An Article More to Do with African Bishops than the Czech Republic…

…  But the Bishop of Hradec Kralove and some Slovenian and Slovakian Bishops and Poles and Croatians and Eastern “Riters” are on board for the upcoming Synod on the Family in October.  So the Slavs will represent.

What is the Synod on the Family?  Casually stated, it’s a big face-to-face discussion of Catholic Church bishops and cardinals and experts on subjects such as contraception, same-sex unions, Holy Communion for the divorced and other issues.    One’s opinion of the current stances may liken the Church’s doctrine to a boat’s anchor, or an anchor tied around a swimmer’s neck.

Francis recently chose some surprising bishops, including Johann Jozef Bonny, the Bishop of Antwerp, who has openly supported same-sex unions.

Some people reading this might freak out, from pleasure or fear.  But Francis is doing something very brave: Encouraging discussion between people holding a wide range of viewpoints.  Francis may or may not agree with the Bishop Bonny, but he will let this representative be heard.  In doing so, he is trusting the Holy Spirit, who is God that descended into each baptized Christian, to work through the representatives.  So, I see the Pope as acting in great faith.

Bonny and some liberal German bishops might be getting a lot of press in the West, but this ignores, in my opinion, who will be the real influential group at this Synod – the African bishops.

While the German Cardinal Kasper stated to his later embarrassment that, “[The African bishops] should not tell us too much what we have to do,” some of these shepherds should have more experience in dealing with “extra-normative” marriages ( for the sake of this article defined as marriages differing from Catholic doctrine) than their European counterparts.  For some of these bishops, the issue probably hasn’t been same-sex marriage, but has been polygamy.   They’ve been dealing practically with that for a long time; and they’ve had to develop strategies of caring, forbearance, confrontation, and patience while maintaining and encouraging the one-to-one ratio of Catholic marriage.  They have had to deal openly and privately with the ingrained cultural traits of their parishioners that do not jive with Catholic marriage.  Some in the European and North America churches might be thinking that they are sailing a ship across uncharted, challenging waters,  the African bishops might tell them, “That sea looks similar to the pastoral swamp we’ve been walking through.”

Collectively, these bishops have also had to deal with disease epidemics like HIV and ebola, religious and tribal violence, and many different natural and man-made calamities.  While I am sure they are far from perfect, they need to be shown more respect up here in the north-westerly latitudes than what they currently receive.  Maybe after the Synod…

In Prague, the Triumph of Capitalism…

… is not the new Nike gym floating on the Vltava.  That’s just an encroaching megabrand.

The triumph of capitalism is here…

Stalin photos 022MBAs, please don’t be offended; this is what that pile used to look like.

A full article and this image from wikipedia can be found here.

From 1955 to 1962, a 150+ foot statue of the sociopathic Soviet leader Joseph Stalin dominated the views of Prague. At the time the largest statue in Europe – whose architect committed suicide the day before its unveiling – it was an embarrassment to the Czechoslovak government soon after its unveiling.  In 1956, Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced Stalin’s tactics, and the Soviet Union tried to distance itself from one of its founding fathers. So that great oppressive symbol of “Papa Stalin,” the extremely interested patriarch of the U.S.S.R. and its satellites, loomed over Prague long after the Soviet Union had said, “Uh… eh, not so much.”

In 1962, the granite statue was blown up with 800kg (1760 pounds) of explosive, leaving only the concrete and stone base. In 1991, the city installed a large metronome on the crest of the pedestal; it slowly arcs back and forth to this day.  Skateboarders grind lines and practice tricks with one of the best views of the city as a backdrop: “Tailslide to 180 Kickflip to view of Our Lady of Tyn – nailed it.”

But the above picture, dear readers, reveals some of the rubble of that explosion piled underneath the pedestal – a big, big pile more eloquent than most history books.

But my statement, “The triumph of capitalism,” isn’t only a heap of dictator.  More importantly, it’s this:Stalin photos 035It’s a pub – no frills, no extreme commodification of real estate, just a simple place to grab a beer.  It’s run by a bar in Prague.  The prices are written on a piece of plywood.  Simple.  Stalin would hate it because he wouldn’t be controlling it.  Megabrand capitalism can hate it because it doesn’t sell a big beer for too much money.  It’s making cash for some people by being accessible to most people – a success.

Wine Post: French Memories in a German Wine Bar in a Czech City – or – Fun Guys with Wine and Fungi.

France and Germany have a long history of squabbles and invasions.  I decided to continue that theme last week, bringing some French reds and a bottle of vin liquoreux (read: dang sweet) from the Loire Valley to a German “base” heavily fortified with riesling, (but not heavy with fortified riesling) By “base” I mean the Vinotéka U Švába, one of (if not the best of) the vendors of German wines in Prague.  Certainly, you will not find a more ardent proselytizer of German wines in the city than the bar’s owner and host, Thorsten Kleemann.  Thorsten is pugnacious, opinionated, and sometimes even friendly.  He named his bar U Švába because it sounds like the Czech word for Swabian, “Švábský,” his heritage of Germany, but also the Czech word for cockroach, “Šváb.”  So there is a large carving of a cockroach hanging above the front door – if that creeps you out, Thorsten doesn’t care. To his defense, I have never seen a real cockroach in the bar.

Thorsten and I were joined by a Russian friend and an Irish friend.  Insert your joke here, but we had a really nice time!  The opening salvo of this discussion was a Morgon 2006 from Domaine de la Combe au Loups.  Morgon is a “cru” of Beaujolais.  “Cru” roughly means “growth” in French and is applied to areas of vineyards that historically produce grapes of a proven quality.  This is NOT Beaujolais Nouveau, a wine to be enjoyed within the year of purchase.    As it were, this 9-year-old bottle improved over the course of an hour,  the red fruits becoming much brighter with some aeration, it was light and cheery and holding well.  The color was also fairly rich, almost completely moved from a purplish, young-wine tint into an adult, stately garnet-red phase.Quarts de Chaume! 001 Our second glass was one of Castelmaure’s “Une Autre Route” Collection, “Au Village sans Pretension,  2011.  The winemakers wanted to focus on the flavors that the heavy sun of the Corbières appellation in southern France brings.  There is no oak-aging to soften or structure things, just fermentation in glazed cement tanks that impart nothing to the wine.  The varieties (carignan, 50% of the blend; grenache, 30%; and syrah, 20%) play their roles perfectly, the carignan ripe enough not to impose its heavy tannins that make a wine over-astringent, the grenache adding a touch of relative lightness, the syrah filling the glass with color and giving some body to fill the mouth.  This was a 10-dollar bottle of wine that had my cohorts thinking 15 to 20.  A real success: deep fruits, some nicoise olives, and none of it seemed forced or cloying.  A very little bit bitter in the back of the throat (Which I think would denote a certain quality or ripeness of the grapes themselves – any wine-pros want to comment?) but it drank so well – for 10 dollars, a wine with some character?  I’ll take it! Quarts de Chaume! 002

And If I had to choose a song to go with this, it would be this.

The 3rd bottle I brought was a Chateau Pierre-Bise 2009 Quartes de Chaume.  What a color, only 6 years old and so golden!Quarts de Chaume! 004A wonderful wine.  Quarte de Chaume is a tiny appellation, coming from the western-ish Loire River basin.  On its 50ha ( roughly 123 acres) of schist and agglomerate soils sloped above the small Layon River, the grape chenin blanc suns itself until autumn when something wonderful happens – rot.  Specifically Noble Rot, Botrytis cinerea. While the fugus’ spores are on the grapes all season; they germinate in the fall thanks to morning fog brought by the Layon.  Once activated, the fungus is more thirsty than hungry, slurping the grapes’ water but only snacking on their sugar – the grapes are reduced to shriveled bags of syrup.  The ugly, sticky, fuzzy fruit gets picked, pressed, and what little liquid slips out ferments into a wonderfully aromatic, bright but profound sweet wine.  Noble Rot gives wines a savory, funky aspect (In the way that good honey is “savory,” and the band Parliment is funky) and an incredible concentration that one won’t find in unaffected wines.

Chenin blanc is already known for it’s honey notes, so that taste came to the fore on this wine.  Wonderful body, lots of aromas that I can’t pinpoint, it sounds like this song on a late summer day.  Minerality has a strong presence here, a flavor echoing the many sweet rieslings I’ve tasted.  Whether that minerality is a result of metamorphic soils  (Schist, or mostly slate for the rieslings) or if the fermentation of a sweet wine causes a “minerality,” I can’t say; and scientific research doesn’t have a definitive answer.  Until I know, I’ll just enjoy it…

Drinking great wine affects people in predictable ways – they think, “One great bottle deserves another.”  The motivations to open another excellent bottle can range from generosity and curiosity to pride and gluttony.  Usually all of those are mixed together.  In this case, “J’ accuse!” Thorsten of  cultural pride, countering my suave French bottle with a bottle of 1976 Weingut Jos. Christoffel Jr. Christoffel-Prum from the lauded Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard.  It’s a Beerenauslese, similar in sugar content and production to the previous wine.

Quarts de Chaume! 008And it tastes like… corked.  Corked means that there is a chemical, 2,4,6 trichloroanisole (TCA), hiding in the cork closure of the bottle.  While it sounds like a football cheer at UC Davis (“We’re gonna win ’em all / why don’t you throw the ball/ 2, 4, 6/ TRIIIIII-cholroanisole!”) it actually adulterates between 4 to 10 percent of cork-sealed wine bottles.  Simply explained, TCA is the result of pre-existing fungus in the cork reacting with chlorinated cleaner at the cork factory.   At very small concentrations, like ONE-PART-PER-TRILLION, it inhibits receptors in one’s nose and mutes the ability to smell that particular wine.  At larger concentrations, like about 4 parts per trillion, it causes one to detect smells like wet cardboard in a wet basement of an old farm house in Michigan.

The TCA ruined the potential record of year and land that this bottle should have been.  And it would have been amazing.  As it were, a layer of muted aromas in the mouth gave way to a middle palate of MUUUUUUUUUUUUUHHHH, and an aftertaste of… dill.  Dill that endured for over a minute.  Pretty neat!  Still, so close to the win, but TCA took it all away from us that evening.

Undaunted, Thorsten brought out a second fine bottle, this 1999 from Weingut Reichsrat von Buhl.  This small bottle contained a riesling eiswein, or ice wine.  Eiswein is produced from grapes that hang on the vine until the first good freeze of winter; then, harvesters start at any hour to pick the grapes which are immediately pressed.  The icy grapes obviously have less liquid, and so yield a syrup that ferments into rich, complex, and sugary wine.  Eisweins are sipping wines, one cannot drink too much of them, such is their concentration. Quarts de Chaume! 009This riesling eiswein came from one of the most reputable vineyards in Germany, Forster Ungeheuer.  Five-hundred years ago its wines went to royalty.  Initially, I still preferred the Quartes de Chaume to this one, favoring the French example’s roundness.  But the intensity of riesling wine won me over, the acidic electricity of the riesling grape combining with the sweetness and chewy texture of the wine.  The wine feels like this piece of music feels played loud.

The specter of Type-2 diabetes swirled around us, such was the sugar of these wines, but Thorsten had one more drop to pour,  a 2013 Hummel Glückselligkeit.  The wine comes from a German, Horst Hummel, living in southern Hungary, and replicates the “Trockenbeerenauslese” style of his homeland.  Trockenbeerenauslese is German for, “I-drink-maple-syrup-right-from-the-bottle-this-wine-is-not-too-sweet.”  Seriously, the TB style can be more concentrated than the above icewine, and comes from berries even more desiccated than those of the Quartes de Chaume or the 1976 Beerenauslese.  While the bottle was sweet, I must admit it was young, and its flavor had not developed or even fully opened up after being put in bottle.  It will be a very good wine, but it paled next to the others at this point.  The other wines might have said, “Nice job, kid,  keep working, you’ve got talent.”Quarts de Chaume! 013And so the tasting ended, all in good spirits after a friendly evening of international investigations.  While no treaties were signed, amicable verbal agreements were warmly stated that we shall repeat the investigations soon, until we reach an accord among the participating members as to which nation produces the best sweet wines.

This might take a long time…

Playing for fun and excitement in Prague

A playground for children and even adults.  The rope gyms rise about ten meters, or about 32 feet in the air, with a network of rope paths at the top.  The expectation is that kids can play on such contraptions, if their parents let them.  No release of liability to sign, just a simple invitation to play on something that is secure and safe as long as one thinks.  How wonderful is that, to be responsible for oneself?

Playground! 001

Playground! 003Playground! 010

Playground! 007

Smiles, but a little nervous before a 35 degree slide with twists and turns.

Playground! 015

Smiles, but nervous the old jeans I was wearing would rip.

Graffiti in Prague – Spring time

Spring is quite full now, and blooms have given way to leaves and nascent fruit.  The warmer weather, sunny, with occasional caressing rains, has invigorated Prague after a drowsy winter.  Fine weather has also brought out the graffiti artists and attached are a smattering of their pieces that could potentially be gone today. (I took them yesterday)

I was lucky enough to speak with one of the artists; I don’t take photos of them generally, because what they do is tolerated but not necessarily legal.  I asked him how long he’d been painting, he said since he was 19.  He looked around 30.  Though I thought the scene in Prague had improved over the past 11 years, he disagreed, stating that there more and more the paintings were being seen as vandalism.  As well, there are more artists, and not all are of a good quality.

“How long does a mural last?”

“One week, one day even…”

Paint is very expensive here in Prague.  To spend all this money for something that might last a day might seem a waste to some, but people can coo over the ephemeral, transient nature of Buddhist sand mandalas.  On their best merits, I perceive these murals as an urban iteration of that sacred art.

tests and grafiti 015

The blackwash background makes this mural pop!

tests and grafiti 012

Siber? Saber? A unique style found on the riverfront.

tests and grafiti 007

This one is a bit coarse up close, but the idea is so great. But don’t ask me what it says, I just like the design.

tests and grafiti 014 tests and grafiti 011 tests and grafiti 010 tests and grafiti 009 tests and grafiti 008 tests and grafiti 006 tests and grafiti 005I hope you too are having a colorful spring, or fall for those in the Southern Hemisphere.

Moravian Grafitti, Znojmo, Czech Wine and Cuisine Pairing

(The company for whom I work, Pathways and I would be happy to introduce travelers to some of the following places and people and experiences.  Feel free to contact us!)

What a pleasant day, some three weeks ago, a Wednesday.  Started with my public limousine (tram) ride and its unique views of the Prokopské Udolí volcano to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation with Mass and then it was off to Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic.  While the bus to this Moravian city was detoured a bit by construction, travel was easy and fairly smooth.

Brno reminded me quickly that, as a resident of Prague, I am not supposed to like it, appreciate it, or condone its existence.  This because the bus passed directly by the hockey rink of Kometa Brno, rivals of my team Sparta Praha.  After exiting the bus, though, I found the city to be energetic and lively, and began to think of Brno as a beautiful place, only suffering from the pock that is Kometa.  Like a Renaissance portrait of a lovely maid, but with a suppurating boil on her cheek, so is Brno with Kometa…

Maybe my opinion of Brno quickly changed because stepping out from the coach, I saw this:

Znojmo spalek tasting 001Jack Kirby-esque Thing graffiti!  It’s obvious that the superhero has just punched a metal robot, because there is a whiff of smoke coming from his flinty knuckles.  Great piece.

And this one -wow! – this one mixes so many textures with a humorous narrative.

Znojmo spalek tasting 002I remained in Brno only an hour, commuting by the efficient Czech public transport to my vinous destination, Znojmo.

Znojmo spalek tasting 055

A view from the Znojmo’s hilltop

Znojmo, as mentioned first in the 11th century, stood high above the Dyje River as a major fortress of the Přemyslid dynasty…

…Enough history.  This visit was food and wine.

I’d come at my friend Eva Skálová’s invitation.  She and her boyfriend, Marek Špalek, wanted to serve guests a food/wine pairing as part of a larger project.  According to them, Czech wines have not developed the same vinous/gastronomic marriage as have the French or Italians; they want to experiment with the idea.

I arrived hours early to the event, affording time to stroll under the gray, spring sky among the sklepy (wine caves).  They stand in various states of repair, a polished, repainted structure next to a crumbling facade.Znojmo spalek tasting 027Until recently, the wine trade did not treat Znojmová wines well.  Communism diluted any commercial quality that might have existed, and the 1990’s saw the rise of Znovin, by Czech standards a massive wine company that makes standard wines.  But resisting Znovin’s pressure, smaller makers have remained to create wines of character and interest.  The process is not finished, as one can see, but what a privilege to see the rebirth of a wine region.

Znojmo spalek tasting 007Some of the sklepy don’t even have external buildings, but rather the traditional door into the hillside.  Behind the many doors like these, dug into sandstone and loess, stretch long shafts, storing secrets, barrels, and bottles.  Looking about, you might find air-shafts sticking out from the ground, indicating sklepy with no apparent entrances.

Three shafts for fresh air into the sklepy.

Three shafts for fresh air into the sklepy.

Znojmo spalek tasting 010

It ain’t pretty, but if the wine is good…

It's not just rock, it's the shore of an ancient sea!

It’s not just rock, it’s the delicious shore of an ancient sea!

Across the road from the sklepy stood a small chapel to Saint Martin, patron of winemakers.  And it stood on GRANITE!  Very exciting.  Across the street, loess and sandstone were the predominant rocks, made by ancient winds and ancient seas depositing sediment that condensed and hardened with time.  But just 100 feet away, granite… igneous rock born of volcanic activity.  Where I was standing was the millions-of-years-old boundary between two geologic systems, Carpathian sedimentary rock to the south-east, and Bohemian igneous and metamorphic rock to the north-west.  What’s more, the vines grown on one side could produce very different wines than the vines on the other side, since geology can be an important factor in a wine’s flavor.

Yes, flavor and wine.  Alright back to the winery…

By this time Eva and Marek were ready to go, and I entered as other guests arrived into the hearth-warmed calm of the Špalek sklep.  Marek and his father have been instrumental in the growing reputation of Znojmo’s quality wine, so we seven guests sat down for a treat.

Eva and Marek serving the first course.

Eva and Marek with the first course, serving faster than the speed of my camera!

As we settled in for the long, enjoyable evening, Marek poured first his Gryllus Bilý (  “Cricket” White)  Its mixture changes from year to year; Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay comprise this 2013 vintage.  The food courses started with a bit of beef soup, the meat locally-sourced, the stock prepared days in advance so all the flavors had time to marry.  This was served with the Špalek Edelspitz Pinot Gris 2011.  The next course was, well, wine.

Marek explained that discovering the various harmonies of the wines and foods (Complimentary/contrasting flavor profiles) meant that we needed a firm understanding of the drink alone.  They would then get our opinions on the wine and how the wines interacted with the dishes. Small pours allowed us to gain such understanding without falling off of our benches.  (Tasting notes are below)

After fourteen wines and the soup well-digested, we awaited the food.  A sliver of goose pate arrived.  Really beautiful, rich with a tang of orange glaze, and it worked best with  the 2010 port-like Šaler červený, a wine both rich and fresh, like its comestible counterpart.

We returned to the soup again, our minds and taste-buds now armed.  To the richness of the beef, the Svatovavřinecké (St, Laurent grape variety) 2002 harmonized best, its earthy mushroom flavors and vegetal note contrasting and cleaning the palate for another bite.

The duo next served a small portion of wild boar with homemade dumplings and red cabbage.  The cabbage wasn’t quite sauerkraut, but soft and cooked with just a little acidity.  The savory boar pulled apart easily and the dumplings were a rich yellow, not the pale, bready beasts one often finds.  Two wines really stood out with this plate, a Gryllus Red from 2001, and surprisingly a Tramíner červený (Gewürtztraminer) 2014.  The Gryllus wasn’t the densest of the reds served, but its bottle-developed, earthy characters complimented the boar well.  The Traminer had enough body to withstand the game meat and a touch of sweetness that harmonized with the cabbage and dumplings.

Light crepes with homemade apricot marmalade came as a simple and marvelous desert.  The star wine of the evening, a 2011 ice wine of Gruner Veltliner, happily overshadowed the dessert.  Even with the richness of the pan-cooked crepe, the cleanliness of the ice wine sparkled through.  I can only offer it one of my two highest adjectives when describing sweet wines, “glacial.”  Great sweet wines somehow evoke drinking ice melt from a mountain stream, and this wine did just that.

The food had all been delicious, but portions had been small.  Still, with a little bit of bread, I was fine. I had done my work, and Marek and Eva had done theirs – a food wine pairing.

Then they offered us dinner!

As a larger portion of paté arrived, I raised an eyebrow to my fellow taster across the table; she raised hers… Round 3, here we go.  By the end, no one hungered.  Eva and Marek’s hospitable service, wine, and food had engendered what those things can do most nobly: conversation, conviviality, pleasure, and thankfulness – a very successful dinner party!

Marek and Eva plan a series of these meals throughout the year to discover the pairings that will work best.  Are they writing a new page in the compendium of Czech gastronomy?  Stay connected, dear readers…

Tasting Notes, some with musical associations


1) Gryllus blanc, 2013 – No notes on this first wine.  Pleasant recollection of it, but no specifics.

2) Veltlínské zelené 2013 suché ( dry Grüner Veltliner) – A nice force in the back of the palate, slight sparkle in mouth.

3) “Kravák” Sauvignon Blanc 2013 suché – Richer than the Veltliner, a better body, crisp with the smallest notes of spices.  Fermented by indigenous yeasts (Yeasts occurring naturally in the vineyard.  Very refreshing wine.

4) Pinot blanc “sur lie” 2013 suché – “Sur lie” is French for “On the lees,” the sediment of yeast and compounds that precipitate out of fermenting wine.  Properly managed, lees add body, and “buttery” or milk flavors; improperly managed they add sti-zank.  Properly managed here at Špalek.  This wine spent a year in barrels on the lees, and the oak aromatics here actually compliment the pinot blanc (a rare event).  However this is a strange wine, best described by the photo here:

Wood -ljljljljljljljljljlj- that fruit and flower

Wood -ljljljljljljljljljlj- that fruit and flower

I tasted oak first, then the palate went very crazy, and then this beautiful floral element that persisted a good 30 seconds after I swallowed the wine.  It wouldn’t be for everyone but, I think it has its aficionados.

5) Ryzlink rýnský 2014 Polosuché (Riesling Semi-dry) – On the nose, a pleasant tight waxiness, very pleasant nose, beautiful roundness in the mouth, very clean, definined, fresh, and pure – one of the more striking Czech rieslings I’ve had.  Many Czech rieslings are grown on calcium-rich loess, and can tend toward broad and ill-defined;  this one is grown on granite – is that the game changer here? What’s more impressive, this wine came from a very difficult year, cold summer with lots of rain.  Seven grams residual acid and 11 grams residual sugar give this wine both richness and liveliness.  Nice work, Špalek.

6) Rulandské šedé Polosuché 2013 (Pinot Gris Semi-dry)  I actually thought this was the previous riesling.  And some of the elements of a typical Czech riesling were there [Psychosomatic tasting to blame?] – A little aspirin, a little pleasant dirt/earthiness, some nice lemon/lime zest – very typical cool-weather wine.

7) Tramín červený 2014 polosuché (Gewürtztraminer) –  PROPER.  This grape is amazing in the Alsace, and I generally don’t like it anywhere else.  This is one of two gewürtztraminers that I like from the CZ, and the other is from Znojmo too.  The grape is notorious to balance, either one gets a perfumed nose of fruit salad with an unripe vegetal character in the mouth, or the evaporation and taste of alcohol dominate.  This one here…  fresh fruit on the nose, not a whiff of alcohol.  Refreshing, something I have never said about gewürtz before.  If this were the standard for Czech tramín červený, the wine world would be a better place.  Like the riesling, grown on granite in a very difficult year, 2014.  Very good work and ready to enjoy.

8) Petit Edelspitz Pinot Gris 2011 polosladké (Semi-sweet) – Edelspitz was the 19th-century German name for one of Marek’s vineyards.  Marek, his brother and father make their Edelspitz gamme with a nod toward this era, fermenting on indigenous yeasts, aging in 400-liter oak barrels and the white wines see some extra time on skins.  Three days of maceration on the pinkish pinot gris skins give this wine a deeper color.  It has a great nose; but in the mouth this cloys, and its impressive concentration – admirable in itself – highlights an unripe greenness on the palate.

9) Petit Edelspitz Pinot Blanc 2009 polosladké – Wow, color is just starting to become deeper yellow, looks like a much younger wine.  Like the previous wine, the taste isn’t for me, the sugar and and concentration of unripe elements are too much.


10) Zweigeltrebe 2011 suché (Zweigelt) – A sawdust-y red fruit on the nose and a bit of… rose in this red wine?  I think that is the flower I smelled.  Very fresh.  A touch of alcohol in the mouth but a pleasant glass.

11) André 1999  suché – Color is dense, impressive for a Czech wine of 15 years. The nose combines blackberry fruit and truffles – nice!  Big, yet sparse tannins prick the tongue a little, but I like this wine. Good work.

12)  Gryllus červený suché 2001 – An earthy nose, a bit lighter in the mouth than the first two reds, not quite as sensuous, still very enjoyable.

13) Svatovavřinecké 2002 (St. Laurent) Well-developed color, aromas of freshly-tilled dirt and freshly-cut mushrooms – I like.  In the mouth a heavy, savory spice compliments the tannins which are almost a given in a svato.  This wine is ready to drink.


Veltlínské zelené 2011 ledové, sladké ( Grüner Veltliner ice wine, sweet)  This wine was harvested the first of February when the grapes froze and it rests at 6-7 percent alcohol – with 300+ grams of residual sugar!  The nose is truffled, waxy, but the mouth is beautiful fruit!  Really lovely, bright and invigorating.  As I wrote above, this gets one of my two highest adjectives for sweet wines: “Glacial.”  Raises my opinions of the ice-wine genre as a whole.

Šaler červený 2010 likérové, sladké (“liquored” red wine)  This product is similar to port, where the grape distillate is added to still- fermenting grape must, stopping the fermentation and leaving quite a bit of sugar, around 80g/l.  I like the idea of this wine – Czech reds are fresh, less rich than the deep sun-baked varieties that comprise port; a different flavor profile should result.  And the freshness wins with a great sweet nose! Beyond the fruit, a pleasant mint comes through that invites one to sip.  In the mouth, its harmony falters slightly, but it’s very interesting.  This went so well with the paté.  Cool stuff!

Why the Czech Zdeněk Štybar Will Win the Bike Race Paris-Roubaix on Sunday

The Paris- Roubaix is a 253.5 km (157.5 mile) bike race that takes place this Sunday, April 12th.  The distance (which will be covered in about 6 hours) is not the scary part – not why people have nick-named it, “The Hell of the North.” It earns that moniker for two reasons:  1) When the Paris-Roubaix recommenced after World War I, Battlefields and rampant destruction still marred the villages along the route. 2)  These…Cobble Stones 024…Fifty-seven-point five km (35.7 miles) of cobblestones like these. These cobbles tear tires, become slippery when wet, and shake elite athletes’ bodies into jelly when not flinging them into spectators or ditches. This year, the 113th edition will be won by the Czech cyclist Zdeněk Štybar.  Why?  One could list many reasons.  He is a three-time World Champion in cyclocross, a muddy discipline of cycling that develops amazing poise, power, and agility.  This year, he won the Italian equivalent of the Paris-Roubaix, the Strade Bianche.  He achieved 9th in the Tour of Flanders a few days ago despite not being able to eat sufficiently – he rode so hard his temporary teeth rattled loose!  ( He lost his teeth in a bad race accident last year)  Finally, his country has many cobblestones; they are in the people’s psyche; they are in Štybar’s psyche. Actually, I believe a Czech should win the Paris-Roubaix every year; with cobblestones like the ones below, what excuse do they have?  (Except maybe they use bike paths and bike lanes instead…?)

Cobbles near St. Vitus' Cathedral

Cobbles near St. Vitus’ Cathedral

Cobbles on a disused street leading up to the Castle District.

Cobbles on a disused street leading up to the Castle District.

Imagine riding a road bike over this!

Imagine riding a road bike over this!

Grates and tram lines only make the riding more challenging.

Grates and tram lines only make the riding more challenging.

Beautiful views, brutal ride.

Beautiful views, brutal ride.

These hurt...

These hurt…

Appropriately for this article's subject, some of the worst cobblestones rest outside the French Embassy.

Appropriately for this article’s subject, some of the worst cobblestones rest outside the French Embassy.

Wet metal and stones.  Trams and cars and pedestrians... ahhhhhhh!

Wet metal and stones. Trams and cars and pedestrians… ahhhhhhh!

The cobbles in front of the toilet museum are some of the... in town.

Cobbles in front of a curious museum.

Good luck, Zdeněk!  If you’ve ridden around Prague, you should be ready to win Paris-Roubaix!

Kolby Tasting – Saint Agnes Cloister

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).

Kolby wines 002

Eva, Martin & Dáša towards the end of a pleasantly gastronomical evening.

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)

P1050112Kolby tasting notes with occasional musical links to keep it interpretive (Wines are dry unless otherwise noted) 

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

A few Odds and Ends from Pragueland

While I’m a  working on more ambitious posts, I want to add some tidbits here and there.  The following pictures are casual, personal, and not directly too informational.  All the same, I hope they add a positive note to your day.

A Not So Cold Winter.

Pictures in Prague and elsewhere 017Yes, yes East Coast, it has been cold… for you.  HOWEVER, in much of Europe, our temperatures have been exceedingly warm.  Just like last year.  This year, I have seen snow twice in Prague, up from once last year.  So despite what East Coast-centric news mills might cover, it hasn’t been a cold winter overall.  It’s just been cold from where much of US media broadcasts, and cold where a large part of the target population resides. (The Italics denote an observation on my part,  not a straight fact)

That said, a mild winter has afforded some nice environments, though this should be my last post where browns are the dominant natural color.

To the right, Chuchelský Háj, rustles in the late-day sun.  Trails crisscross this woods, technically part of the city of Prague, and this one could lead you to a small zoo of rescued animals if you follow it carefully.  A chatty Raven and a somber fox both say hello.

Some Grafitti:

The warm weather has also allowed one of Prague’s best art scenes to thrive.  Some nice colors below to contrast the  dormant plant brush.  By the beginning of April, Mother Nature should be out-doing the colors on these walls.

Apparently an artist from Berlin – nice to see some visitors!

Pictures in Prague and elsewhere 011This next one is simple, but I enjoy the colors, flow, and use of compact space…

Pictures in Prague and elsewhere 014While my favorite graffiti is usually delineated and precise, I enjoy the piece below because the painter has used some different textures. From thin black lines to the crinkly-ness of plastic bags to the gaseous texture of the second bag’s contents, the artist has tried to incorporate different techniques into the same piece.  Cool!

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I am very uncomfortable taking shots of people.  But I really liked this couple, two silent beings on a rumbling, swaying bus with green lighting.  There was a beautiful rest in the moment that I hope the picture expresses.  People fall asleep on the public transport all the time, just rarely so tenderly.

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