Polish vodka has been around for 500 years, but the wine culture is just sprouting

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A portion of Rynek Glowny, Grand Square, of Old Town Krakow.

Known more for fruit liqueurs/vodkas — e.g. Sliwkowa [SLEEV ko vah], Wisniowa [VEES nee ovah] or Krupnik [kroop-NEEK] — I discovered a commercial fine wine industry during my trip to Poland last month.

I had my first taste of cutting edge domestic wine at an outdoor cafe on the medieval square, Rynek Glowny, in the heart of Krakow’s Old Town. It was a rosé made from 100% Zweigelt.

The Zweigelt grape is a cross of Blaufränkisch with St. Laurent that was developed in 1922 and is grown primarily in Germany and Austria. It produces wines that are light to medium body with hints of spice and mineral qualities (think French reds from the Rhone Valley).

The producer is Winnica Srebrna Gora (Silver Mountain Vineyard), the second largest vineyard in Poland, under the supervision of noted winemaker, Agnieszka Wyrobek-Rousseau. The winery is just west of Krakow along the Wisla River.

Exterior of Kondrat wine bar.
Exterior of Kondrat wine bar.

The wine left me underwhelmed. While quaffable, it didn’t live up to my exceptions of bright, lively fruitiness, but rather had muted red fruit aromas and a dry mouthfeel with subtle flavors of sour cherry/cranberry and prominent minerality.

In contrast, I was enticed by a wine bar in the Kazimierz district, bordering south of the Old Town. It is named Kondrat after the celebrity owner/wine enthusiast, Marek Kondrat, who is a popular Polish TV, movie and theater actor/director.

Kondrat is focused on promoting domestic wine while offering 2-, 3- or 5-ounce pours of 36 wines from Europe, Chile and New Zealand. My brother, Andrew, and I selected four wines to taste one afternoon.

  • 2014 Winnica Turnau — Seyval Blanc, a French hybrid grape (also grown in Michiana)
  • 2013 Domaine du Miselle — A blend of Colombard/Gros Manseng, Gascony region, France
  • 2014 Winnica Turnau — A semi-dry Rose made from Rondo and Regent grape varieties
  • 2014 Winnica Turnau — A red blend of Rondo/Regent
Detail of Cloth Hall in the center of Rynek Glowny, Krakow.
Detail of Cloth Hall in the center of Rynek Glowny, Krakow.

Winnica Turnau is a new winery venture on the Polish border near Berlin. It was founded in 2009 and bottled the first estate wines in 2014. Our server at Kondrat noted the young vineyards and anticipated even better wine as the vines mature. In general, peak production years don’t occur until the eighth year of growth.

The red Rondo/Regent blend had a fruity nose and rich, velvety mouthfeel. Flavors of red fruit were accented with hints of chocolate and pepper. The soft tannins and long finish were noteworthy. I would compare it to a Côte Rôtie from the northern Rhone Valley.

Ariel Restaurant in the trendy Kazimierz district of Krakow.
Ariel Restaurant in the trendy Kazimierz district of Krakow.

I must confess that the most memorable wine was enjoyed during a meal at Ariel, a Jewish cuisine restaurant in the trendy Kazimierz district. The wine was an extremely well balanced 2014 Teperberg Silver Merlot from Israel.

The rich dark fruit flavors, balanced with a hint of oakiness and supple tannins, paired well with my stuffed cabbage in mushroom sauce. Lake Michigan Shore (LMS) Merlot has been improving in that same direction. At 13.5 percent alcohol, the Middle Eastern wine compared more to a Merlot from Washington, rather than California.

Zwiegelt Rose flanked by Zywiec beers
Zwiegelt Rose flanked by Zywiec beers

We had a unique meal and dining experience at Bąkowa Zohylina Wyznio in Zakopane. Both Andrew and I had the grilled trout with a half-liter glass of Zywiec beer. Although our last meal in Krakow of zurek and pierogi filled with duck and fig was a close second.

All in all, I say na zdrowie [nah ZDROH vee eh] to Polish food and the emerging wine culture.

VIGNETTES:

  • “The three most astonishing things in the past half-century has been the blues, cubism and Polish vodka…” Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)
  • In addition to an evolving wine industry, local microbrew beers are flourishing throughout Poland.
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