Discovering the Wines of Southern Moravia

by Justin Wuycheck - 2013-10-07

There is more to the Czech Republic than Prague.  A lot more!  By escaping the delightful confines of the popular capital city and arriving in Moravian Uherské Hradiště, I began to experience the country.  The forests of Bohemia and the crops and vines rustling in Moravia ceased to be images commemorated on a wall in the capital.  People, smells, sights and sounds realized what pictures had tried to evoke. 

Okay, embroidery and brass bands are pretty cool.    I am very surprised to think this.  During the Moravian celebrations, many villagers young and old come out in their kroj, highly embroidered outfits unique to each village.  The detailed variations of flowers vines and abstract images are impressive, the pride of representing one’s village even more so.  The village songs accompany the threads with violin, horns, drums and dulcimers.  Far from archaic, these gypsy-rhythm tinged songs seem fresh and energetic, especially sung by the great number of young adults wearing their kroj for the day.   

Moravia makes good, bad, and beautiful wines; Mikulov and Uherské Hradiště have a little bit of everything.  These are both “cool-climate” regions, creating wines that reflect greatly the caprices of a given year.   Bad Czech wines tend to be bland and acidic, often wearing a toupee of residual sugar.  In good wines those attributes become delicate and bracing in whites, jocular, spicily aromatic and savory in reds. The most beautiful ones generally are white, and it is these that can create a role for Czech wines on the world’s stage.  Here, acidity and sugar combine to create an incredible tingling roundness with aromas of apples and pears, baking spices, honey, and floral accents. A note on sauvignon blanc – the best sauvignon blanc in Mikulov is world-class – delicate, notes of honey, herbaceously zingy but round and rich at the same time.)

A funny thing happened on the way to a tasting…  I had tried a few bad wines at the Uherské Hradiště festival, then I ran into a Pole(šovice).  First wine: a Sylvanské zelené (Grüner Veltliner)- apple, with some body… good.  A second wine, Frankovka (Blaufrankish) herbal and cinnamon- a good red!  I was getting excited.  The Cabernet Sauvignon was a pleasant surprise, as was the Modry Portugal (a grape that usually makes pretty mediocre stuff).  Where were the wines coming from?  Polešovice.  This small town near Uherské Hradiště has enviable southeast exposure to the sun that permits the reds to ripen more fully than some of the other areas.  The town must also ripen great people too, because I kept running into different inhabitants and they kept inviting me back to their exhibition stall.  The next day, eight of the 25 wines in the championship wine competition were from Polešovice.  I seemed to have stumbled, not literally, onto something. 

The Spaces In Between.   Leaving Uherské Hradiště, I followed the Morava River by bike on a dedicated bike path, eventually turning to visit Polešovice and it’s beautiful Baroque church.  From the town I wound through fields, orchards and forests of the Chřiby Hills.  The plum and apple trees were ripe, the wind blew; the Moravian towns watched the roads with unbroken lines of tile-roofed homes.  A request for directions in Milotice turned into a tasting; the talkative maker pausing descriptions to siphon reds and whites from glass carbuoys.  An old façade in Hodonin concealed a polished Italian restaurant with a fine arrabbiata sauce.  The marked bike paths led me on routes excellent to downright bone-rattling (there is a section that I know never to ride again) but the majority of the riding was low traffic or car-free.    

Most of the sights I experienced were accessible by a combination of car and foot as well; but the important point was that the sights were seen and people were met.  Moravia ceased to be a snapshot, I started to see it as a rich, human, culture.

Mikulov.  This is a gem.  Real people, living in the shadow of an elegant palace, drinking great wine and appreciating the renaissance-era  sgraffito in the town square.  The best wines of the Czech Republic are here.  The largest Jewish cemetery (by number of grave stones) is here as well.  With its poignant history of life on the frontier, behind the Iron Curtain, this town is a one-and-a-half hour drive from Vienna, and three-and-a-half hours from Prague. Wresting itself from the communist era and gradually sweeping out the casinos that malinger on its outskirts, Mikulov has recognized itself as one of the special places of Central European history.  Every time I walk the steps up to the Dietrichstein palace gardens and look out at the rolling landscapes, I can only be thankful.

As a foreigner living in the Czech Republic, it is these experiences that make me smile.  It is the discovery of these riches that has made me move here.  As a guide I need to pronounce the names correctly.   As a tourist, never mind pronouncing Uherské Hradiště and Mikulov perfectly, it’s more important that you discover them yourselves.

The vineyards are planted in beautiful countryside.  Uherské Hradiště rests in the plain between the forested Chřiby Hills and the White Carpathian Mountains; Mikulov is nestled into the UNESCO-protected natural and cultural preserve of the Palava hills.  These regions offer visits to majestic palaces and the ruins of hilltop castles, picturesque towns with centuries-old traditions, and a chance to drive, bike, hike or boat towards relaxation and wonderment. 

People need to come and learn.  Mikulov and Uherské Hradiště contain a wide range of whites and reds that will delight wine-drinkers. They favor hardy varieties that can explode with pure, fruity aromatics for the reds, and can create whites ranging from delicate to exotically aromatic.  These are affable and sometimes profound wines; at table they can cheerily be enjoyed or they can teach.

Exploring Moravia by glass and…

The quality of the Czech Republic’s wine was severely diluted during the communist reign. Happily, it has been rebuilding its reputation, and today you can enjoy the discovery of refreshing, scintillating whites, and energetic, aromatic reds.  Czech vineyards today are a mix of tradition and the latest technologies; in the same town you can be welcomed into elegant tasting rooms of sleek polished wood and steel, or a centuries-old sklepy burrowed into the ground with a brick vault above your head – and the wines of both can be delicious!

But discovering Moravia by its wines is only part of this tour, as much, or as little, of it as you want.  By taking you to the hearts of two from the three Czech centers of viticulture,  Uherské Hradiště  and Mikulov, you will also see an amazing variety of architecture, landscapes, and art up to 30,000-years-old.  You can meet locals with stories of living bright lives while under the last regime, or see where the Golem’s creator once studied. 

We can design a tour by bike, foot, or car, for one or more of these areas to last one to three days.  One day is a good stop-over on the way to Bratislava, Vienna or Budapest; two days will make you feel at home; three days will have you singing the praises of Moravia all the way home.