I’ve always been a bit afraid of wine.
Not the substance itself you understand, but all the fuss surrounding it. The pretentious waffle about bouquets and vintages. All that swilling and spitting at degustation seems showy and a bit disgusting. And anything we need to borrow a french word to describe is always off-puttingly pretentious.
A weekend in Znojmo, however, has cured me of my wine-phobia. For those readers whose Czech geography is poor, Znojmo is a town in Southern Moravia not far from the Austrian border. It also happens to be smack bang in the heart of the Czech Republic’s wine producing region.
Wine? I hear you say. In Czechland? Turns out that the nation which brought the world Budwar also produces a decent Pinot Blanc – or Rulandské bílé as they say in these parts.
Let’s get one thing straight at the outset. What I know about wine can be summarised thus: there’s red, there’s white and if you drink enough of the stuff, you risk making an arse of yourself and waking up with a sore head the next day.
Fortunately for me it seems that when hitting the wine cellars of Moravia your chances of ending up with a hangover are pretty low. Your Moravian vinter doesn’t add much in the way of chemicals to his vintages and provided you line your stomach with some of the home cured ham and gherkins – yes, Znojmo is famous for them – then you won’t end up feeling the worse for wear.
Back to my preconceptions. I always imagined a wine cellar to be a vast, cavernous space with hundreds of labyrinthine passages which I would be lead around by a balding man with a perfectly pressed white teatowel ostentatiously thrown over one arm. He’d also have a snooty expression and a very silly moustache.
I’m not quite sure where this vision came from but thankfully, I was completely wrong. Having explored the vinné sklepy of Nový Šaldorf – a hamlet on the outskirts of Znojmo – I can confirm the following:
- A wine cellar can be a room about the size of a garage.
- A Moravian sommelier is more likely to look like they used to be the frontman of Metallica: ours had heavy metal long hair and was wearing combat shorts.
- You could well end up chatting to the sommelier’s grandma, who has been roped in to keep an eye on his kids, while sipping a glass of the good stuff.
- If you want a warm welcome, don’t confess to being from Prague.