The history of Czech wine reaches back to the time of Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome, when his legions brought viticulture to the region during the ninth and tenth centuries. The first recorded mention of wineries in Czech Republic was in 1057, referring to newly established vineyards around Litomerice, about 30 miles north of Prague and near the border with Germany. Nearby is the town of Melnik, a port stop on the itineraries of many river cruises. Here is where Emperor Charles IV began first importing grapes from the Burgundy region of France in the fourteenth century.
Wineries in Czech Republic are concentrated in two main regions, Moravia in the east and south and Bohemia, occupying most of the western half of the country. Moravian wine is the best and the vintages of this region spread all the way across the border into Austria and Slovakia. Most of the Czech wine tours occur in this region, including the very popular cycling tours that often combine wine tasting with sightseeing in this lovely region.
The history of Moravian wine dates to the year 1101 when a Benendectine monastery was founded in Trebic, about 30 miles west of Brno. Not long after, the Emperor Charles IV issued a law that protected local vintners from the importation of foreign wine and grapes. The Moravian wine region is largely concentrated on the border with Austria. This is where the Austrian section of the beautiful Blue Danube River waters the hundreds of vineyards of the famed Wachau Valley, located only about 35 miles south of the border. Moravia benefits from the waters of this river, as it is a part of the river’s drainage basin. Czech wine from this region is becoming more and more respected in international wine aficionado circles.
Many people who include wineries in Czech Republic on their itineraries will also visit local breweries. Some of the best beer in Europe is brewed here. Almost every region has its specialty, and an added bonus for beer-loving visitors is the very cheap price of the local brews. In the city of Plzen (Pilsner in German), the prestigious Pilsner Urquell Brewery has been operating continuously since 1842. It is the source of the generic term “pilsner,” and the name of the brewery means “pilsner from the original source.” This venerable establishment ranks among the top ten on any list of both wineries and breweries in the world. Many vacation packages in this region will include tours of the Pilsner brewery as well as one or two of the wineries around the city.
About three quarters of Czech wine production consists of white varietals. The primary varieties are Muller-Thurgau (from Switzerland), pinot blanc, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer (the latter two from Germany). There are other varieties, and almost all of them produce dry, aromatic, and light wines. There are also red varietals, including the popular cabernet sauvignon, but it is the whites that are beginning to garner international awards and recognition. These are becoming more and more internationally respected, and particularly popular in the countries of Asia.
Top image: Tom Head (flickr)