Thai food spectrum. Yeah, sounds funny, subtle Thai dish?
Of course I had the wine for the occasion so the decision was influenced. I often trick or manoeuvre myself into decisions. Born an indecisive you learn.
My wine is our new Lauer Riesling. This is a Saar Riesling that’s delicate and effusive of orange blossoms, citrus and crunchy white peach. Not overly fruity, lots of emphasis on minerals and precision. Not as assertive as our Rheingaus or Mosels but flatters herbs and spices just as well.
Goong Bb Woonsen
Hopefully you’ll have the basics of an asian pantry, if not, sort it out and I’ll do my best to be clear and concise. here goes…
4 black tiger prawns, unshelled head and all
1 tbsp of white pepper corns
1 tbsp of black pepper corns
300g of glass noodles/vermicelli (mung bean, not rice)
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp of dark soy
3 tbsp of light soy
3 tbsp of oyster sauce
1 tsp of sugar
150 ml of water
1 chicken stock cube
2 tbsp coriander root or stem
a handful of coriander for garnish
2 tbsp of spring onions
3 strips of bacon or fatty thinly sliced pork belly
3 tbsp of ginger, thinly sliced
6 cloves of garlic
Soak the the noodles in room temperature water for ten minutes until soft then drain, cut down the spine of the prawns and remove the vein.
Make the sauce: combined water, stock cube, dark, light soy with oyster sauce with sugar crush the garlic, pepper corns and coriander. Root/stem into a loose paste ideally you'll use a clay pot, if not a saucepan will do.
Line the bottom of the pot/pan with the bacon, then layer over with the ginger, the paste and the noodles. The prawns sit on top. Pour over sauce and cover, cook on medium heat for 15 minutes.
When the prawns start to turn orange, give the head a little squeeze for some of that good rich tomalley to intensify the flavours. Lift up the prawns, stir the noodles, sprinkle with onions, coriander and serve.
Rieslings are from Germany. Let's not argue about this fact. And I'm certainly not gonna age you with my thesis on its origins - not today anyway.
Rieslings, if kindly treated in its other homes can really uplift the soul of the drinker.
North and South America have achieved such good praise from their offerings, so too have Australia and New Zealand while Germany and France's remain comfortable on their throne.
Let's have a look elsewhere.
Andreas Bender began making wine when he was 13 - unofficially, mind you. This is only natural for someone who literally grew up roaming on all fours in the vineyards of the Mosel wine region where his father was grafting vines.
His wine pursuit began with lots of encouragement and in the perfect setting. An acute sense of place is what you find in his wines. Andreas is a young and wisely focused winemaker concentrating on the grapes that are suited to the environment of the Mosel region. His wine experiences include the U.S., France and Italy. A Geisenheim University scholar in Oenology and viticulture, his primary focus is in Riesling from mixed and single parcels, the former being Paulessen, named after his ancestor's estate.
I'm elated to welcome Peter Jakob Kühn's wines to our small but deftly selected range. Both of his Rieslings are biodynamically produced in Oestrich-Winkel in Rheingau, one of Germany's paramount regions for wine production.
The bountiful estate has been in the Kühn family for over two centuries, with Peter Jakob and wife Angela taking it over in the 70s. With his son Peter Bernhard, the boys tend to the vines and winemaking. Mother Angela and daughters Kathrin and Sandra look after everything else - from welcoming you, hospitality, business to artwork. This is a family set up and one other reason I love the wine industry. Inspirational stuff.