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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wine Tasting in Valtice

A lot was happening in the world this time last year.

Bankers (and their bonuses) were near universally reviled for effectively blackmailing billions in bailouts from the taxpayer, as the world teetered precariously on the brink of financial meltdown. The interminable Afghan War officially became the longest overseas conflict in which the United States had ever in its history been embroiled. A swine flu pandemic was on the brink of sweeping the world and killing us all (or so we were told). Even bloody Michael Jackson went and carked it...

And, amidst all the global mess and madness, the girls – Lady H, Southern Belle and I – set out on a weekend jolly of wine tasting in Moravia, figuring that we might as well at least enjoy ourselves in the run-up to impending apocalypse at any rate.

A few hours train travel out of Prague on a sunny Saturday morning, and we arrived in the UNESCO heritage site and viticultural town of Valtice, one of the main centres of the Moravian wine-growing regions, located just a stone’s throw from the Czech-Austrian border.

At the heart of the town stands a Baroque château, initially built as the seat of the ruling princes of Liechtenstein, back in the days when countries (or principalities at least) could just randomly up sticks and plonk themselves back down again on the other side of Europe.

These days the château serves the far more convivial purpose of National Wine Centre (Národní Vinařské Centrum) of the Czech Republic – our real reason for coming here in the first place! We were visiting too early in the year for the annual Valtice Wine Festival held every October, but the vast cellars of the Wine Centre are open pretty much all year round, housing one hundred of the top-ranked (or designated “Salon vín České republiky”) home-grown reds, whites and sparklings of the Czech Republic.

Various degustation programs are available here, ranging from 125 – 399kč for a pre-set, sommelier-led tasting tour round the centre cellars. Or, alternatively, you can just do what we did – namely ditch the sommelier altogether and just pay a 355kč flat fee to be let loose upon a hundred odd varieties of open wines, with just a glass and a basket of bread (a.k.a. “neutralization bites”) to help counteract at least some of the resultant damage.... Not sure who ever thought it was a good idea to give three wine-thirsty girlies pretty much free reign on unlimited fine wines, but needless to say we all lapsed into temporary “kid in a candy shop” madness in our frenzied attempts to collectively work our way up from labelled wines 1 to 100... ;-)))

Here’s us at around a civilised number 2 or 3...

Probably getting into the twenties or thirties here...

And from around the sixties we all effectively lost count altogether, though we were clearly not all that bothered about the fact at the time... ;-))

Luckily for us, one wing of the château is given over to Hotel Hubertus, an admittedly rather over-priced and distinctly shabby choice of accommodation, but one that at least has the virtue of proximity to the cellars in question. And after having tasted upwards of fifty wines each in the course of just two hours, this was quite an important, if not in our case vital, consideration.

Needless to say, I can’t recall in detail any of the many and varied wines consumed, though I do remember gravitating towards the sweet / medium-dry whites (my usual tipple of choice) and - despite the assurances of quality - still not being particularly overwhelmed by any of the supposedly award-winning reds. Not that I mean to bash Czech wines here by the way – I’ve had some really very good whites here over the years, but just have yet to find a red of equal standing...

Anyway, after an epic 18 odd hour wine-induced sleep / coma (broken only temporarily to seek out some restoratively carb-heavy dinner), the three of us re-emerged the following morning – miraculously hangover-free given the circumstances – to greet yet another day of beautiful Moravian sun. In order to (at least in part) make up for our communal excesses of the previous afternoon, we decided to make a wholesome trip over to the neighbouring manor of Lednice, 7km from Valtice directly down a long lime-tree avenue.

The landscaped parks and gardens here were all in bloom, and it was truly relaxing to just stroll gently around the lake here, feeling a blissful million miles away from a rest of the planet that was seemingly going down the toilet fast...

Still, inevitably the clock caught up with us in the end, leaving us with just enough time back in Valtice to round off what had been an idyllic weekend with a final mid-afternoon glass of white (just the one this time!) on the sun-drenched Hubertus patio and stock up across at the château wine shop, before finally embarking on the long trek back to Prague again, arriving home early on Sunday evening – a good time having truly been had by all.

Well, a year on and the world still hasn’t ended yet – perhaps there’s still time to fit in another Valtice visit in the meantime then... ;-)))


  1. Er, I think this trip should be repeated with myself involved. 355 kc?! 100 wines?! This is a challenge I need to take.