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Czech out a glass act; RACHEL HOWARD tastes the finest tipples the Republic's Moravia has to offer.

Byline: RACHEL HOWARD

WHEN it comes to alcohol, the Czech Republic is most famous for its beer, right? Well, whisper it quietly, but the country is making a name for itself with wine, too.

It's not news to the Czechs themselves; they've been growing grapes and producing wine in the Moravia region for hundreds of years.

But unlike France, Italy and California, wine tourism is only a recent development.

The city of Brno, is the gateway to the wine region, a beautiful, historic city that not only celebrates Moravia's grapes but is also worth a visit to marvel at the combination of functionalist, Baroque and Gothic architecture, and the many galleries, theatres and museums.

After checking in to the Hotel International, I take a guided tour around Brno's many bars, and sample some authentic Moravian wine.

Guide Martin Hoffman explains that more than 95% of all vineyards in the Czech Republic are to be found in South Moravia, making this the heart of the country's wine-making industry.

The vast majority of wines from this area are white, due to the climate and landscape of the South Moravian vineyards - sunshine and proximity to river water provide the perfect conditions for white grapes to flourish. Sipping my way around the city, I have to admit these fruity, fresh whites are a delight.

As the sun rises the next day, and with a slightly sore head, I head off to the town of Znojmo, where the tourism game has really picked up, with activities teaching visitors about the region's wine-making history, along with visits to cellars and wineries.

One such is a guided cycle ride along Moravia's (mostly flat) cycle paths, run by Cyklo Klub Znojmo, taking in a number of ancient cellars, some of which have been modernised, and others that are still producing wine using traditional methods and equipment. Some even retain the mould-covered walls and damp, cold tunnels to prove it.

Prices vary depending on the length of cycle ride, routes taken and wineries visited.

Especially impressive is Roman Polak's winery, Romans 1667. He's a born showman, with a passion for the wine-making industry.

His sparkling wine (Sekt) is delicious, and made all the more tasty by the flamboyant manner in which he uncorks it - with a sword. It's as fine (if not better) than Prosecco, and even at 10am, one glass just isn't enough.

Booking ahead is recommended if you require a table, but walk-ins are encouraged for a quick sample and look around.

If a cycle ride feels like too much effort, take the Vinobus, which transports visitors between the wineries, allowing them to sample as much as they like.

Taking in up to 20 vineyards with seven tasting-stops, passengers are accompanied by a guide who paints a picture of not only the history of the region's wine-making, but also the current manufacturing processes, and a few knowledgeable insights into the wines themselves. Prices are from PS5 per person.

Czech wines come in many varieties. Alongside Riesling and pinot gris, local grapes such as Palava are used to create aromatic, goldencoloured wines with a gentle sweetness. Being a fan of dry white wines, I am pleasantly surprised that the Palava varieties I sample turn out to be my favourites.

A must-see stop is Louka Abbey, a former monastery that now houses the visitor centre for one of the area's biggest wineries, Znovin Znojmo, plus a labyrinth of cellars. A 90-minute tour with tasting costs just PS4, and it's here that I sample my favourite rose of the trip. Made from pinot noir grapes, it's dry, light, fruity - a joy to drink as the sun goes down.

After a blissful night's sleep at Hotel Katerina in Znojmo - hilltop views, epic sunsets and huge rooms - I set off to beautiful Mikulov. On the border with Austria, the town was founded at the beginning of the 12th century and places of interest include Mikulov Castle, Holy Hill and the Jewish Quarter.

It benefits from a near-perfect climate for grape growing, and is surrounded by vineyards and wineries, one of the most impressive being Sonberk. Dating back to the 13th century, it received royal approval when Louis II of Hungary requested wine from its vineyards be supplied to Prague Castle.

These days, Sonberk is a much more modern affair and the vineyards produce 150,000 bottles of wine per year, made from handpicked grapes, with varieties including Riesling and Palava.

Mikulov Guests are encouraged to take a walk out to the vineyards while sampling Sonberk's wares, and I must admit, there's something quite magical about sipping a glass of wine while watching the sun shine down on the bountiful vines. Guided tours should be booked at least two days in advance, and are PS15 per person, with samples extra.

My day draws to a close at Vinarsky Pension Andre, a hotel surrounded by 50 hectares of vineyards, producing 19 grape varieties. The hotel is a modern, luxurious space, serving delicious local dishes to be enjoyed, of course, alongside a glass of wine.

Take a look at South Moravia before the bottles hit the supermarkets over here.

It's a taste of history.

NEED TO KNOW | RACHEL HOWARD flew with Ryanair from London to Brno from London from PS30 return (ryanair.com). Rooms at Hotel International in Brno (hotelinternational.cz), Hotel Katerina in Znojmo (hotelkaterina.cz) and Penzion Andre in Velke Pavlovice (slechtitelka.cz) all start from PS60 to PS80 per night with breakfast. For more info visit czechtourism.com and south-Moravia.com Wine growing in South Moravia was first introduced by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago...

CAPTION(S):

Sonberk's vineyards produce 150,000 bottles of wine a year

The beautiful Louka Abbey

Roman Polak's Sekt wine

Mikulov Castle
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Author:RACHEL HOWARD
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EXCZ
Date:Nov 9, 2019
Words:958
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