Noah Ullman worked for years in the eastern European branch of a major US software company. He spent some time working the Czech Republic and would occasionally go out for a few drinks with his coworkers after a long day. Most of the people would drink beer on these excursions, but Noah noticed that one of his Czech coworkers, Radim, always ordered wine. The Czech Republic is generally known as a beer drinking and beer producing country, so Noah was intrigued by Radim's beverage choice. When he asked him about it, Radim replied "I am from Moravia. We drink wine in Moravia." Noah visited some Moravian wineries with Radim and fell in love with the wines there. When he returned to the United States, he found that Czech wines were virtually impossible to find here, so he decided to change that.
Noah and his wife started Vino z Czech a year or so ago as a way to get Czech wines on US shelves. Their model is a little bit different than most importers. Radim is their exporter, and they consult with leading Czech sommeliers to try to find the top estate bottled wines in the country. They work with a handful of producers, but as you will see below, all of the wines are bottled under the blanket Vino z Czech brand, and the specific producer is mentioned on the foil cap and the back label of each wine only. The front labels pretty much give the name of the grape used (all of their bottlings are varietal wines right now) and have different paintings by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, who you can read more about here.
I mentioned above that the Czech Republic is primarily associated with beer, but viticulture in the Moravian region can be traced back to the Romans around the second century AD. Recently, a Roman outpost was uncovered near the town of Pasohlávky that contained many viticultural artifacts, and it is thought by some historians that Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling were probably introduced into the area during the Roman occupation. Many of the French and German varieties (like Pinot Blanc and Riesling) were probably introduced into the area around the 13th Century as monasteries with monks from those countries settled into the region. More vineyards were gradually planted over the next few centuries, but then the 30 Years War (1618-1648) wiped many of them out. They were slowly replanted and the area received a major boost from the creation of a handful of wine academies during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, but then Phylloxera first struck in the vineyards in 1890 and wreaked havoc on the area over the next 15 years.
During much of this time, the region was actually a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but in 1918, the nation of Czechoslovakia (which contained the modern-day Czech Republic, Slovakia and a bit of land currently in Russia) declared its independence and became a sovereign state. It was annexed by Germany in 1938 and was part of Nazi Germany until 1945. Following World War II, Czechoslovakia became a communist state, which is generally not all that beneficial for a country's wine industry (as we saw when we took a look at the Pinela grape). The Communist government in Czechoslovakia was overthrown in the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the country peacefully split into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic (also known as Slovkia) in 1993. In 1995, the Czech Republic passed Wine Act No. 115/1995 in an attempt to establish wine laws that would bring the country's wine industry into line with the rest of the EU. The Czech Republic formally joined the EU in 2004 and passed Wine Act No. 321/2004, which brought their regulations into line with the rest of Europe. The Czech Republic's classification system is more closely related to that of Germany and Austria, where ripeness level at harvest is the primary determinant for quality level classification. There is also a geographical classification ranging from Region, to Sub-Region, to Village to Vineyard (for details on Czech wine law, you can read more here).
|Map of Czech Republic with Moravia in red|
Vino z Czech sent me eight total wines to sample, all of which were white. I took a look at their two Welschriesling wines a few days ago, and interested readers can check those reviews out here. The other six wines, made from the Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Rivaner (Müller-Thurgau), Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc grapes, are reviewed below. All of the wines were from the Moravia region of the Czech Republic, but I'm not sure about sub-regions or anything more specific. These wines are available online here. Again, these bottles were sent to me as samples for review and I was not compensated in any way for these reviews other than with the bottles themselves.
as we learned). The term Rivaner still hangs around, though Müller-Thurgau is really the most accurate name. In the glass, the wine was a medium silvery lemon color. The nose was fairly light and subtle with aromas of pear, golden apple, grapefruit and white peach. On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity. It was maybe just a touch off-dry with flavors of white peach, pink grapefruit, pear, golden apple and honeysuckle flower. It was a mild, delicate, subtle wine that did resemble Riesling to some extent, but with the volume turned down. My primary concern with this wine is that it is bottled with a synthetic (plastic) cork, so if you decide to try a bottle, get the newest vintage you can and drink it as soon as possible. I have found that wines under this type of closure go downhill much faster than those under screwcap or traditional cork.
Overall, I was very impressed with the wines of Vino z Czech. Their offerings retained much of the classic characteristics of the grapes they are working with, but they also have a really lovely minerality that makes them distinctive and gives them a sense of place. I will confess that I was not optimistic when Noah first contacted me about trying his wines, but all of them were really lovely. They are just starting to bring some red wines that I hope to be able to try as well, and I will certainly write about them if I get a chance to try them. In the meantime, check out their site, try some Czech wines and na zdraví (to your health)!