What Are the Major Wine Grapes of the Czech Republic?

Portions of this post were originally published in WineBusiness.com

The Czech Republic has been making wine since the 13th century, yet most global consumers only know the country for Czech beer. So what are the major wine grapes that are grown and produced in the Czech Republic?

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Czech Village with Grapevines

The answer is a little fuzzy because many of the ancient vineyards of the Czech Republic were torn out during the Soviet Era and replanted with wheat. It has only been about 30 years now that Czechs have been reclaiming their wine-making heritage. Now with more than 1200 commercial wineries there is a positive sense of entrepreneurship in the country, along with much experimentation to determine what grape varietals and wine styles may become the signature grape of the future.

Location and Climate Help Determine Best Grape Varietals to Grow

The Czech Republic has a cooler continental climate, and is located to the north of Austria. In fact the majority of their major grape growing regions (where 90% of the wine is produced) is in the southern part of the country bordering Austria. The region is called Moravia, with the town of Brno as the main city. The Czech Republic produces many of the same grapes as the neighboring countries, but also some unusual ones. For example, they produce much Riesling like Germany and Grüner Veltliner like Austria, but also have some very unique wines such as Palava and Andre, describe below.

Possible Signature Wine Products in the Czech Republic

In an analysis of Czech wines that have won the most awards and/or are unique and distinctive, there are currently several contenders for “Signature Wine Product of the Czech Republic”:

Czech Riesling: Even though Germany and Austria produce a lot of Riesling, this variety is a good contender for flagship wine, because Czech Riesling has a distinct taste of being “dry with high acid, intense dried apricot, and a hint of salinity.” It is also produced in the majority of the Czech wine regions, ages very well, and has received multiple awards at international wine competitions. It should be mentioned that the Czech refer to this varietal as “Rhine Riesling (from Germany)” to differentiate it from Welshriesling.

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Czech Riesling from Sonberk Winery

Welshriesling: Also known as Italian Riesling, this is a different grape from Rhine Riesling, and produces a wine with more honey, floral and exotic fruit notes, without the telltale diesel of its German cousin. Generally produced as a simple easy-drinking bulk wine, on the limestone slopes of Moravia, Welshriesling takes on some intense savory notes with wet stone, salt and green apple. It also develops more character as it ages, producing complex textured wines with personality. Some excellent examples are produced by Kolby Winery, who specializes in single vineyard Welshrieslings.

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Welshriesling from Kolby Winery with Winemaker

Palava: Perhaps one of the most unique Czech wine varieties, the Palava grape was actually born in the Czech Republic and approved as a registered variety in 1977. It is a cross between Gewürztraminer and Müller Thurgau, taking on the best qualities of both grapes to produce a highly aromatic medium-bodied white wine with notes of honeysuckle and apricot with crisp acidity. It is made in dry, semi-dry, and sweet styles, and is very enticing. Indeed a sweet Palava, produced by Czech winery, Sonberk, using the straw method to dry the grapes, achieved 96 points at the 2018 Decanter World Wine Awards. The other positive of this grape is the fact that it has a name that is easy for consumers to pronounce.

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Palava Wine from Sonberk Winery

Andre: Though the Czech Republic does produce some delicious light-bodied reds wines made from Pinot Noir, Zweigelt and other varieties, perhaps the most unique is a grape variety called “Andre.” Developed in the Czech Republic as a cross between St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch (also called Lemberger, Kekfrankos and Frankovka), the Andre grape produces soft-bodied aromatic red wines with notes of mixed red berries, rose, and spice. It is produced in dry and semi-dry styles with minimal oak. Unfortunately it is not produced by many wineries, and its name, Andre, is already claimed by a large famous global wine brand. The most well-known producer of Andre is Slechtitelska Stanice Winery.

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Andre Wine from Slechtitelska Stanice Winery – in lower right corner

Czech Sparkling Wine: Given that the location of the majority of Czech vineyards are alongside the 49th parallel, the same as the Champagne region, it should not be a surprise that the country produces a large quantity of sparkling wine. Indeed, its largest winery, Bohemia Sekt, specializes in the category, with 9% of total country volume share, according to Euromonitor. Czech sparkling ranges from high-end traditional method wines made from chardonnay and pinot noir, to innovative blends of Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Gris, made in the charmant method at affordable prices. Currently more small high-end producers, such as Proqin Winery, are producing award winning Czech sparklers.

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Czech Sparkling Wine with Oysters from Proqin Winery

Time and Consumers Will Determine the Answer

Given the fact that there are so many options available to Czech Republic wine producers, and the current culture of re-establishing grape-growing independence is so strong, it may take some time before the country will come to agreement on a signature wine product. However, they can also choose to do nothing, and let the international wine judging world and consumers decide.

Classic Czech Cuisine with Czech Wine

Four Wineries to Visit in the Czech Republic Wine Region of Moravia

If you’re planning a trip to Prague, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, then consider adding a couple of extra days to your trip so you can visit Moravia- the major wine region of the Czech Republic. Only a short 2 hour drive south of Prague, this region delights with its landscape of rolling hills, tiny flower-bedecked villages, and delicious fresh wines paired with regional Czech cuisine.

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Wine Village in the Czech Republic Region of Moravia

I was fortunate enough to be able to visit this region in September of 2018 with my mother, right at the beginning of the grape harvest. While there we visited four wineries and two wine shops, at the invitation of the local wine associations and university. All were truly amazing, and should be on your itinerary if you are lucky enough to visit this unspoiled, and relatively undiscovered, wine region, which has been making wine since the 13tfh century!

Spend Several Days in Prague First

It is easy to catch an international flight into the modern Prague airport and then take a 20 minute ride via taxi or Uber to the old city. Here you can stay in a hotel (we stayed at the Prague Radisson) or Airbnb, and walk the ancient streets, which are only for pedestrians. They are filled with quaint shops, delicious restaurants, and hidden wine shops such as the Wine O’Clock Shop where we ate dinner the first night. Prague is also great for beer lovers, and we enjoyed a big bowl of goulash and two icy steins of beer for lunch the next day at the White Horse Restaurant with an outside table overlooking the bustling square.

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Enjoying Both Beer and Wine in Prague, Czech Republic

Everything in Prague is within walking distance, including the Old Town Square with its famous Astronomical Clock, Prague Castle, and the beautiful Charles Bridge that spans the River Vltava. We also signed up to attend a traditional Czech dinner with music and dancing at Restaurant Michael. This was so much fun, and everyone in our room – we didn’t know a soul when we first got there – was up and dancing by the end of the night. My great-great grandmother was from the Czech Republic, and it felt like we were being welcomed back to join our relatives.

Great Czech Food, Wine, Music & Dancing in Prague

A Quick Overview of the Czech Wine Scene

There are now more than 1200 wineries – called “Vinarstvi” – in the Czech Republic. They are located in two regions: 1) Bohemia, which is smaller and located about one hour north of Prague, and 2) Moravia, located two hours south of Prague near the Austrian border, where 90% of the wine is produced. The major wine styles are delightful sparkling wines made from Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Riesling, as well as still white wines from the same grapes. They also produce some red wines such as Pinot Noir and Zweigelt. Two very unique varietals they produce are Palava – a white cross of Gewürztraminer and Muller Thurgau, and Andre – a red cross of St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch. Both are described in more detail below.

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Roses and Vineyards in the Czech Republic

Two Hour Drive South to Moravia Wine Region

After three days in Prague, we took an Uber back to the airport to pick up our rental car. It is easy to rent a car there because it is on the outskirts of the city and you can get on the freeway almost immediately. The Czechs drive on the right side of the road (same as the USA), and all roads are well-marked and in very good condition. From Prague, it is only a two hour drive to Brno, the capital city of Moravia. This is a great place to stay with many restaurants, museums, and a pedestrian walking area. From here you can take day-trips to the wineries, or you can stay in a hotel in one of the small wine villages, such as Hotel Kurdejov, or an Airbnb like we did.

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Bar and Restaurant Scene in Downtown Brno, Czech Republic

Four Wineries to Visit in Moravia

The majority of Czech wineries are very small and family run, and therefore, you may need to make a reservation online with some of them. However, there is also a major visitor center and wine shop called the Wine Salon of the Czech Republic in the town of Valtice, which I highly recommend. It is located in an old chateau and you can even have lunch there. It should also be noted that during certain times in April, there is a Czech Winery Open House in Moravia where all of the wineries are open and offer free tastings. Click HERE for more information.

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Entrance to the Wine Salon of Czech Republic in Old Chateau

The four wineries we visited each specialized in a different style of Czech wine, so they are perfect to visit if you only have two days:

Proqin Winery (Vinarstvi Proqin) – specializing in Czech Sparkling Wines. This small and friendly winery is owned by Martin Prokes, who speaks perfect English and along with being a top Czech winemaker also teaches wine business at the University of Mendelu in Brno. Located in the small village of Velké Němčice, Proquin Winery is housed in a modest tasting room on the edge of town. Martin purchases all of his grapes from surrounding vineyards and produces around 100,000 bottles each year, which he exports around the world. Martin’s great-great grandfather came to the region in 1675 to become a winemaker, and now Martin is taking up the ancient family profession. “This region is located on the 49th parallel, just like the region of Champagne,” says Martin. “Therefore we are perfectly positioned to make world class sparkling wines.” Indeed if you ask kindly, Martin will proudly draw out his sword and saber (sabrash in Czech) a bottle of sparkling wine for you. Martin makes many great wines, but some of my favorites here were:

  • Proqin Matthias Sparkling Brut NV – a sparkling wine made from Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, it has a lovely honey nose, green apple, yeasty notes and a cleansing minerality.
  • Proqin Extra Reserve Sparkling Riesling 2010– a vibrant and exciting sparkling Riesling with floral and peach notes, electric acidity and a zesty energy.
  • Proqin Neuburger 2017 – fresh and delightful, this wine tasted of grapefruit, grass, and mineral notes. It is a cross between Roter Veltliner and Sylvaner, and quite unique.
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Martin with a Saber and His Delicious Czech Sparkling Wine at Proqin Winery

Slechtitelska Stanice Winery – specializing in wines made from the Andre and Palava grapes. This winery is also a hotel and restaurant, so you can stay here for the night and enjoy a view of the beautiful vineyards. Located in the small village of Velké Pavlovice, the vineyards were originally planted here by the Romans in the year 200. The Christians arrived in 860 and continued to plant grapes and make wine, and then in 1908 it was set up to be a cross-breeding station (Slechtitelska Stanice in Czech) to develop new grape varietals. This is how the grapes called Palava (a white cross of Gewürztraminer and Muller Thurgau) and Andre (a red cross of St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch) were developed. They also grow many antique roses of the most amazing colors and aromas, as well as produce honey, jam, and vinegar. We toured the ancient cellars, the modern winery in the vineyards, and then had a delicious lunch at the restaurant, but you can also just stop by to taste and purchase wine at the cellar door. They farm over 43 hectares of vines and produce around 500,000 bottles of wine per year. Some of my favorite wines here included:

  • 2017 Riesling – fresh, crisp, aromatic with white peach and a salty minerality.
  • 2017 Palava – very floral with notes of honeysuckle, apricot, and crisp acidity
  • 2016 Andre – a medium-bodied red wine with ripe mulberry, spice, pepper, and earthy notes.

Sonberk Winery – specializing in Riesling and Palava wines. A beautiful modern winery and tasting room set on a hillside overlooking vineyards and Thaya Lake below. The region has more than 700 years of winemaking history and the hillsides are filled with limestone soil, which is ideal for producing fresh and dazzling wines. Sonberk was established in 2003 near the small village of Popice; has 45 hectares of vines, and produces around 150,000 bottles per year of all estate wines. They have won numerous awards for their wines, especially the Palava. While there, I got to see them drying the Palava grapes on special straw mats to make their famous dessert Palava, which received 96 points from Decanter. All of the wines here are excellent, but some of my favorites were:

  • 2015 Riesling VOC– very fresh with notes of lemon and green peach, a creamy body with good acidity and a hint of salinity. A very sophisticated Riesling with character.
  • 2017 Palava VOC – beautiful floral notes, apricot, lovely intense spice, good acidity and a dry finish.
  • 2016 Straw Palava – delicious sweet dessert wine with honey, peaches, ginger, and refreshing acidity.
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Sonberk Winery & Vineyards in the Czech Republic

Kolby Winery – specializing in estate Welsh Riesling. Located only a few miles from Sonberk Winery, Kolby is in the small town of Mikulov, next to an old cellar with chateau from the 1700’s. With 38 hectares of vineyards spread out on the limestone and loam hillside above them, many of the vineyards are on ancient sites, and it reminded me of the Grand Cru vineyards of Alsace. The difference is that the majority of the vines are either Riesling or Welsh Riesling, which the Czechs call “Rynlink Vlasky”. I had a tour of the winery, where the grapes were arriving for harvest, and then we had a delightful tasting outdoors. The winemakers at Kolby believe in aging their white wines before release, which gives them some complex notes of minerality and salinity. They also practice organic and biodynamic farming techniques, but are not certified. Some of my favorite wines here were:

  • 2017 Rynlink Vlasky (Welsh Riesling) – aromatic, floral and apricot, medium body, good acidity, fresh with nectarine and energy.
  • 2010 Rynlink Vlasky (Welsh Riesling) – textured, complex, mineral, stony, salty, sur lie aging, 11.5%.
  • 2013 Riesling – classic with diesel, lime, mineral, and straw; good complexity with hint of regional brine notes.
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Exterior of Kolby Winery in Czech Republic

Wine Shops to Check Out in Moravia

In addition to the famous Wine Salon of the Czech Republic described above, with more than 100 top awarded Czech Wines to taste, also consider stopping at the Hotel Kurdejov Wine Shop. Here you can taste and purchase local wines in a friendly atmosphere, as well as dine in the restaurant and/or stay overnight in the hotel. On the hillside behind the hotel, the owner’s son has planted 15 hectares of vines in 2013. He explained that in the old days it was all vineyards, but the communists had torn them out to plan wheat. Now the Czechs are reclaiming their ancient vineyard land around the country, and are experimenting with new varietals. He has decided to plant three colors of Pinot: 1) Pinot Noir, 2) Pinot Gris and 3) Pinot Blanc, and is using organic farming and natural winemaking techniques.

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Wine Shop & Tapas Bar at Hotel Kurdejov, Czech Republic

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Prague Castle at Night, Czech Republic

Maury Magic – Wineries to Visit on Your Next Trip to Roussillon, France

If you are lucky enough to be headed to the Roussillon wine region in the South of France, and decide to visit the historic Maury wine region, consider some of these innovative wine brands. While visiting there in May of 2019, I was treated to a tasting of Maury wines with ten producers, each presenting three wines. The tasting, followed by a delicious lunch was held at Department 66 (D66) Winery in Maury. This domaine was started by Dave Phinney from Napa Valley who visited the Maury region and fell in love with the terroir. Therefore, he started the winery, and also allows others to craft their wine there as well.

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Maury Wine Lunch at Cellar D66 in Roussillon, France

Tasting of Maury Wines from Ten Innovative Producers

Following is a listing of the ten wineries as well as a highlighted wine from each producer that was truly unique and compelling to taste:

  • D66 started by Dave Phinney from Napa Valley- creator of The Prisoner. The wines were poured by Richard Case of Domaine La Pertuisane, who also makes his wines at D66. The highlight wine of D66 was the 2017 Fragile rose, a blend of Grenache Noir with small percentages of Syrah and Carignan. Delicious with floral nose and palate of juicy watermelon.
  • Domaine La Pertuisane represented by Richard Case. Unique labels with cartoons. Wine highlight was 2016 Green Eggs & VIN from a single old vineyard that was a blend of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Mourvèdre and Alicante. Therefore, blend of white and red grapes, vines estimated to be 70 to 80 years old. Aromatic nose with mixed berries, minerality, complexity and a very long finish.
  • Domaine Thunevin-Calvet represented by John Roger Calvet. A partnership with John Luc Thunevin from Bordeaux. Wines were all fresh and elegant with well integrated oak. Highlight was 2018 L’amourette Blanc – 100% Grenache Gris, fresh with citrus, minerality, complexity, and juicy acidity.
  • Domaine de Lavail Winery represented by Nicholas Battle. Highlight was 2018 Ballade made from 100% old vine white Carignan. Quite unique with floral nose, textured palate, and long lively finish.
  • Domaine Clos de Rey represented by Julien Montagné, who won the award for the most passionate winemaker at the tasting, as he showed everyone his vineyards from an IPad and waxed poetic about the wines. His enthusiasm was contagious and all of the wines tasted fabulous. The highlight was 2017 L’Epistaca, which was a single vineyard 100% old vine Grenache. Lightly colored, medium bodied, elegant with bright berry nose followed by raspberry and lavender on the palate.
  • SCV Les Vignerons de Maury were represented by Thierry Cazach. The highlight was a 2006 Maury VDN, which was Carmel in color, oxidized, and very delicious with dried apricot, orange rind, viscous body, and very long sweet finish.
  • Domaine does Soulanes represented by Daniel Lafitte. Highlight was 2017 Sarrat del Mas a blend of Grenache Noir, Carignan and Syrah. Classic style of mixed berries, earth, tar, and structured tannins.  Great food wine. Biologique.
  • Domaine Pouderox represented by Robert Pouderoux. Highlight was 2012 LaMouraine, a blend of 60% Grenache Noir and 40%Syrah. Fermented in foudre. Black berries, tar, earth, structured tannins, with a cleaning acid. All of his wines had big tannins, lots of texture and complexity — wines with personality.
  • Domaine Grier represented by Jeff Grier. Highlight was 2018 Grenache Noir which was perfumed with floral and raspberry, no oak, very pure expression – quite lovely and delightful. Made from 45 year old vines.
  • Domaine of the Bee represented by Justin Howard-Sneyd. Highlight was the 2017 Les Genoux, which means “the Knees,” for the saying “the bee’s knees.” This winery focuses on the beauty of bees, how important they are to nature, and seals all of its bottles with natural bees wax, creating a lovely design. Les Genoux is a blend of Grenache Noir and Carignan Noir from 100 year old bush vines in a field blend. It entrances with a milk cherry nose, minerality, and a soft approach on the palate; and then surprises with a touch of salty honey and a cleansing astringent finish.

Novel Wine Lunch at Cellar D66

After the tasting we were treated to a fabulous three course lunch in the cellars of D66.  A long white table with fresh local flowers was set for the more than 30 MWs and vintners in attendance. All of the wines at the tasting, plus a few new ones, were available to pair with the cuisine. The first course was salmon and cucumber with dill on toast, which matched many of the crisp white and rose wines quite well.  The main course was a savory short rib and mashed potato that was the perfect match for all of the structured and earthy reds comprised primarily from syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache noir, and Carignan. Dessert was a delectable chocolate tart with a single red cherry from Ceret.  This was delightful with the numerous sweet Maurys and VDNs available. A highlight was a bottle of 1999 Maury produced by Domaine Lavail. A truly memorable luncheon and tasting.

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Sweet Maury Dessert Wine with Chocolate Tart