Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Off The Rock: Prague


Welcome to my latest experiment. I have decided to (occasionally) take this blog off the rocks and onto the mainland.Wine, of course, will be paramount to this new column's content, whereas the strict geographic or topographic limitations I have set for Whine On The Rocks (read here) will be temporarily set aside. Kind of like when The Wife, Ph.D., ignores my nightly pleas for a glass of wine with dinner. With that in mind, two weekends ago, The Wife, Ph.D., Double Trouble, My Zolpidem Supplier, Tbilisi Is My Capital and I headed to Prague for some much-needed R&R and a simple mission—tracking down and tasting four bottles of Czech dry wines (two red and two white) that received Silver medals at Decanter's 2011 World Wine Awards. Of course, we decided that we wouldn't go too out of our way in search of the bottles. Here's the list and a daily diary of the hunt:

2008 Habanske Sklepy Cuvee 1614 Zweigeltrebe Pinot Noir
2009 Spielberg Ryzlink Rynsky (Riesling) Austerlitz Pozdni Sber
2007 Vinarstvi Josef Valihrach Merlot Cabernet Franc
2010 Vinarstvi Mikrosvin Mikulov Kerner

Day One: Sleep Deprivation

Charles Bridge, the Prague Castle and Vltava River
We landed in Prague at six a.m. desperate for a shower, a tub of toothpaste and some shuteye. However, when you buy dirt-cheap tourist packages (flight + hotel + breakfast + tours + transportation + a Greek guide who suffers from verbal diarrhea) from The Rock, beggars can't be choosers. So off we went on a way-too-early half-day tour of the Old Town. My mother has this theory that cities near or by water are more beautiful than those like Nicosia that are completely dry. After visiting Oslo and Prague, I must concur. Rivers, lakes, the sea or the ocean lend a je ne sais quoi to a city; a kind of serenity is proffered to visitors by that salty breeze, a touch of humidity, and all those shades of blue and green and brown of the multifaceted waters. Split by the Vltava river, Prague belongs in a high fantasy novel. Besides being sleep deprived, we were in such awe of our surroundings that we did little that day to find our precious foursome. Prague 1 - Whine On The Rocks 0.

Day Two: Absinthe and Allegro

We planned on treating ourselves to one fantastic meal during our short trip. I did some research and found out that the Four Seasons Hotel's Allegro is the only Michelin-rated restaurant (one star) in all of the Czech Republic and year in, year out, is voted Prague's best eatery. After conferring with my sexy harem, I booked a table for five for lunch. I looked for our precious foursome on the wine menu but they were nowhere to be found. So I ordered a Moravian white blend that once savored confirmed to all of us that we were in for a treat. An amuse bouche of guinea-fowl. Tortellini stuffed with fresh herbs and ricotta. Lamb soft like melting butter with a simple parsley potato mash. Grilled salmon filets. Tonka bean gelatto. Cannoli stuffed with clementine compote and Greek yoghurt ice cream. Glasses of Moscato d'Asti and Pinot Noir. Multiple espressos. All quite simple but executed to absolute perfection. We ended that rainy day sequestered in the bohemian Blue Light Bar just below the Prague Castle laughing and chasing shots of St. Antonie absinthe with pints of Kozel dark beer. Even The Wife, Ph.D., partook in the beer drinking. Let's just say I wasn't looking forward to our flight back Monday evening.

2010 Gala Vinarstvi Chardonnay Pinot Noir - Wonderful aromas of lemon peel, grapefruit, melon, rosemary and a hint of guava. Very refreshing, well-balanced wine that hits your palate first with flavors of pineapple followed by good minerality and a tangy, citrus finish. Delicious. 91/100.

Day Three: Close Call

Shopping, specially at Sephora, became my sexy harem's preferred source of relaxation after endless hours walking the cobble-stoned streets of the Old City in high heels. Actually, they wore flats most of the time but I am sure they wished they had worn heels just to measure up to the sculptural Czech women. In any case, during one of those breaks, we stumbled across a small wine shop hidden in the ground floor of the shopping center next to our hotel. "This was it," I thought, "my one chance to find the bloody wines and legitimate the column." I unfolded my list and sauntered in. An older woman, whose English was as good as my command of Swahili, read the list and mumbled unintelligibly. At one point, I surmised she was informing me that one of the bottles was crap because she pointed at it and shook her head in disgust. In a matter of seconds, though, I had before me bottles of the 2010 Spielberg Ryzlink Rynsky and the 2006 Vinarstvi Josef Valihrach Merlot Cabernet Franc. Yes, wrong vintages but my guess was I wouldn't get any closer. Unfortunately, The Wife, Ph.D., put her foot down and said no to the purchase of the €35 Merlot Cabernet Franc blend since it would cut into her funds for cellulite scrubbers, papaya-scented body lotion and perfume atomizers.

2010 Spielberg Ryzlink Rynsky (Riesling) Austerlitz Pozdni Sber - Green apples, lemon peel and peaches to what is not a very aromatic wine. Pear and pineapple to the mouth with a very intriguing aniseed finish. Long lasting and bone-dry. 89/100. 

Day Four: Karlovy Vary

A rainy day in Karlovy Vary and my last chance to score one of the precious foursome. However, no wine shops in sight; only a busload of chattering Cypriots following our hipster Greek guide through the two main streets of the quaint spa resort town. The Rock's tourists, particularly those who move around like herded sheep, stick out like a sore thumb. They speak several decibels louder than any other group nearby and many of them will take their time to buy everything onsite, be it porcelain figurines, handcrafted jewelry, cheapish art and local liqueurs. Above all, after an hour of walking, they need to stop for coffee, many of them settling there for the remainder of the visit and doing nothing too different from what they would do every Saturday morning on The Rock. In a way, they are like us Latino tourists without the drinking problem but with much cooler mustaches. My sexy harem and I pick a restaurant far from the Cypriot commotion. I flip through the wine list and drop my head in shame. Prague 4 - Whine On The Rocks 0.

2009 Arte Vini Moravske Zemske Frankovka - At a first glance, resembles a Pinot Noir. However, it is much fuller with blackberries, dark cherries, plums and plenty of pepper and spice on the nose. Alcohol spikes towards the tail-end. 87/100.

Epilogue: I Will Buy You A Beer

Masterful beers at the Prague Airport
Beer is cheaper than water in the Czech Republic. And traveling with a group leads to all sorts of imbroglios regarding money, particularly when splitting restaurant bills, paying for transportation or bribing a burly police officer after being caught relieving one's bladder on a 14th century wall. Okay, that last one did not happen but you get the point. To avoid any confusion or resentment, we settled our accounts by buying each other pints, bottles and cans of beer. On our way back, Tbilisi Is My Capital, preoccupied by her Prague balance sheet, bought My Zolpidem Supplier and me three Master beers which we happily shared with her for an impromptu airport tasting. A light buzz goes a long way towards appeasing people's wallets.

Master Polotmavy 13° - Light, nutty, chocolaty, low hops.

Master Zlaty 15° - Bitter yet much fruitier, best of the lot. Tbilisi Is My Capital and I brought back four each. No, you are not invited to have one.

Master Tmavy 18° - Coffee, leathery, very smooth yet earthy.

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