In early April, Amber and I, with a couple of close friends, headed to Prague for a long weekend. It is probably not a shock to learn that we visited a couple of Czech wine bars during our stay.
The Czech Republic is strongly associated with beer. Pilsner is a type of beer, the name originating from the town of Plzeň. České Budějovice in Southern Bohemia is better known by its German name, Budweis. Beer has been brewed there since the Thirteenth Century and was known as Budweiser. The name had such positive connotations, that it was used by Carl Conrad & Co for a “beer” they started brewing in the US in 1876; the rest, as they say, is history. More beer is consumed per person in the Czech Republic than in any other country; each person drinking nearly twice as much beer per year as in the US. Beer may be king, but Czech wine is diverse but difficult to find outside of the country, so I made a point of tasting several wines during our visit.
On our first night, we dined at the excellent Triton, about which Amber had written on her previous visit to Prague. We ordered a bottle of Gotberg Ryzlink Rýnský. The translation of Ryzlink rýnský is Rhine Riesling, in other words, the grape most associated with German wine. This was a stunning expression of the grape; a dry wine whose citrus acidity was balanced by stone fruits. We enjoyed this wine so much that we ordered a second bottle.
Strolling back to our hotel after dinner, we saw a wine bar called Vinograf. We were still about ten minutes from the hotel, so it seemed like a good idea to pop in and sample some more Czech wine. The place was busy, but we found space for the four of us at the bar. The available wines were written on large chalkboards behind the bar, but the staff provided us with iPad like devices that listed the wines by the glass along with brief notes. Our waiter also explained, in excellent English, that he had the wine list memorized and could help with our selections. Having made our choices, we were poured a small sip so that we could verify that these were wines that we would be happy to drink
I decided to try the 2013 Zapletal Shisar. The 100ml pour was Kč78 ($3.80, £2.70). A red wine blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Rulandské Modré. The last of these grapes is the Czech name for Pinot Noir. It is rare to see Pinot Noir used in a still red wine blend – it is, of course, commonly blended with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier in sparkling wines.
The wine was dark ruby in colour and the nose was a deep fruity aroma of plum and raspberry. The medium-bodied wine offered fruit flavours of raspberry that were less intense than suggested by the nose. The short finish left a dusting of black pepper. Given the relatively cool climate, it is not surprising that Czech red wines are light in body.
The following day, after a lunch in a secluded garden, we realized we were just minutes from Vinograf and so strolled back to sample more from their list of thirty-five wines offered by the glass. To our disappointment, the wine bar did not open until 5 pm. We wandered in search of somewhere else in which we could try some Czech wine. We reached Wenceslas Square without finding a suitable watering hole. My friend, Philip, pulled out his phone and entered a search for wine bars near us. Google provided an option and now we strode forward with purpose.
Our trust in Google was shaken as we stood at an entrance to an alleyway that looked unlikely to lead to any business let alone a wine bar. With no expectation and just the thinnest sliver of hope, we walked down the alley. At the end, there was still no sign indicating a wine bar, but there was a table at which a woman sat and she had a glass of wine bar. Behind her was a grimy, iron-bar covered window, through which we could see bottles that looked as though they had sat untouched for years.
There was no welcoming open door, but she pointed and smiled at a very closed looking entrance. With more than a little trepidation we opened it and walked into a dim corridor, to our left was the wine bar.
Inside it was bright and clean, but with just a single customer. We had come too far to walk away, so we strolled up to the bar, beside which were a series of handpumps, each labelled with the name of a wine. Beside these pumps was a simple price list for the Sudové Vino (Wine from the barrel): 100ml for Kč28 ($1.35, £0.97) 200ml for Kč47 ($2.30, £1.60), and “Bezedná Sklenićka” for Kč289 ($14.00, £10.00). It was only afterwards that I translated this last option to mean bottomless glass; in other words, all you can drink.
The wine bar was called Na Skleničku and Philip and I had a couple of glasses each; trying all three of the dry white wines they offered from the barrel. All of them were pleasant and well balanced, if unremarkable. On reflection, that last adjective is unfair; to have such drinkable wine available at such a low price is remarkable.
The wine was poured into high quality, large glasses. When we ordered our second wine, the barman used clean glasses. The music was excellent; Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” sparking a conversation about our favourite songs. The translation of the wine bars website describes itself as “An untraditional wine bar in the centre of Prague”. This is a hidden gem; given the lack of signs and its location at the end of the alley, the hidden part can be taken literally.
It was not entirely a coincidence that we left Na Skleničku at a few minutes before 5 pm, thus we reached Vinograf just as it opened. We dropped in for a return visit. We sat at a table by the window and ordered a couple of glasses of wine. I drank a 2016 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend from Stapleton Springer. The 100ml pour sold for Kč141 ($6.80, £4.90). The wine was a golden colour with a nose of honey and wood chips. Taking a sip, I encountered medium acidity and flavours of honey, almond, and vanilla. My feeling was that oak had been used in a rather heavy-handed manner, resulting in a wine lacking in fruit.
For our last glass of wine at Vinograf, we purchased two different expressions of Müller-Thurgau. This is a grape created in the late nineteenth century by a gentleman called Hermann Müller who was born in the Swiss canton of Thurgau. You can see in the picture above, that the two wines have very different hues; my glass has the golden colour. Below you can see a picture of the bottle, which has a crown top; not something I have seen before for wine.
My wine was from Dlúhé Grefty vineyard in the Slovácko region. The wine was a cloudy straw in colour. If I had not been offered a sip before purchase, I think I would have declined the wine. The nose was a fascinating mix of honey, cloves, and peach skins. The wine was of medium body, with flavours of pineapple and lemon. There was also a taste that, as unlikely it seems, reminded me of peanut. The wine was unusual, using the adjective in a positive sense.
If you want to try Czech wine Vinograf is recommended; in addition to an extensive wine list the staff are knowledgeable and focused on providing customer service. They offer a sip of wine before you order. They are willing to give advice. They check the wine when they open a bottle. Each glass was checked and wiped clear as it was removed from the dishwasher.
On our last morning, Philip and I dropped into a small coffee shop called Cafe No 3. It is not far from The Old Town Square. There were about six small tables. I had a glass of Pálava Jakostiní from Château Valtice. Pálava is a grape created in what was then Czechoslovakia in 1953; a cross of Müller Thurgau and Gewürztraminer. The grape is mainly grown in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The wine was a deep golden colour. The nose was of almond and ripe peach. The wine was off-dry, with a rich fruitiness of apple, apricot, and lime and a long finish. The wine was complex, yet easy to drink. I would recommend you try this variety if you have the opportunity.
I enjoyed the Czech wine, especially the white wines, which I tasted. It is not easy to find outside of the Czech Republic, which is yet another reason to visit Prague.