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Posted: Monday, 27 May 2013 11:50

CMB: Wines of Slovakia Waiting in the Wings

May 27: Wines from Slovakia may have to wait a while to find success in the difficult Indian market but they have been making long quality strides and getting the due international recognition as the recent results at CMB-Concours Mondial de Bruxelles would indicate, writes Subhash Arora who feels they deserve to be a niche as he tasted and discovered many interesting and affordable wines during a recent visit to Bratislava to judge at the competition

Click For Large ViewFor an average Indian importer or a consumer these wines may not evoke much interest. When the most significant imports are from France, Italy, Chile, Spain, Australia, USA and with Germans, Portuguese, Argentines, Austrians and New Zealanders exporting small quantities are waiting to get a larger chunk of the market, a country like Slovakia needs to wait in the wings. It is difficult for a country relatively unknown for making wines to enter unless it has deep pockets to invest for a few years to create the country brand. A significant number of Indians may not even be aware of the difference between Slovenia (part of the erstwhile Yugoslavia) and Slovakia (the second half of Czechoslovakia). Slovenia is on the northwestern border of Italy while Slovakia borders Austria-Bratislava is about 60 kms East from Vienna.

Part of the reason for the ignorance and indifference is that they were both practically behind the iron curtain till USSR split in 1989 and later break up of Slovakia in 1993 from the erstwhile Czeckoslovakiaand now the Czeck Republic both of which have been producing wines for centuries.

But as the palates become more discerning and the government relaxes its tightening-almost  choking, grip on the wine imports and with the FTA between India and EU sure to fall in place within a couple of years, there is going to be an interest, especially as they often impress as interesting and value-for-money wines.

If the Slovakian wines did not impress enough with their phenomenal success at the recently held Vinalies Internationales Paris 2013, the results at Concours Mondial de Bruxelles definitely would make any wine aficionado sit up and take note. At the Paris competition they won 9 gold and 38 silver medals and overtook even France in terms of awards per entry. Slovakia became the most successful country in terms of percentage of success in the participation.

At Concours Mondial Bruxelles (CMB) hosted by Bratislava, the Slovakian capital, these wines won 60 medals out of the 214 samples submitted. This was in tune with the average award of 30% but the 3 Great Golds it won made it wine a lot of accolades; less than 0.9% received GG.

A country with a population of barely 5 million inhabitants has been making wines since 6th century BC. Barring a period of a couple of centuries when the Tatars destroyed vineyards completely, the country has been making wine though perhaps not of any noteworthy quality. During the communist control the emphasis was on cheap wines, But during the 1960-1980 the industry saw some advancements. It all changed for the better with the break-up of the USSR and later with the independence of Slovakia in 1993.

The Slovak vineyard region divides into six vineyard areas-Lesser Carpathian (Malokarpatská), South-Slovakia(Juznoslovenská), Nitra, Central-Slovakia (stredoslovenská) ,East-Slovakian (Vychodoslovenská) and Tokaj. The first two are the biggest regions with around 5400 hA of plantations whereas Tokaj is the smallest with only around 900 hA. Nitra boasts of 3900 hA.
It has the biggest still wine making facility called Chateau Topolcianky that a group of us visited.

Click For Large ViewWith the standardisation in the labelling laws brought about by the European Union, the top quality wines are labelled as PDO or Akostne Vina; PGI/CHZO is the equivalent of IGT wines in Italy whereas the bottom rung is occupied is nomenclature as wine, table wine or without Geographic Indication.

There are 37 officially recognised grapes in Slovakia including the international grapes. White wine has flourished in recent years. Rizling rýnsky, Rizling vlašský, Veltlínske zelené, Muller Thurgau, Tramín červený, Rulandské biele have attracted the attention of wine experts across the world, despite their unpronounceable names. Devin is yet another interesting example of a local grape- a cross between Gewürztraminer and Moscato that had people asking for more at the wine workshop conducted a day before at the Radisson Carlton Hotel where several wineries showcased their wines in a very convivial and informal atmosphere. One can feel the Austrian touch with Welschriesling (Riesling Italico that has nothing to do with Riesling).

Svatovavrinecké and Modrý Portugal are representatives of the Slovak tradition in a modern conception. Cabernet Sauvignon is an example of the extraordinary potential of their vineyards. Dunaj is a local grape that is a cross of several varieties. Saint Laurent and Blaufränkisch remind you that Slovakia is a neighbour of Austria and not Italy which share its north-western border in Friuli with Slovenia. Cabernet Sauvignon is proof of the extraordinary potential of remarkable local vineyards. Frankovka modrá makes a strong impression.

Visit to the Winery

The grand tasting organised by CMB in Bratislava on the competition eve at the Radisson Carlson Hotel gave one the opportunity to taste over 50 wines from around 12 wineries including the biggest and the oldest sparkling wine producer J E Hubert (making the bubbly since 1825), a subsidiary of the oldest German sparkling wine producer Henkell, and Tokaj companies including Tokai Macik Winery and the biggest Tokai producer Tokai & Company all of which would presently surprise any first time taster of these wines.

Click For Large ViewBesides, we visited the biggest still wine producer, Chateau Topolcianky established in the Nitra region in 1933. It came directly under the control of the State but when the country became independent, it came into the private hands with the purchase by four partners who have made it the biggest still wine producer with 60,00,000 bottle- (500,000 cases) production. They welcomed us with a ‘1933’  sparkling wine, duly uncorked by sabering (a special sword that rips through the cork and cuts across the bottle very clean, an old tradition that should not be tried at home by amateurs).

Their Gruener Veltliner here reminds you that they are not far from Austria-the home of GV. Other staple grapes that help them make wine from their 450 hA estate and the rest bought from the farmers are, Welschriesling, Pinot Blanc, Blaufränkisch and Pinot Noir. Several other labels are brought out frequently by them including the dessert wines.

An interesting fact told by the export manager was that wines are a part of the tax classification but are not taxed currently-there are no duties and no VAT! Beer and hard liquor are taxed-but not wine; something that needs to be checked out by the Indian States and the Central Government and taken into consideration.

On the way back we visited a modern winery, Elesko in Modra, about 30 kilometres North of Bratislava,  with 110 hectares vineyards are located in Malokarpatská region (Lesser Carpathian). Owned by a Russian entenreneur this is one of the latest wineries and reeks of money, good taste and the commitment of the owner and could become  a big player in the industry in the near future.

Although a few companies like J E Hubert (7 million bottles), Chateau Topolcianky, Elescko and Tokai & Co. produce large enough quantities to be able to sustain the gruelling export efforts required for countries like India, it will be a small and difficult market to conquer. They would be well advised to wait in the wings for a few years before the market becomes lucrative.

Of course, they can get lucky and always expect a niche market for their wines some of which are Gold standard or even Great Gold, as the results of Concours Mondial de Bruxelles suggest.

For more information on winery visits or import possibilities write directly to

Subhash Arora

Gallery of Wine Tasting at the Radisson


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