Kolby Wines has made the type of slow publicity burn I like. They’ve been around for many years; their wines taste better than looks their winery’s architecture . And they let the vintages rest in bottle for a full year or two before releasing them to the public. They have invested in their wines, and this is how it should be.
And last … I finally saw a bit of money spent on the promotional side. To celebrate the release of their 2013 wines, Kolby held an event in the St. Agnes Cloister in Prague. The cloister, originally founded by St. Agnes of Bohemia for the Poor Clare Order in 1231, today houses the Czech Republic’s collection of Medieval and Early-Renaissance art. (While last night was far from bacchanalia, I wonder what the princess/nun/saint thought of dozens of wines being served freely in her former convent with stuffed pork roasts, and potato souffle).
Eva Skálová, the head of marketing at Kolby, floated through a smoothly operating show by the time I arrived late (I had stopped by my pub that afternoon for a nonalcoholic beer, and ended up digging a meter-deep hole for the owner), She answered questions from reporters while saying hellos and thank yous to the various guests. But, BUT, when I came up to say hi, she said, “One moment,” and returned with a miniature crachoir (wine spittoon) for me, something I had asked for two weeks in advance as I wasn’t drinking that evening. Remembering that detail while planning for one of the biggest events of your year – nice job, Evo!
The crachoir was there to keep my palate sharp. Kolby had brought at least thirty different wines to try, ranging from 2002 to 2013. It is a mark of Czech wines, similar to German or French regions l(ike Vouvray and the Alsace) to modify their production and wine style from year to year. One year might be mostly dry, the next year might have some wines with residual sweetness. This is due in part to the variable weather of these northerly wine regions, with cooler years generally providing drier, thinner wines and warmer years providing richer and often sweeter wines. What’s more, many Czech wineries grow 5, 6 or more varieties, insuring that, barring disaster, they’ll always have a few wines that fare well on a given year. This all means that if you taste to learn about the wines, you spit or your palate dulls.
I managed to try about 20 before the event ended. I could have made thirty but, hey, there were too many pleasant interruptions! A woman with a very full glass of red wine placed it at my table and we spoke in English, German, French and even… Czech. Later, an investor of Kolby came to the table and reminisced about ordering “deux biers” in Geneva. As the evening slowed a bit, and the temperature in the vaulted halls of the monastery had cooled, Eva took a moment to introduce me to Martin Máca and his girlfriend, Dáša. Martin owns Tulip, a high-end restaurant in the city of Brno where he’s also head chef. Obviously an adrenaline junkie, he then clued me in to a few great mountain-bike trails in the North CZ.
Below are the highlights, lowlights, and everything else tasted. I’ve included one picture of a Kolby bottle, they are all demurely similar so no need to post more than one. Also, the cloister’s lights were set dimly, so I made no notes on color.
(A note on Czech wines, not just Kolby: Because the wine regions are cooler in the CZ than most more famous regions, the grapes ripen differently. Grapes are often harvested with high levels of acid and pyrazines, even if sugar levels are high, resulting in fresh [acid] and fairly commonly vegetal [pyrazines] tastes and aromas. Temperature isn’t the only factor here; soil, winemaker, solar exposition, and water all factor in – but we have no time for that today. Anyway, if you are used to rich whites and reds, Czech wines are going to be a very different world. Bright, fresh, lively, floral, and delicate are the functioning adjectives for whites here. Also “zingy.” For reds: savory, bright red fruit, spicy, herbaceous)
1) Ryzlink Vlašský (Welchriesling) 2011
Possibly the variety most able to make great wines in the Czech Republic. Kolby’s 2011 dry Ryzlink Vlašský is fresh and floral on nose and in the mouth. It’s a happy wine but with just a little bitterness to make interesting and not just friendly.
2) Ryzlink Rýnský (Riesling) 2011
Very fresh on the nose, some classic flavors, but almost a two-tiered body here. It comes in fresh on the front palate and the gets quite of bit of body in the back of the palate. The image I had in my head was like having two rectangular toy blocks made of flavor in my mouth. Despite that image, I’d happily drink this.
3) Rudlanské Šedé (Pinot Gris) 2012
Nose and mouth: Green but green, just a little meat, just a bone. Mostly vegetal, very savory, decidedly non-Pinot Gris. Some red peppercorn. Awesome mouthfeel. I actually like this wine quite a lot. It’s still delicate, and bright. Could marry well with brussel sprouts with a glaze or baby bok choy but not quite asparagus.
4) Rudlanské Bilé (Pinot Blanc) 2012
Floral with a hint of vegetal green on the nose. Pinot Blanc does very well in the Czech Republic, and this one is lively. It is a bit rough in the mouth, seemingly from tannins (Which would really be surprising, one normally doesn’t expect many tannins in white wines). The mouth doesn’t contradict the nose – flowers and greenness. All very pleasant though.
5) Chardonnay Polosladké (semi-sweet) 2011
Fish and potatoes, because someone was eating next to me. Moving away, floral on the nose, a touch of cream and more flowers on the palate. Residual sugar is balanced by the acidity, the sugar creating a fulness in the mouth while the acidity keeps it refreshing. Chardonnay as I’ve mentioned before, hasn’t excited me too often in the Czech Republic, but this is a good wine in that context.
6) Rudlanské Šedé Polosuché (semi-dry) 2011
Aromas vs. Taste here. This is my favorite type of Pinot Gris nose, melon and prosciutto. However in the mouth, the residual sugar cloys the wine a bit, taking away from the enjoyment. Mouth feel is a bit rough, but not unpleasant. Some people might really enjoy this taste, I’ll just sit with my nose in this glass and dream.
7) Sauvignon Blanc Polosuché 2011
I drink Sancerre from France, I’ve had some New Zealand S.Bs, but Czech Sauvignon Blanc – shhhh, I won’t tell anyone about us. This one has all that I like about this French import grown in the CZ, a little dirt, a little honey, a little green, and something I think of as a sweet egg custard. There is a touch of alcohol in the mouth, but also a touch of mint. Nice. Keep you being you, Czech Sauvignon Blanc, and I’ll see you soon…
8) Rosé 2013
Rosé are almost always made only from red grapes: Most red grapes have clear juice and flesh; most red wines get their color from their skins. If you crush the grapes with skins and let them sit together for not more than two days, you get rosé. Despite their hype, they’re not my favorite genre, but I respect good production. Kolby’s: Fruit fun! But with a little meat and a touch of stimulating bitterness. Very refreshing.
9) Modrý Portugal 2011
This grape is not from Portugal but Austria. It has a reputation of producing high volumes of flaccid wines. Kolby’s isn’t. This wine has a solid character, some meat and some rich berry and stone fruit. I want to drink this wine with a steak after a day of hard labor in the sun.
10) Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
This isn’t a Napa! Most Czech Cabernets end up simultaneously over-under-ripe – stewed raspberries on your sauteed green peppers anyone? But Kolby is one of the two producers I know that consistently make good Cab. Sav. (The other is Karel Valka) Their 2011 has dusty fruit and not unpleasant tannins, with a little characteristic green. Great effort, and a wine that will will show in two or three more years.
11) Rudlanské Bilé 2008
Delicate peach, really refreshing, slight residual sugar. Slight touch of alcohol, a little nice greenness but sooooo refreshing. Drinking very well, showing that Pinot Blanc can perform great with age if it is treated correctly.
12) Sauvignon 2010
On the nose, lots of delicious egg custard. In the mouth, surprisingly floral, with a beautiful tang on the lips. One of my favorites of this event.
13) Ryzlink Vlašský Polosuché 2010
This IS my favorite of the event. The wine has some sauvignon-y egg custard and green aromatics, with fresh mint in the background. Wonderful mouth, tangy and mineral on the lips, this tastes like citrus candy without the excess sugar. The wine contains 11grams of residual sugar; in a wine with low acid, it would taste very sweet, but its 9 grams of residual acid keep this bottle light invigorating. A wine for beginners and aficianados alike.
14) Rudlanské Šedé 2009
My least favorite. This wine was past its prime, and too oaked to begin with. Storing white wines in newer oak is really dangerous.
15) Ryzlink Rýnský 2009
Evolving nose, lots of the petroleum, waxy notes that one hears about in riesling. It’s a bit blocky in the mouth, like its 2011 counterpart. Is this the winemaker’s handling; an aspect from the terroir? Good question, and one I’ll have to explore.
16) Sauvignon Polosladké 2010 Vyber z Hronzů (Very-late harvest)
This Sauvignon was floral on the nose, lacking the normal characteristics. It was a bit tired, and at the same time too rich.
17 & 18) Ryzlink Rýnský & Ryzlink Vlašský 2013
The end of the evening drew nigh and I’d not even tried the last table of wines. Only hurriedly did I sample these two, part of Kolby’s newly-released range. I sensed a pleasant creaminess, like a cold-cream, not found in the other wines that made these striking at the end of a long tasting.
Phew, hope this gives an interesting perspective on a Czech wine company. Let me know if you have any questions. Or if you’d like to visit a winery in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, or Hungary. Feel free to contact me and my employers at Pathways.cz