Wine fit for an archbishop
I’d known the Czechs liked their beer, but I’d had no idea they were so good at making wine. Until we happened to visit Kroměříž, an unpronouncable old market town in southern Moravia, Czech Republic. In the centre of town there is a huge archbishop’s palace, complete with peacocks in the gardens and hundreds of barrels of aging wine in the cellars. It turned out they’d been making and storing wine here for 800 years, and it tasted pretty fantastic too. In fact we’re drinking a bottle of their rulandské šedé right now.
Since the early 12th century Kroměříž has developed under the direct influence of the bishops of Olomouc, a town some 40 miles up the road. Nearly 800 years after it was built, these bishops still own the Kroměříž winery (to the tune of 70%, these days). New vintages are still tasted and blessed by the bishop of Olomouc. So why has the church been so keen to hang on to it?
Basically, it’s very good. They have only ever used the best grapes, selected from the best vineyards, naturally grown and hand-picked. Nothing dodgy is added to the wine, and it’s made the way it’s always been made. The cellars are famed for their special conditions (cold, dark, dank and mouldy, as far as we could tell), which are perfect for aging wine in big wooden barrels and then storing it in bottles. The great swathes of sinister-looking black mould hanging from the ancient stone walls are apparently the indicator that everything is just how the wine likes it.
In fact, it’s so good that until relatively recently you simply wouldn’t get a chance to drink it unless you were a senior member of the Catholic Church at a lavish party, or perhaps someone less important attending mass, as since 1345 these cellars have been exclusively, for the most part, providing ‘the blood of christ’ for services and festivals all round Europe. Except that the ‘blood’ sold to churches is bizarrely now white, as the red wine stains on the carpet and cloths had become too tiresome for many priests. Now the wine is also sold to the general public, but you’d still be lucky to get some as most is sold directly from the postage stamp sized shop above the cellars.
Should you be able to visit, you will find a fruity rulandské šedé (pinot gris), a sophisticated and slightly sweet ryzlink rynsky (riesling), a light and acidic frankova (blaufränkisch), a dry cabernet sauvignon full of blackcurrant leaves and also a rulandské bilé (pinot blanc), a muscat and their own eiswein, all for extremely reasonable prices, at least by UK standards. Or alternatively come and join us in Poland where we’re polishing off our purchases.