In vino (Bohemicus) veritas. But is Beaujolais better?

Czech Position

New wine, old debate; Czech Svatomartinské takes on French Beaujolais Nouveau at rival wine-tasting events this month

Ultimately, it’s a matter of taste, yet remains an endless topic of discussion in local wine-tasting circles: Beaujolais Nouveau or Svatomartinské — is the French wine truly superior to the Czech equivalent, or have we just been conditioned to accept it? For Jaroslav Buchta, co-owner of vinařství Buchtovi, a family-owned winery in Velké Pavlovice, the choice is clear: He will be hosting a Svatomartinské event on Nov. 12.

“The French have the tradition — Czech wine producers have to work harder than the French ones, who can rely on tradition. Czechs have to prove their wine is good,” Buchta told Czech Position. And then he threw down the proverbial guantlet. “Beaujolais is the same (as Svatomartinské), to show the first wine, but definitely Svatomartinské is better.” Sacré bleu.

Svatomartinské wines are indeed the first wines of the new year. They should be fresh and fruity wines that have matured, although only a few weeks, but with enough time to get their distinctive character, worthy of their historical namesake.

The legend of Svatý Martin (Saint Martin) has him a generous, humble man, who gave his clothes to the poor and, so as not to be named to the Bishop’s office, hid among a flock of geese (sadly, their honking gave him away.) As much as the wine, a traditional goose dinner often accompanies Svatomartinské, so those who like a good piece of goose should take a gander at the suprising number of restaurants in Prague and beyond offering special dinners over the coming weeks.

But where did the seemingly sudden popularity of Svatomartinské come from?

“With the Svatomartinské season, there are no holidays, vacations are over … What else is there to do?” commented Buchta on the surge of Svatomartinské events. Behind the marketing machine is the Národní vinařské centrum and the Vinařský fond ČR, which has held the mark “Svatomartinské” since 1995; the two banded together in 2005 to jointly promote new Czech wine.

To earn the Svatomartinské label, wine producers are evaluated by an independent committee which decides if candidates’ wine meets the desired characteristics. In 2005, only 36 wineries participated; this year, 125 wineries and 365 wines made the cut. The most typical Svatomartinské varieties are Müller Thurgau, Veltlínské červené rané, Muškát moravský, Modrý Portugal and Svatovavřinecké. Buchta’s favorite this year is the Muškát moravský.

“These grapes were ready the earliest,” he explains. “Muškát is known for its bouquet and this year’s is very nice. “

To try some Svatomartinské for yourself, simply look for the posters hanging in many Prague restaurant windows. For a more formal atmosphere, wine lovers can taste 100 varieties of Svatomartinské at Kinský Palac from Nov. 11-20. The Old Town Square is also going all out; their festivities began Nov. 4 and will continue through Nov. 13, with wine, goose, singing and more. On Nov. 11, there will be two “arrivals” of St. Martin, at 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.

Bravo for Beaujolais
If the two million bottles of Svatomartinské that the Vinařský fond ČR and the Národní vinařské centrum believe will be available this year somehow run out, you have Nov. 17 to look forward to. The French Beaujolais Nouveau is always revealed on the third Thursday in November — and for connoisseurs, this date is coincidently a public holiday in the Czech Republic (marking the start of the Velvet Revolution).

Bottled only six to eight weeks after the grapes have been picked, Beaujolais is red wine using Gamay grapes from the Beaujolais region of France. According to Filip Jež, regional sales manager for Neubauer & syn, a hot summer followed by a cold autumn in France promises a high quality wine this year. He says the festivities surrounding the new wine originally had a more pragmatic motivation.

“The main reason for Beaujolais Nouveau’s creation was the idea to bring money into the winery quickly after the harvest instead of waiting for a couple of months,” he told Czech Position. “Nowadays, it is a festival of the first wine of the latest vintage and a good excuse to get together over a light, juicy and refreshing glass of red.”

Neubauer & syn are offering two types of Beaujolais this year from the Lupé Cholet winery, and Jež said that due to the wine’s light body and rich fruitiness, it is a drink best enjoyed on its own or accompanied by a light pate or medium matured cheese.

Like with Svatomartinské, posters advertising Beaujolais are beginning to appear in Czech restaurant windows. The Perla Hotel in Prague will be hosting a private Beaujolais event for the fourth time this year. Ondřej Vilímec, the hotel’s sales manager said the atmosphere surrounding Beaujolais fit the vibe they want for their hotel.

“Four years ago when we held the first party, the social event tied to Beaujolais was more appropriate for its repute and international acknowledgement,” he told Czech Position. “As much as we have nothing against promoting the purely Czech event of Svatomartinské the odds four years ago were unfortunately against it mainly because it was not as well-established and popular as it is becoming now.”

Jež can see it too.“Since the rise of Svatomartinské, Beaujolais Nouveau is naturally in decline – which is understandable,” he said.

“Both wines were invented for the same reason and since French wine is selling less and less and local wines are getting better and better – it is no wonder. I personally think Beaujolais Nouveau is generally still of a higher quality, but there are more Czech producers every year that can compete with the rest of the world.”

So even though everyone concerned readily acknowledges that both of these events are pretty much marketing gimmicks, most continue to participate, and at least Vilímec is looking forward to being wooed.

“We are not opposed to changing our regular event of Beaujolais to Svatomartinské and definitely welcome the rising competition in this field,” he said. “It is now in the hands of wine makers and marketers to convince customers which event they will prefer.”