Photo by Natálie Ševčíková
Courtesy of Vinograf
Natural wine is currently featured on the menus of some of Prague’s hippest bars and restaurants, like Vinograf.
Natural wine is coming into its own in the Czech Republic, with trendy Prague establishments pouring more and more of the homegrown libation.
While the Czech Republic has earned a reputation for brewing some of the world’s most beloved beer, Pilsner Urquell, the past decade has seen the rise of another locally produced beverage that’s worth raising a glass to, as well: “natural” wine. The designation of “natural” in the wine world is a relatively loose term, categorizing a style of wine that’s typically made without advanced technology and with minimal intervention from the winemaker. With natural víno (Czech, for wine) currently being profiled on the menus of some of Prague’s hippest bars and restaurants, here’s a primer ahead of your pour:
The Czech Republic claims a long history of wine production, dating back centuries to the country’s two principal grape-growing regions: Moravia, in the southeast, which is home to most of its vineyards, and Bohemia, in the southwest. However, during the communist rule in the 20th century, the government wiped out the regions’ small wineries and replaced them with commercial facilities.
“All the focus on quality was lost,” during this time, explains Jakub Franke, head sommelier and manager of Café Lounge, one of Prague’s top contemporary Czech dining destinations, known for its natural wine selection. With the fall of communism in 1989, and the eventual transfer of land—including wineries—back to the Czech people, the winemaking tradition here was slowly reintroduced.
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“But it returned to people with no [winemaking] experience, so they started to use chemicals and additives” during production, recounts Standa Soukup, co-owner of Veltlin, Prague’s leader in natural wine, which functions as both a natural wine bar and distribution company.
“At first, there was a smaller wave of organic wines, but the problem was that those wines were made by organic farmers, not winemakers,” recalls Soukup, noting the poor quality of those early attempts at natural wine bottling.
Then, in 2008, Soukup’s business partner, winemaker Bogdan Trojak, formed Autentisté (translating to “authentic”), a collaborating group of local winemakers who share the same core values of producing quality-driven natural wines that depend on older winemaking traditions. These methods include sidestepping additives such as sulfur and embracing handpicked, organically grown fruit, along with wild yeast fermentation. Wines that fit this credo receive an “A” sticker, signifying that the bottle has met the group’s production standards.
“They were the ones putting natural wines on the map—and on tables—here, back in the day,” recalls Lucie Kohoutová, founder of Prague’s two-year-old natural wine pop-up Družstvo.
After the debut of Autentisté, followed soon by the opening of Veltlin in 2010, Prague’s natural wine scene spread throughout the city, with a number of newer establishments that celebrate it. The trend is mainly owed to Czech winemakers “doing a really good job, despite the often tough and erratic beginnings,” says Kohoutová. But also, as Zuzana Veselá, co-owner of Prague wine bar Vinograf, points out, “People want to try new things, and natural wines are still new to a lot of people.”
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Here are six top spots to sample the best of Czech natural wine in Prague:
The city’s only bar that exclusively serves natural wine, the cozy and unpretentious Veltin—set in the hip Karlin neighborhood—is Prague’s holy grail for natural wine sourced from within the boundaries of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. There’s no formal wine menu at this pioneering establishment: The team opens around 30 different bottles daily, pulling corks after consulting with customers’ palate preferences. Veltlin is also the main distributor for many Prague eateries and bars that feature natural wines (including several listed here).
Launched in 2008 as a breakfast café, the Malá Strana–based Café Lounge morphed into a natural wine–embracing, art deco–designed restaurant, touting a serious food component, five years later. Today, Café Lounge offers contemporary takes on classic Czech plates (like duck with red cabbage, or venison with plums), all of which are crafted by chef Michal Černý (formerly of two-Michelin-starred London restaurant The Ledbury). Pair the fare with choices from 70 or so small-production, natural wines sourced mostly from central and southern Europe, roughly half of which are produced right in the Czech Republic.
Vinograf began in Malá Strana, near Prague’s famous Charles Bridge in 2009, with a menu of about 30 labels of Czech wines served by the glass; it has since debuted a second, more expansive location, in New Town, in 2013. This sophomore effort features a more fully realized restaurant component, with made-for-pairing plates like charcuterie and risotto, alongside a list of around 700 wines from around the globe (about half of which are natural), including some 50 by-the-glass options.
La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise
Prague’s crown jewel for fine dining, this cozy, 40-seat eatery in Old Town turns out a multicourse tasting menu of contemporary Czech cuisine prepared by chef Oldřich Sahajdák. The dynamic optional wine pairing at La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise is organized by sommelier Zdeněk Oudes and composed almost entirely of natural selections, about half of which are domestic.
With its patinaed walls and low vaulted ceiling, intimate wine-and-cheese bar Bokovka has occupied its current space in Prague’s Old Town since 2015. Sommelier Roman Novotný pours options from the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, and Spain, with the largest selection dedicated to what’s natural and local.
Michelin-starred Field debuted in Old Town in 2014, bringing a minimalist, Nordic-inspired twist to traditional Czech dishes. Executive chef and partner Radek Kašpárek blends culinary modernism with an emphasis on simple presentations, and his naturalist food philosophy carries over to wine, with 265 European natural wines on the menu, approximately a third of which are local labels.
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