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The 100 Best Wines Of Slovakia

15 November 2014

Slovak Cabernet in the Arcadia HotelFor most people, the words “Slovak wine” do not inspire visions of grand châteaux or even charming tasting rooms. Slovak wine is not something most of us (any of us?) seek out. When I mention to friends that I did a tasting of Slovak wine, they usually respond uncertainly, carefully — as if they’re about to be the butt of a joke. And who can blame them?

My older wine reference books have few kind words for the wines of Slovakia. The 2006 Oxford Companion to Wine minces no words: “When [Slovakia] voted to split from the Czech Republic in the early 1990s, it failed to privatize its wine industry successfully.” The 2007 edition of The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia is even less encouraging: “Most Slovakian wine is classified as lowly table wine, which would be a good thing if this were the result of a quality-conscious culling of the total production to produce stunning quality top wines, but that is not the case — the wines are naturally of a dismal quality.”

Slovakia hadn’t achieved widespread vinous acclaim even before the communists took over, and when they did, “centralized processing… obscured whatever local reputations there were and cast a gray shadow over any individual efforts, as the vineyards were replanted high and wide for mass production,” Sotheby’s explains.

And even if, for some reason, we still wanted to drink Slovak wine, we wouldn’t be able to find any. Almost the entire production is consumed within Slovakia, except for a small amount exported to Poland and the Czech Republic. Nor does it help that the total vineyard area in Slovakia fell from about 62,000 acres to just 35,000 acres as of 2002, according to the Oxford Companion.

But now, something is happening in Slovakia. “Progress — bringing, for example, malolactic fermentation, oak aging and lees contact — is changing the picture,” my 2013 edition of The World Atlas of Wine declares. Winemakers are experimenting with an array of unusual crossings bred to “ripen early with high sugar levels and full flavors,” so that vineyards are less at risk for frost, the Atlas continues. There are still a handful of industrial-sized producers, the Atlas explains, and plenty of tiny winemakers who consume all they make. The real action is with medium-sized producers, which have the budget for higher-quality equipment and talent.

Tasting with Rado in the Národný Salón Vín

Tasting with Rado (right) in the Národný Salón Vín

But really, are Slovak wines any good, even with the progress that’s been made? On a recent stay in Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava, I visited the Národný Salón Vín to find out. This cellar in a rococo palace assembles the top 100 wines of Slovakia, culled from a selection of some 8,000 bottlings. If fine wine is being made in Slovakia, this was the place to find it.

Find it I did. I sampled a broad cross-section of wines — white, rosé and red — from a range of different winemaking regions. Some of them were simply well-crafted and delicious, but many of them were truly surprising and unusual and even compelling. Nothing about any of the wines said “centralized processing.”

2012 Skovajsa Veltlínske Zelené: This Grüner Veltliner had a fresh, spring-like aroma with notes of white flowers and fresh-cut grass. Its juicy and focused acids would surely work well with food.

2011 Janoušek Rizling Rýnsky: Located northeast of Bratislava, the Janoušek winery produced this charming Riesling, which had a powerfully spicy aroma undergirded by something savory. It exhibited ripely sweet fruit, broad lemony acids and a touch of something floral on the finish.

2012 Juraj Zápražný Pinot Gris: What a delight. Like the Riesling above, this wine comes from the Južnoslovenská region, which is surprisingly “warm and sunny,” according to Sotheby’s. The wine had an enticingly spicy, stony aroma and lush, full fruit on the palate. A shaft of gingery spice kept things well in balance. I could easily imagine buying this by the case, if it were actually available somewhere.

2012 Vins Winery Devín: Devín is a relatively new grape variety developed for the Slovak terroir, a crossing of Roter Veltliner and Gewürztraminer. It had a completely unexpected aroma of roses and black pepper. Floral overtones continued on the palate, which had notable spice and a pop of sweet fruit, followed by a dry finish. If you like Viognier, you’ll probably like Devín.

IMG_83192012 Modra Elesko Petit Merle Rosé: A beautiful watermelon color, this rosé of Merlot had everything I like in a pink wine — ripe strawberry fruit, a perk of white pepper and some chalky minerals on the finish. Fruity, but well-balanced and dry. This is what I would bring to a picnic on the bank of the Danube.

2012 Dubovský & Grančič Dunaj: Named after the Danube River, Dunaj is a red crossing of Muscat Bouchet, Portugieser and St. Laurent (called Muškát Bouchet, Oporto and Svätovavrinecké in Slovak). A lovely dark magenta color, this wine had aromas of deep raspberry jam. I loved its round, ripe fruit, elegant tannins and spicy black-pepper finish. Focused and powerful, this wine would likely please fans of Zinfandel.

2009 Michal Sadloň Svätovavřinecké: Svätovavřinecké is better known (and more easily pronounced) as St. Laurent, a grape variety capable of making some truly sexy red wines. This expression had a tight, savory aroma marked by earth and green wood. On the palate, its red fruit was mixed with notes of vanilla, tobacco and green peppercorn spice. Controlled, velvety, and indeed rather sultry.

Bratislava

Bratislava

2012 Modra Elesko Rosa: Another uniquely Slovak grape, Rosa is a new crossing of Picpoul Noir, Blaufränkisch (Lemberger) and Gewürztraminer. The resulting wine is, as you might expect, quite unusual. Although it’s a clear cherry red, it has a highly perfumed nose redolent of heady flowers like lilacs and lily of the valley. Smelled with my eyes closed, I would have guessed it was white! Its cherry blossom flavor focused into a dry finish, which, along with some subtle spice, helped it to maintain balance. If dry, floral whites are what you typically enjoy, this is the red for you.

As I said, you’re almost certainly not going to find any of these wines unless you go to Slovakia.* Which is something I highly recommend you do. Bratislava is an absolutely enchanting city, and it’s only an hour by car, train or river ferry from Vienna. Stroll its pedestrianized old quarter, dine in the retro-futuristic UFO restaurant perched above the Danube, and visit Národný Salón Vín. That’s the best place to discover the exciting and delightfully unusual wines now being crafted in Slovakia.

*Centeur Imports will soon be bringing some Slovak wines to New Hampshire, and then hopefully the rest of the U.S. See the comments below.

Devín, Dunaj, Rosa, Slovakia

27 Comments to “The 100 Best Wines Of Slovakia”

  1. Thanks so much for an honest and informative description of the best of Slovak wine. I’ve been drinking Slovak wines for 15 years and could never understand why someone wasn’t importing them to the US….so last year I established an import company to do exactly that. Our first six bottles are on the boat right now, headed this way. We will have six varieties produced by the medium sized winery Vino Dious. At first they will be available in New Hampshire, but we hope to expand quickly. My goal is that in five years, everyone will know about the secret of Central European wines!

    • You’re certainly welcome, and that is very exciting news that you’re importing Slovak wines to the U.S.! Please keep me posted about how things are going. I wish you much success in your efforts!

      Cheers, Rob

  2. What a coincidence – just been to Slovakia last weekend for the biggest wine happening in the country – Days of the Open Cellars. It’s in the Small Carpathian region where you did your tasting. For two days all winemakers in the region open their cellars and you can visit them, taste the wines and chat about how the year was. It’s more than 160 cellars in about 20 towns so you can’t even visit them all.

    It’s quite interesting as you get to visit the smallest winemakers at cellar of their family house literally next to their laundry room as well as the big ones like Elesko with Andy Warhol originals hanging in the large entry hall.

    Anyway, we had a blast and recommend that to everyone. Though you’ll probably have to have somebody local to help organize it – at least to get the tickets that somebody has to pick up personally. Also you’ll need a designated driver.

    I’ve been visiting this event for the past 7 years (I live in Germany, just 5 hours of driving to Bratislava) and I can definitely tell the increase in the general quality of the Slovakian wines (though the prices have been steadily rising as well). I guess it’s the result of the winemakers successfully organizing themselves into local and regional communities that do a lot of support and education and information exchange.

    • Wow, that sounds like a really fun event! I love that it includes small winemakers with cellars next to their laundry rooms as well as the big boys. And that’s good to hear that you’ve seen an improvement in the quality of Slovak wine. It will be interesting to see where it heads in the coming years.

  3. Have you given any thought to importing Apimed Medovina Wine? I love the Walnut (Sprichutiu) flavored Medovina and the Apumed Trnavska Medovina Honey wines made from the honey bees in Slovakia. NO ONE sells these wines in the states. Even thought I live in New Jersey I would be your first customer.

    • Those wines sound really interesting! Brian (above) will have to add them to his list. Thanks for the suggestion!

  4. As it turns out, we just started officially carrying the Apimed meads a few weeks ago. We are selling in the northeast already. If anyone wants some in other states, just let me know!

    • Wow, that’s great — Shirley, it seems you can but the Apimed wines in the U.S. now after all. Thanks for the update, Brian!

  5. Hi Rob,

    Thanks for writing this article – I really enjoyed reading it. I went to the “100 best wines of Slovakia” yesterday and will return for a tasting there later this month. I am from Denmark but currently live in Slovakia and consider importing Slovak wines to Denmark.

    I also find many of them very good and the quality has definitely increased over the last 5 – 10 years. I am however concerned about the price level as many Slovak wines are expensive compared to wines from more established countries.

    May I ask for your opinion on the price/quality relationship?

    Thanks,

    Christian

    • Hi Christian,

      You’re most welcome, and thanks for taking the time to write a comment! I’m glad you enjoyed your tasting of Slovak wines. You’re right – some of them definitely are expensive. That sometimes is the case, strangely enough, in lesser-known wine regions.

      I agree that in some cases, you can find similar or better quality for the price. But because many are unique expressions of a grape variety or made from uniquely Slovak grape varieties, I think people might be willing to pay a bit more to try them, especially after tasting them. In Denmark or the U.S., I suspect Slovak wines will require more hand-selling than usual.

      But the best wines really were quite lovely, and I think (I hope) people would be willing to pay for the quality. If you do import the wine, let us know how it goes. Good luck!

      Cheers,

      Rob

      • Christian and Rob,
        A decade or so ago, Slovaks had an inferiority complex about their wines. They didn’t believe that their wines could be as good as e.g. French or Californian. So at that time, the local wines would have cost about 1 or 2 euros per bottle, while French, American, Italian, etc. cost about 6 to 10 or even 20 euros per bottle. But what Slovaks eventually realized was that their wines were at least as good, if not substantially better than, those other wines (specifically the ones that were imported to Slovakia. It is in fact possible that the French and American winemakers dumped their bad wine in Slovakia, but that is another point). So nowadays, because Slovaks consume virtually 100% of their locally made wine, now you will find Slovak wine from around 3-4 euros all the way to 11-12 euros per bottle, while Californian wine can easily be found for 2-3 euros. I import Slovak wine to the USA now with my company Centeur Imports, and we regularly do blind tastings, including wines of the same grape varieties from our producers, and 2 or 3 French, Italian or American producers. The majority of the time, in blind tasting, people choose our Slovak wines as the best. But because of the perception of Slovakia as a “non-wine producing region”, people are still afraid to pay more than $10 or $12 per bottle. We believe very strongly in the quality of wine from Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria, and we are hoping that Americans will catch on to it soon! If you need any help finding good winemakers in Slovakia who are willing to export, just let me know. Brian

        • Hi Brian,

          Thanks for sharing your experience with selling Slovak wine in the U.S.! That’s really interesting, and I’m not surprised that people frequently choose Slovak wines in blind tastings. As I said, I agree that there are a lot of them that are beautifully made, and if I could find them here in Chicago, I would certainly buy them.

          I also agree about Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic as well. The few wines I had in Prague several years ago were quite tasty, and I had some sensational stuff in Hungary last year, both sweet and dry. I’d love to see more dry Furmints in the U.S. market. and more Czech and Austrian St. Laurent.

          Cheers,

          Rob

        • Hi Rob,

          I would love to hear about your experiences and also have a little help in finding the wineries who are willing to export – Please let me get back in the near future.

          Thanks,

          Christian

  6. Sorry I meant Brian not Rob

    • Christian, You did well by going to the National Salon (Narodny Salon), I’m assuming in Pezinok or Bratislava. There you will find the best of the best. But I recommend exploring on the malokarpatska vinna cesta. I think there is a fall event coming up soon, and you will be able to visit dozens of cellars and sample their wines. Most of the vintners are small and willing to make deals. For exporting inside the EU it should be quite easy, but I’m sure there will some paperwork. Are you serious about setting up a wine business, or were you just thinking about something small, like for personal consumption? If you want to do it as a business, you will need to find someone who produces a minimum of 10000 liters. Try the wine routes and see who you meet. If you don’t have luck, let me know and I will get you some names. Happy tasting! Brian

  7. Hi guys, my name is Tina and I am from Slovakia, currently living in Ireland. I guess, I got onto this website just by coincidence, but it is so nice to read all your comments about Slovak wine. I am going to do a public speech about Slovakia here in Ireland tomorrow and I was just looking for some more info about Slovak wine to introduce it a bit more. And here I am …reading all your comments. I am definitely going to share this experience. If I can help you in anyway…just reply. Thanks again guys, you do not know how much it means to me and it would to many other Slovaks.

    • Hi Tina,

      Thank you for taking the time to write, and I hope your speech went well! I loved my stay in Bratislava — what a delightful city, with excellent food and wine, and surrounded by gorgeous countryside, too. I hope to come back again very soon! Slovakia is a very special place.

      Cheers,

      Rob

  8. Hello everybody,
    I am so glad I found something on Slovakian wines written abroad. In the meantime we really do think over here in Slovakia that we have some wonderful wines. The only problem is that nobody (you do) outside this country knows about it, too. I am in the travel business in Slovakia and whoever tastes the wines we pick they are almost shocked and asking how come we didn’t know about this before. I am always sad when I read thing like mentioned in Sotheby’s that there never was any tradition or any good wines. It’s just the proof of their ignorance of history. Wines were produced here already by the Romans. From the 13th century onwards wine was the main trade in Bratislava/Pressburg, in the 17th century the Tokaj was served to the French kings (Yes, Slovakia has about 15% of Tokaj region and the experts should compare Ostrozovic to the Hungarians), in the 18th century the Blaufränkisch of Pressburg was the the favourite red of the Imperial Court in Vienna. In the 19th century the first champagne produced outside France was in Pressburg/Bratislava. The wines from here were later winner World Exhibitions in Paris, London, etc. and were exported worldwide already in the 1800s (Palugyay) and were available on the Titanic. As late as Queen Elizabeth II. Coronation in late 1940s the Slovak Klevner was served. The Communists then ruined the reputation and quality so we are starting from the scratch. Sotheby’s should just do a better research. As for now in the last couple of years, the Slovaks have been more successful at Vinalies Paris than any other country from the samples tested and they received most medals from the region. So it’s here and it’s a come back. We are just returning to what we once had. Here are some names to check out: South Slovakia – Strekov 1075, Zitavske vinice, Chateau Bela, Western Slovakia – Zaprazny, Karpatska Perla, Matysak (top line), Elesko, Pomfy, Mrva Stanko, Janousek, Pavelka, Vino Dious, Vinkor, Vins, Chateau Topolcianky (top line), Golguz, Vinovin. Eastern Slovakia Tokaj – Ostrozovic, Macik.
    Just taste:)

    • Dear Martin,

      Thank you for taking the time to write your comment. The historical background is really helpful and interesting, as are the wineries and regions you recommend.

      I definitely agree that Slovak wine deserves a lot more respect than it gets — it’s absolutely world-class. I’m excited that we’re finally seeing a few bottles on U.S. shelves, thanks especially to Brian of Centeur Imports (see the comments from him above, http://centeurimports.com/).

      I look forward to trying more Slovak wine in the future, and I would love to return to Slovakia sometime soon.

      Cheers,

      Rob

  9. Very interesting artikel.

    We have a winery in Slovakia and looking to export, but its very hard to find an importer interesting in our high quality wines.

    We have over 94,000 bottle on stock from various grapes, including White, Rose and Red.

    also winning several international awards at the following shows.
    International Wine Challendge in Vienna, Vinalies® Internationales in France, and also in
    Madrid at the resent Bacchus Wine international Competition winning twice.

    Please take a look at our website:

    http://vinumnobile.sk/en/

    If you have any further question please get in touch.

    Kind regards
    Paul

    • Hi Paul,

      It looks like you have some great wines. I will be back in Slovakia in September, and I will try to set up a time to visit your winery. We are absolutely interested in importing your wine to the USA!

      thanks, Brian, Centeur Imports

  10. I represent a small winery owner with a wholesale license that happens to be Slovak and wants me to get Slovak wine for my tasting room – Wine Boss, in Paso Robles, Ca. If you can hook me up with an importer, would like to talk.

  11. I’m a personal user no wholesale. Visited Bratslava last week & feel in love with a few wines from Vienna & solvakia. Any chance you happen to know which ones are being sold in us? And maybe where?

    • Hi Lynette — That’s so great! That’s exactly what happened to me. I was very pleasantly surprised by the wines in Slovakia. I recommend checking Centeur Imports, http://centeurimports.com/, which has a list of retailers on its site. I suspect one or more of them can ship wine to you, if none of them are conveniently located. Good Luck!

      Cheers, Rob

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