This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit the National Wine Cellar of the Czech Republic.
The cellar is located in the basement of Chateau Valtice, part of the UNESCO listed Lednice-Valtice Complex. It is a beautiful chateau style “castle” complete with gardens, ponds, and horse-drawn carriage rides. Honestly, the Lednice Chateau appears to be in better physical shape as Valtice has opted to go heavy on vino-tourism. They have produced a nice brochure that summarizes the various wine regions of South Moravia and the cellar.
Yes, for tasting. The cellar offers several tasting experiences. Some are guided and restricted to certain wines selected by sommeliers. Others are open tastings. Our group chose an open wine tasting where we could make our own choices and request guidance when desired. Tastings start at 100 CZK (~$4) for 16 wines in a guided experience and go all the way up to the top-level open tasting for 499 CZK (~$21)
A tasting experience consists of a glass to use for tasting and some bread to cleanse the pallet. Glass cleaning stations are provided throughout the cellar and there are containers to dispose of unneeded wine. At least I assume that is what they are for.
These boys are serious.
Let me be very clear on this next point. If you are reading this and thinking you will get some specific wine guidance, stop reading now. I am more of a “drinker” than a “taster” and I was mentally unprepared to have over 100 wines available for tasting.
I reiterate, I was mentally unprepared for over 100 open bottles (properly sealed and temperature controlled, but open for tasting) along with descriptions, charts, graphs, and lists of prizes won. Our tasting was a 90 minute open tasting. 90 minutes, 100 wines, 399 CZK (~$17). You cannot “catch them all.” However, if you choose to visit, and I highly recommend that you do, prepare and have a game plan. To help you, the cellar has free wifi and an online application to track your tasting notes.
I am more of a pijan (drinker) than a degustátor (taster).
When I first started drinking wine, I fell in love with Rieslings. I have since expanded my tastes, however, these days I tend to drink more beer than wine. Most of the wines at the beginning of the cellar are Rieslings. I did not make a point of drinking each of them. As it seemed to early to commit to that at the beginning of the tasting.
Once I got started I thought, this isn’t too bad, I’ll taste a little from each bottle. By about wine 5 that fell apart. Around wine 15 I realized I had no idea what I was doing and that I hadn’t even found the reds yet. Finally, somewhere around 45 minutes in, I decided to try to find and compare wines with the same grape and different levels of barikové (Czech for ‘barrique’ which is apparently French for ‘oakiness’). I did this because I realized I needed a mission or things were going to go off the rails. I did not do this because of my particular love or hate of oak.
Comparing oakiness was fascinating. This caused me to find wines 74 - Zweigeltrebe barrique 2012 and 75 - Zweigeltrebe barrique 2012. No, that is not a typo. Yes, they have the same name. No, I don’t know why. They vary in three things, as far as I can tell:
Residual Sugar - 74 has 2.7 g/l and 75 has 2.1 g/l
Acidity - 74 has 5.3 g/l and 75 has 5 g/l
Number of stickers on the bottle - 74 has one and 75 has three.
I am sorry I don’t have a picture of the bottles.
They also taste radically different. 74 has a level of sweet that seems to overshadow other tastes. The level of oak also differs … hmm. Four of the five us liked 75 much more than 74. The fifth person was probably drunk.
Reds and whites ready for sampling.
While I wouldn’t have minded having some guidance during the journey, there was some fun to be had in being very free-spirited. There was a sommelier, however it wasn’t clear if he spoke English. Two of our group did get some guidance from him near the end and found two wines they adored.
After my adventure in oakiness, I looked for the most expensive wine. I regret now that I didn’t look for the least expensive. If I have the opportunity to return, I plan to try and stick to a single variety and see if I can determine what drives my tastes in wine.
It was great to see the quality wines available in the Czech Republic on display. Wine making is an old art here, but it was nearly lost under Communism. This may also explain why a lot of the wines I find in the store are not raved about. The wine makers are really rediscovering the art and we haven’t seen it trickle all the way down to the Tesco yet.
At the end of the day, after we had tried countless wines (one person who claims they counted said they sampled 29 wines), we purchased a total of four bottles. The bottles are pictured below. The only thing I know for sure about them is that one of them is still in my home.1 I am sorry. I failed at wine tasting while having fun doing it.
The prizes of the day.
And one final gift …
No trip into an old chateau cellar is complete without some scary electrical wiring.
Note: This post was edited for grammar, typos and phrasing. A full history is available in the git repository.
The other bottles went home with the rest of the group. ↩