Grape-ing around Brno

Our three weeks in the Czech Republic seemed to go by in no time. It’s a truly beautiful country, with its rolling green mountains and picture-perfect old towns. Of course, there’s been beer too and plenty of it; the Czech Republic is famous for its crisp pale lagers, from Pilsner Urquell to Budvar to Kozel. Admittedly these are far better than the lagers pretty much anywhere else in the world but as much has Poppy has been loving them, I just don’t think it’s ever going to be my favourite beer style. Our last night in the country therefore seemed the perfect time for a bit of a change.

We found ourselves in Brno, the largest city of the South Moravian region. While beer is king in most of the Czech Republic, this area has another speciality – wine. The hilly terrain and hot summers make for perfect grape-growing conditions, and in Brno you’re just as likely to come across a wine bar as you are a pub. Both of us have been known to enjoy a glass or two, so we decided to spend an evening exploring the wine scene for ourselves.

Staré Hory – best for the budget-conscious

As usual, we picked up a free city map hoping for some inspiration. Luckily for us, it turned out that its number one wine bar recommendation was just 5 minutes’ walk from our base. Located on a street corner opposite one of Brno’s biggest parks, Staré Hory was the ideal place to begin. Many people seem to come in and get a litre or two to take away, but we decided to sit in and enjoy by the glass. Here they serve the wine from a dozen taps on the wall; 8 whites, 3 reds and a rosé.

Moravia is better known for its white wine, but we both opted for a red to start. I’m by no means claiming to be a wine connoisseur, but I will try… Poppy went for the Frankovka (also known as Blaufrankisch), which was fairly astringent with hints of black cherries. Meanwhile I tried the André, a style unique to the region. This was a little softer, not as dry and with a little more fruitiness. Not only was the wine exquisite, but Staré Hory is great for travellers like us who are on a budget. At 17 (about 60p) per 100ml, it really was excellent value.

Vinná Galerie could have been an authentic French wine cellar

A quick stroll along the bottom edge of the park led us to two more well-recommended “vinotékas”. Unfortunately Víno Klub wasn’t open, so we made a stop in Vinná Galerie instead. More of a wine shop with a couple of tasting tables, this place looked like it a wine cellar imported straight from France. Most wines were only available to buy as full bottles, but there were 8 or so we could try by the glass.

Alongside the unique local styles, it was interesting to see how many international varieties they also grow here. I had a local Sauvignon Blanc, a classic dry white wine. Maybe not quite as good as my favourite one from New Zealand, but still dry, crisp and fruity. Poppy stuck to red wine with a Cabernet Sauvignon, which was rich and heavy with plenty of dark berries.

Brno’s centre is a typical European old town, with its cobbled streets and numerous squares. A 10-minute walk into town brought us to our next two destinations, starting at Jedna Báseň. Part coffee shop, part wine bar, it was stylish and comfortable. Like in Staré Hory, we were back to wine on tap here. Before coming to Brno, I have to admit not having the best opinion of draught wine; in the UK you only really see it in places like Wetherspoons with their Echo Falls plonk. Here though the setup is more like a craft beer pub, with taps protruding from the wall and a chalkboard listing the currently available wines.

Enjoying a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in Jedna Báseň

Since we were in white wine country, I decided to try another local one. Ryzlink vlašský (“Welschriesling” in German) is apparently unrelated to the more popular Riesling, despite the similar name. However, like its namesake it is a fairly neutral wine, neither too dry nor too sweet, making it a pleasant easy drinker. Poppy went for the Merlot, a classic red wine usually associated with France. We didn’t write any tasting notes for this one but she said it was very drinkable!

We decided there was time for one last glass before calling it an evening. JustWine came recommended on our map, but with an ominous-looking “posh” warning. There were no prices for wines by the glass, but judging from the bottles it wasn’t going to be cheap! Nevertheless, with it being our last night in the Czech Republic we thought we’d treat ourselves so we found a seat outside and a waitress appeared with various bottles of red wine for us to try.

JustWine, expensive by Brno standards but a nice treat

After a couple of tasters, Poppy settled on a Frankovka which she had enjoyed earlier. Again, it was fairly dry with a hint of cherries and dark fruits. Meanwhile, my choice was a 2015 vintage Merlot. Back home, I’ve often had red wine barrel-aged beers and always thought “I’ve never had a wine that tasted like this”. Well, now I have. The ageing process really brought out the rich, dry, woody flavours and it felt like a special treat. Eventually, we asked for the bill still not knowing what the prices would be like. It turned out Poppy’s was a reasonable 70 (about £2.50), but mine came in at 160Kč, or just over £5.50 a glass! Once the initial shock had worn off, we realised we’ve paid more for a cheap glass of wine in pubs at home so it wasn’t all that bad.

All in all, our evening as sophisticated wine drinkers was a welcome change from beer. Don’t worry though, we won’t be turning into a wine blog any time soon though – I’m too excited to see what beer Slovakia has in store for us.

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