Wine column: Vintage variations
Looking beyond the annual harvest hype
Posted: January 4, 2012
Pavel Burianek, oenologist at Tvrdonice's Kosík winery.
With the Northern Hemisphere's grapes long since harvested, opinions are being sought on the state of the 2011 vintage. It's a bit like the latest model of your favorite brand of automobile: Everything depends not on what you expect, but on the actual quality.
In leading regions, especially those such as Bordeaux, where vintage is all, collectors can make fortunes by betting well when putting their money on the raw, immature (en primeur) wines still undergoing fermentation. On the Right Bank, for instance, the sought-after names, like those of the chateaux-garagistes in a highly rated vintage, will be so hyped-up they will sell like hot cakes before they even leave the barrels, as did the excellent 2000 and 2005. Others, reckoned almost as good, may see only sluggish progress with prices usually deemed extortionate, while anything other can face a very tough time moving at all.
Nowadays with technological advancements, the worst vintages need not happen, whatever extremes the weather comes up with. Years seen as a 1 on the 1-to-10 scale are no longer. Winemakers understand how to mitigate the effects of extreme damp, persistent drought, insufficient sun hours, pests, mildew and so forth. Controlling tannins, sugar, acidity and alcohol levels once the grapes are in is now understood by all, which was not the case as recently as 20 years ago.
Nevertheless, the hype persists; it is huge business. Leading authority Hugh Johnson cites the owner of one of the top Bordeaux Left Bank houses, Chateau Lynch-Bages, who said of his 2003 - a notoriously hot growing season - he thought it was not really very good, but then a certain American wine critic asserted it was fantastic. "So then we knew," he added wryly.
In fact, the 2003 vintage in most of Europe is a good example, and the Czech Republic was no exception, as those who were here will attest: no rain, and searing sun for months on end with parched earth and grapes that ripened to raisin-like bullets. The resulting red wines tended to be big, overbaked, often unbalanced and hollow with no life expectancy, and these can be judged very well today from those bottles still unfortunate enough to be found on the shelves.
However, a poor vintage (such as the 2010 in Central Europe) does not necessarily mean that the end-product need be abysmal. There are many examples of individuals who understand how to make wine and have done very well for themselves. And the same goes for the hyped-up 2011.
Generally, it is boasted the 2011 vintage will be super, thanks to an abundant harvest and healthy grapes. Only now is it beginning to emerge, according to oenologist Pavel Buriánek of Vinařství Kosík (see below), all the winemakers' chest-beating was rather premature. High sugar levels at harvest combined with a lack of acidity often result in mousy wines full of faults. So you are advised to buy 2011 vintage from a reliable source and not fall prey to all mass-produced bulk of industrial blandness.
Winery of the month:
Kosík, Vinařství z Tvrdonic, Runner-up Winemaker of the Year 2010
Dr. Pavel Kosík, a general practitioner, developed the family tradition by establishing a boutique winery as a hobby in 2003. His father, Cyril Kosík, who continues now as vineyard manager, began systematically planting vineyards in two local southeast-facing sites in and around the villages of Tvrdonice and Týnec, near the Slovak border: 20 hectares in the Stará hora and Nové vinohrady vineyard tracts.
Pavel Buriánek, a young oenologist, formerly at the Valtice Wine School, has been at the winemaking helm since 2010. Preferring to work alone, and pretty much given a free hand, he does everything himself, other than label and pack the bottles, which, especially at harvest time with trailers full of raw material arriving regularly, is no mean feat.
Nevertheless, since his arrival, the winery has changed beyond recognition, not only in size, growing into a medium-sized modern concern with obligatory tasting rooms and B&B facilities, but in the quality of wine produced. His philosophy is to come up with around 30 different cuvées in all, often including several variations of the same grape variety. Annual production now stands at an optimum 200,000 liters, mostly of bottled wines. And since being named runner-up in the prestigious Winemaker of the Year contest last year, stocks have all but sold out, though their wines can presumably be had at Kosík Wine and Coffee Bar in Prague 3. Kosikbar.cz
Wines of the Month:
White: Rulandské šedé 2010, late harvest
Producer: Kosík, Vinařství z Tvrdonic, Moravia
An expressive yet elegant example of this noble grape variety, reminiscent of exotic fruit, with plenty of citrus, the addition of luscious ripe apples and pears, plus a generous touch of honey. This is a fine example of how a well-made wine from an underrated vintage can outshine the competition. 200 Kč. Ukosiku.cz
Red: Ambrosia Barbera del Monferrato DOCG 2008 Superiore
Producer: Oreste Buzio, Vignale Monferrato, Alessandria, Italy
This organically produced wine is deep crimson in color and with a lovely, typically Italianate nose, replete with masses of cherry fruit, yet with a good deal of subtlety and complexity: This was our verdict at a recent Prague tasting organized by V.P.V. (Víno pro vás/Wine for you), representing this southern Piemontese winery. 290 Kč. Vpv-praha.cz
Something from a different barrel: A cider tasting Jan. 24 at Kofein Tapas Bar, Nitranská 9 in Vinohrady. In its second year, this cider show offers a range of home-produced samples from a country where the alcoholic potential of the humble apple is largely overlooked, as well as at least one commercial producer (Mad Apple). Tickets 100 Kč; bookings necessary. Winepunk.cz
John & Helena Baker can be reached at