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Wine review: The rising stars of Slovakia

Fedor Malík's 100 Best Slovak Wines boasts the usual suspects
The Prague Post


By John & Helena Baker   FOR THE POST

Slovakia and the Czech Republic separated in 1993, having constituted the nation of Czechoslovakia since 1918, but the two countries still have much in common, including similar languages and a similar approach to winemaking dating from the Austro-Hungarian days.

Like the wine appellation system, the grapes cultivated in the Czech Republic are much the same in Slovakia, with a mixture of Austrian and Hungarian varieties like Grüner Veltliner, Furmint and Leányka, as well as newly developed crossings like Dunaj, Devín and Hron. 

Prior to 1989, Slovakia was home to 30,000 hectares of vineyard, mostly given over to the production of wine of very poor quality. Now, with some 20,000 hectares remaining, it has to be the quality that counts. 

The six wine regions are spread across the central mountainous plateau and along the southern and eastern borders: Southern, Central and Eastern Slovakia, Lesser Carpathia, Nitra and Tokaj. This last is a small district long embroiled in a dispute over naming rights, adjoining its Hungarian neighbor where most of the illustrious region lies. 

100 Best Slovak Wines is an annual publication of Marenčin PV, for which a select few local and foreign experts appraise the best Slovak wines on the market. The author of the guide is Professor Fedor Malík from Modra, on the outer reaches of Bratislava, who is the country's leading wine authority as well as being a small vintner (Fedor Malík & Sons) of no small note.    

As expected, the wineries with the most success this year come from among the traditional quality leaders: Mrva-Stanko of Trnava, Víno Matyšák, Milan Pavelka and Roman Janoušek all from Pezinok, Karpatská Perla (Šenkvice), Masaryk (Skalica), Víno Nitra (Nitra) and J.J. Ostrožovič of Velká Trńa, the most notable of Slovakia's handful of Tokaj producers.     

Then there are some wealthy newcomers, such as Chateau Belá in Mužla (see below) and Elesko in Modra, a new investment with an ultra-modern facility boasting a "wine park" including a gourmet restaurant and a gallery featuring Andy Warhol originals, where New Zealand oenologist Nigel Davies guides production.

Sekt comes primarily in the form of JE Hubert, founded in 1825 by an injured soldier from Napoleon's ill-fated Russian excursion, who had been making his way home, only to fall in love with his nurse in Pressburg (today's Bratislava). The firm has since become not only Slovakia's biggest wine producer but the prime maker of sparkling wine, now living under the umbrella of the German multinational Dr. Oetker, owners of Bohemia Sekt. 

Although it is possible to find most of the best wines on the Internet, unfortunately, little is exported, and what is comes to the Czech Republic in the form of wine by the tanker load, which is used to add bulk to insufficient local production. 

Winery of the month: Chateau Belá 

Chateau Béla in Belá (the accent depends on whether it is Hungarian or Slovak spelling), near Mužla in the Štúrovo region of south Slovakia, stands in a largely ethnic Hungarian part of the country. After surviving 250 stormy years that included wars, fires and occupation by the Soviet Army, it was totally destroyed by the communists, who had little time for grandiose architecture, other than the select few historic edifices used to satisfy their propaganda needs for the little tourism that there was during that era. 

The chateau was bought in 2000 and lovingly restored by countess Ilona (granddaughter of Baron Ullmann, a Jewish banker who fled Slovakia during World War II) and her banker husband Matthias, Graf von Krockow. What is more, the grófka's niece just happens to be married to Egon Müller zu Scharzhof, whose estate in Wiltingen is one of the greatest stars not only of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region but the whole of Germany. Among the multifarious renovations and landscaping (five-star hotel and conference facilities), a winery has been included where, naturally, it is the great Riesling grape that leads the way, under the watchful eye of vine grower and winemaker Miro Petrech, with much hands-on advice from Müller himself.

The Riesling of 2001 vintage is considered by some to be the finest wine Slovakia has ever produced. Incidentally, it featured as Wine of the Week in Jancis Robinson's Financial Times wine column and received a heady 94 points from no less an expert than Robert Parker.  More on: Scharzhof.de and Chateau-bela.com.

Wines of the Month: 

White: Riesling 2009  

Producer: Chateau Belá, Mužla, Štúrovo, Slovakia

A bright yellowy-green with an almost viscous edge, this still youthful wine has a nose dominated by fresh yellow fruits with a touch of botrytis (noble rot). Zingy and refreshing on the palate with a touch of crystalline minerality, ending on the note of candied orange peel.  Elegant and thoroughbred with great potential. (22.50 euros)     

Source: The Prague Post
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