Velvet Revolution

Exploring Czech wine in Prague

On Wine

Prague is a place rich in history and in culture. It does not do its history and culture by halves. In fact, it does things by threes. It boasts three saints; Vitus, Adalbert and of course Wenceslas. Its famous town hall clock (the Orloj) comprises three major components: an astrological dial, a collection of saints and the oddly eerie “walk of the apostles” striking the hour.

It even managed three defenestrations beginning in 1419, recurring in 1483 (most people forget these two originals), then climaxing in the window-tossing of 1618 when the Holy Roman commissioners were flung out of their chancellery window onto a dung heap. Unlike their historic predecessors both defenestratees survived. The peace however did not and so began the Thirty Years’ Wars. Whether it was the defenestration or the dung heap that did it we may never know.

Prague still does things in threes. Following the fall of the Wall in 1989 former US ambassador Craig Stapleton and his brother Benjamin teamed up with local viticulturist Jaroslaw Springer to take advantage of bright sun and good soil to produce new democracy wines with distinct old world charm. The trio’s vineyards near Brno are managed in the organic tradition and focus almost exclusively on red Pinot Noir. I tried the 2016 Roučí (the old Czech word for Pinot Noir) in the comforting surroundings of the old Cafe Imperial on the corner of Poříčí Street.

This pearl from a bygone age, with wall to wall pastoral scenes of cheery farm hands and ripe harvests in cream and gold ceramic, the vaulting ceiling held aloft by eight octagonal pillars similarly clad, is the perfect place to sample a Springer. The menu majors on Mittel Europa dishes — veal cheeks and dumplings and schnitzel — which complement the ripe cherries and burnt oak of the Roučí faultlessly. It has a full body but is still quite light on the tongue thanks to finely balanced tannins, with a lingering endnote that radiates quality.

The pity is that Czechs produce few bottles and even fewer for export. So to enjoy more you are probably going to have to go there. But I can think of many less pleasant ways to spend the weekend. The Velvet Revolution may have quietly ushered out old communists like Miloš Jakeš yet it has ushered in an equally quiet “vinolution”. And within Jaroslaw Springer’s beautifully balanced bottles you will discover another velvet sensation.

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