A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Wines of Vino Z Czech - Moravia, Czech Republic

A few months ago, I received an email from a guy named Noah who said he had stumbled across my site and had some wines that he thought I'd be interested to try.  He and his wife had recently started a wine importing company that was focused solely on wines from the Czech Republic and he was wondering if that might be something that would be up my alley. I had never had a wine from the Czech Republic before, so I told him I'd be delighted to give the wines a shot.  A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Welschriesling wines from their portfolio, but today I'd like to tell you a little bit about Vino z Czech and also a little bit about Czech Wine in general.

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
Moravia is by far the most important wine making region in the Czech Republic, accounting for 96% of the total vineyard area of the country (there are some vines in Bohemia, towards the northwest of the country, but they are scattered and make up a minor part of the industry).  Most of the production is located around the River Dyje in Moravia, and there are four main sub-regions: Mikulovská, Znojemská, Velkopavlovická, and Slovaká (more information about these regions can be found here).  There really is no single dominant variety in the region, and most of the grapes grown have been brought in from other countries.  For white varieties, Müller-Thurgau leads the way with 11.2% of total plantings, followed by Grüner Veltliner with 11%, Welschriesling with 8.5%, Riesling with 7%, Pinot Blanc with 5%, Sauvignon Blanc with 5% and Chardonnay with 4% (among others).  For red vines, St. Laurent is the most widely planted grape with 9% of total plantings, followed by Blaufrankish at 5.6%, Zweigelt at 4.7%, Pinot Noir at 4% and Blauer Portugieser at 3.9%.  

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.

The first Vino z Czech wine that I tried was the 2011 Riesling from the Michlovsky vineyard.  This wine is available from their online retailer for $19.  In the glass the wine was a fairly light silvery lemon color.  The nose was moderately intense with aromas of peach, pear, lime peel, lemon, white flowers, honey and chalk.  On the palate the wine was on the lighter side of medium with high acidity.  It was dry with racy lemon-lime citrus, white peach, and honeysuckle flower with clean, stony minerals on the finish.  It was a bit tight and austere right out of the bottle, but with a little time and a little increase in temperature, the hard citrus fruits opened up into more stone fruit and honey.  It is drinking well right now, but it is definitely the kind of wine I'd like to be able to revisit in a few years, as I feel like it has the structure to stand up to a few years in the bottle.  Fans of Austrian Riesling will definitely find a lot to like here, though fans of softer, sweeter Rieslings may want to look elsewhere for their fix.

Next up was the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, which was also from the Michlovsky vineyard.  Retail on this bottle is also $19 online.  In the glass the wine was a medium lemon gold color.  The nose was fairly intense with aromas of white grapefruit, grapefruit peel, cut grass, cat pee and green melon (in other words, it was a classic Sauvignon Blanc nose).  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity.  There were flavors of white grapefruit, grapefruit peel, white pear, lemon, tart pineapple, cut grass, green bell pepper, chalk and clean river stones.  The palate was also full of classic Sauvignon Blanc flavors, but it was backed with a really nice minerality that I found in many of these wines.  This wine was much closer stylistically to French Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre or other parts of the Loire Valley than to the leaner, grassier New Zealand or the big, fleshy California Sauvignon Blancs out there.  I thought it was an excellent wine and would have no problem shelling out $20 for it.

Next on the list was the 2011 Rivaner from Chateau Valtice ($16).  Rivaner is just another name for Müller-Thurgau which hearkens back to the days when it was thought to be the result of a crossing between Riesling and Sylvaner (it isn't, 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.

The 2011 Grüner Veltliner from Michlovsky was next out of the box, and it retails for about $16 online.  In the glass the wine was a medium silvery lemon color.  The nose was fairly intense with aromas of lemon, white peach, braised celery, grass and grapefruit.  On the palate the wine was on the lighter side of medium with fairly high acidity.  There were flavors of white pear, lemon peel, grapefruit, braised celery, cracked white pepper and a mild, stony mineral finish.  If you inserted this wine into a blind tasting of Austrian Grüners, I think you'd probably have a tough time singling it out.  Grüner can make a big, powerful wine, but it can also make something a little more delicate, and this wine definitely falls into that latter category.  There were really nice savory notes that would help this wine complement a variety of vegetable dishes, especially those with bell peppers or summer squash.  It's not something that I would try to cellar, though, so drink it early and drink it often.

Vino z Czech offers two wines made from the Pinot Blanc grape from two different producers.  The first one I tried was their 2009 offering from the Vyskocil vineyard ($22).  It can be difficult to tell some of these wines apart just from their front labels, and for the two Pinot Blancs, I had to use the alcohol content on the front to differentiate the two (this one was 13.5% while the other was 13%).  In the glass, the wine was a medium lemon gold color.  The nose was moderately intense with aromas of apricot, coconut, pineapple and green melon with a touch of butter and vanilla (there is some oak going on here).  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acidity.  There were flavors of lime, white peach, toasted coconut, and green melon with a steely mineral backbone.  I am a big fan of Pinot Blanc and think it is one of the more underrated grape varieties out there, and this is a really nice example.  It's very well balanced across the board and was really a pleasure to drink.  A little bottle age probably wouldn't hurt it, but I wouldn't get too crazy with it.

Last but certainly not least is the 2009 Pinot Blanc from the Spielberg vineyard, which is Vino z Czech's top offering and costs about $38 a bottle.  In the glass the wine was a fairly deep lemon gold color.  The nose was fairly intense with aromas of brioche, baked apple, pineapple, butter, cheese, coconut and vanilla.  On the palate the wine was full bodied with fairly high acidity.  There were flavors of creamy golden apple, pear, toasty brioche, pineapple, toasted coconut, butter, lemon curd and vanilla.  This wine also saw some time in oak, but again, I thought it carried it very well and the overall result was a lovely, balanced wine.  As a personal preference, I'm not a big fan of oak in my white wines at all, so I found that I preferred the Vyskocil Pinot Blanc, but those who are more tolerant and/or enthusiastic about oaked white wines would be better served with this wine.  It's not a style I typically enjoy, but I do recognize that it is a very good wine for those who like that kind of thing.

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)!


Ricky in WY said...

Great post. I appreciate your dedication to those wines and grapes most people never think about from out of the way places. Very informative. I enjoy a wide range myself, but living where I do means I have to use wine coupon codes to order online. That's the only way I can get anything even remotely approaching the vastness that you get to sample without bankrupting myself. Anyhow, keep up the great work. I'll keep reading (and drinking).

private wine tours napa said...

Love to try these great wines I think they are tasty just like the cabernet sauvignon.

Bibulous said...

There are lots of Czech wineries producing lots of varietals from little-known hybrids. And Vino z Czech reports that "We have a Cabernet Moravia on its way, and are considering some of these new hybrids for our fall portfolio."

Also, anyone with lots of time, money and energy can sign up for a bike tour of the Moravian wine country with the English company Inntravel. http://www.inntravel.co.uk/holidays/cycling-holidays/Czech-Republic/Wine-Trails-of-South-Moravia?utm_source=Communicator&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=trails2&utm_campaign=You%27%27re+in+for+a+surprise…

Noah Ullman said...


Thank you for the post, we are pleased you like the wines.

As you noted, we do have reds in the country and I wanted to let Bibulous know that we have Cabernet Moravia, Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Laurent, Zweigelt and Blauer Portugieser along with a lovely Pinot Noir blend available in our warehouse. We are in the process of finding retail homes for these wines and will let you know as soon as we do!

Na zdraví!


Fabio said...

What an interesting post! Czech wines are of of course impossible to find in Madrid, so I doubt I will ever get to taste one!!

Jerry McWine said...

I am happy to see some Czech wines getting even a little bit of traction. The tour company DuVine in Somerville there has a Czech tour that spends a few days in Mikulov. Pathfinders.cz also does some really nice visits.
I've had a chance to taste a fair share of CZ wines and I have to say, Sauvignon Blanc does something special there. I often find this unique honeyish/beeswax element to the wave there. And Reisten's 07 Pinot noir is just amazing. Glad you've been turned on to Czech wines!