Our wait staff tend to leave newspapers scattered on the floor in the morning, an easy and convenient place to leave a section after perusal. Old-fashioned? Maybe, but since it gives us cats a comfy place to relax for a bit and a chance to read through the latest on just about every imaginable topic, we highly approve. (Unfortunately, one staff member tends to work all the puzzles before releasing the pages. We have yet to find a solution to this problem.)
We mention this because we recently read a little piece about the return of Czech wines. The area of Moravia in the Czech Republic has a long and storied wine-making history. It is home to a magnificent palace, hills covered with carefully tended grapevines, and wine cellars that have existed for hundreds of years. Natives have been making wines here for a really long time.
But for those who still remember the last half of the 20th century, you may recall that this was also a part of the Eastern bloc, that quasi-independent group of states that were ruled by the Russians after World War II. Communism became the government du jour, and that meant no private businesses.
Centuries of wine-making techniques and knowledge were nearly lost in a matter of a few years. Vineyards became state-run farms, whose main purpose was to produce as many grapes as possible. That meant more traditional grapes, like irsay and palava, were uprooted and replaced with varietals that needed less attention and produced bumper crops every season.
The wines themselves became mundane. The goal was to ensure that every wine tasted the same every time. True, every wine-maker has this in mind when starting, but realistically, and happily, winemakers recognize that so many uncontrollable factors determine the flavors of a wine, that the best you can achieve is that drinkers will recognize a region or a winemaker. Communism’s goal was to find a way to eliminate any variation.
Of course, many of those charged with running these new state wineries were not winemakers, or even necessarily wine lovers. Wine, that favored beverage of the old class system and the West, was treated with suspicion by many Communists. By its nature, wine and wine-making run counter to the very Communist idea of uniformity. It’s something of a small miracle that any vineyards were allowed to continue.
Fast forward to today, and we are happy to read that this beautiful part of the world is once again looking to produce distinctive wines. The Czechs have invited winemakers from around the world to come to the Republic and teach modern wine-making techniques. But the Czech’s are also looking back – uncovering details about traditional grapes and techniques that were buried by the Communist state.
Czech wines are starting to draw attention around the world. Double gold for a Gruner Veltliner in 2009 by Chateau Valtice. (And we do so love a yummy gruner!) Best in show for a 2013 Riesling. Platinum for an ice wine. All our favorite whites!
The one sad note – Czech wines are still hard to find in the U.S. Most Czech wines are exported to Slovakia. It’s easy, convenient, and less expensive than shipping elsewhere. That’s not to say that you can’t find it in the U.S. – it just requires some detective skills that Holmes would admire. The easiest place to start is at the Vino Z Czech website, which keeps track of regular updates on availability and deliveries in the U.S. (and other parts of the world.)
Such classic wines. And look! A few slots have opened up in the chiller. Let’s fill those in with a few gruners and rieslings and a really nice ice wine, courtesy of our fellow oenophiles in the Czech Republic.