Bottled Alive in Czechia
Favourite wines and photos from a vibrant festival for central European wine
I fell prey to puns and pivo in my more detailed post (paid subscribers only) about my trip to Moravia, so here I will keep it clean and just share some favourite wines from Bottled Alive - a wonderful natural wine fair that celebrated its sixth edition in January 2024.
Bottled Alive is curated and run by Jan Čulík, whose induction into natural wine was meeting Bogdan Trojak (founder of Prague’s most famous natural wine bar, Véltlin) while he was at university. Čulík is based in the city of Tábor, about one hour south of Prague. It boasts a wonderfully atmospheric cobbled old town, and Čulík currently runs a beer bar, a bakery and (with his wife) the bookshop and café Jednota. He opened a natural wine bar (Thir) in Tábor eight years ago, and says “I wanted to support my bar during the winter - and the winemakers. So that’s why I started Bottled Alive”.
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Čulík had travelled extensively throughout Europe with Czech natural wine icon Milan Nestarec, and met many wine importers and distributors along the way. He credits his colleagues at Jenny & Francois (NYC) for coming up with the name Bottled Alive, and says that the support and acknowledgement from many international wine friends is what made it possible to launch the event. This year’s edition of the fair was the most ambitious yet, with 100 growers, 35 of whom were Czech. Čulík says he’s considering making it a two day event in 2025.
The fair focuses mainly on Czech and Slovak growers, with a good sprinkling of other central European nations: Austria, Slovenia and Hungary, plus two special guests from Portugal (COZs and João Tavares de Pina AKA Rufia) It was attended by an enthusiastic and pretty international crowd.
Here are a few snaps and some new discoveries that put a smile on my face, some tasted at the fair and some at winery visits the days before.
Herbert (Wachstum-König, Southern Styria, Austria) pours a concentrated yet brilliantly focused Muskateller 2021. His wines remind me of the Jura, in terms of their concentration and poise. I’m not going to use the dreaded M word, OK?
Martin Vajčner’s Sea Sediments 2021/22 blend of Ryzlink vlašský (Welschriesling), Traminer and Riesling impressed me with its ripe, spicy notes and silken texture. It spent a whole year in Czech amphorae. (Moravia, CZ)
Utopia is a cider producer not far from Tábor. I loved their whole range, but this “skins”, fermented with the grape skins of Dlúhé Grefty’s Rufus, was one of the standouts - bone dry and with the slightly wild side that I love with more rustic Normandy cidre.
Lobik is a new name for me in Štajerska, Slovenia. Vineyards are mainly around Haloze. This Sauvignon Blanc fermented for 3 weeks on the skins absolutely shouted of zesty ripe grapefruit. It could be your friend in a blind tasting. Or just drink and enjoy!
Milovín is the project of two brothers based in Svätý Jur, near Bratislava, Slovakia. I loved pretty much everything Tomas and Marek (the winemaker) poured me. This blend of Welschriesling, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner is quite spiky right now (skin fermented), but it’s got so much to give with its fresh, spicy character. Exceptional zero-zero winemaking here.
Always lovely to see Zsolt Sütó (Strekov 1075, Nitra, Slovakia). Even better when he pours his “Frankie comes from Strekov”, a totally moreish velvety kiss of Frankovka.
Vínařství Charvát is a micro-producer with just 2ha of vineyards. I love Gemischter Satz from the Vienna region, and this is made just a few hours north of there, in Southern Moravia, CZ. It’s spellbinding, with more lift and freshness than you’d typically find in Vienna’s warmer climes, yet with the same wonderful concentration and complexity that these blends can achieve in the right hands. A field blend of Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Müller-Thurgau and Neuburger. There were aromatic hints despite no obvious aromatic contenders in the blend.
Zuzana Barnáková (whose husband Marek Milovín, see above, poured this for me) made this crazy Veltlínské zelené (Grüner Veltliner) “Torbido 2022”, which fermented to just 7.5% ABV after harvest at 16 Brix. No-one could believe it, but repeated analyses gave the same answer. It was spicy, pleasingly tart but not at all unpleasant. More stunningly clean zero-zero work here.
Petr Kočařík’s Pinot Noirs impressed me with their elegance and energy. Novosady is one of his top single vineyard sites. This 2016 got pretty ripe (14%) but stays wonderfully fresh and has so much depth. The oak regime here is excellent. Meaning: You don’t taste it!
Bottled Alive in full flow at Střelnice - Spolkový Dům, Tábor.
If you enjoyed this little round-up, check out my more in-depth post about the Czech natural wine scene and a little bit of the backstory. You’ll need to be a paid subscriber to read it.
Coming next week: Profiles from some of the Moravian growers I visited.