Vinous Reverie Notes
Jancis Robinson - Previous Wine of the Week
"This wine could hardly be more Christmassy. It's always exciting to come across a completely new wine, but to come across one from a completely new (to me) wine-producing country that was for long hidden by the Iron Curtain is absolutely thrilling. Sorry, the one rather important bit that I have so far missed out is that the wine itself is quite superlatively delicious, and it is not too fanciful to say that with its sparkling fruit and intricately etched flavours it really does taste like a winter in Central Europe. You can almost lick the icicles off the bottle. (And I should point out that I wrote all this before I discovered just how inexpensive this wine is.)
The wine from Kastiel Belá, whose name translates into Castle or Château Belá, is a joint venture between Egon Müller of the Saar in Germany and the old Slovakian family of Baron Ullmann whose seat was once the Castle Belá but which is now distinctly rundown. Only the extensive cellars have so far been restored. [Pause while I pick up The World Atlas of Wine and try to establish where the heck this wine comes from.] Ah yes, it's almost on the Hungarian border just north of the Danube, with the Carpathians sheltering the vineyards to the north, so by no means unlike the Wachau downriver of here where Belá's obviously talented local winemaker Miro Petrech once worked.
For the moment, the enterprise does not own its own vineyards. Complicated post-Soviet negotiations with the state Land Office continue. But if they can produce a wine as good as this from bought-in grapes, we can only look forward to 2005 when the team reckons it should have secured ownership of the original Ullmann vineyard.
Egon Müller first visited the region two years ago and became convinced that its cold winters, hot summers and dry autumns could produce some top quality dry Riesling to compete with the best from Alsace and Austria. Then along came the 2001 vintage, as extraordinary in Slovakia as in Germany, which turned out to be the first botrytised vintage in 20 years. The grapes were picked at 130 deg Oechsle, quite ripe enough to produce a Beerenauslese on the Egon Müller estate in the Saar. The fermentation was not nearly complete by the time the freezing temperatures of a Slovakian December brought it to a grinding halt, leaving a distinctly sweet wine but with crystal-clear acidity. The team decided, surely with infinite wisdom, that rather than fighting Nature by heating the cellar and adding cultured yeasts to re-start the conversion of sugar to alcohol, they should not look this gift horse in the mouth.
The result is a beautifully crystalline, refreshing sweet Riesling that would make the most perfect, revivifying post-prandial conversation piece. Not unlike a Saar Beerenauslese but with more weight (12 per cent alcohol). And at a tiny fraction of the price.
This is what Egon Müller has to say about the 2002 vintage of this new wine: 'the 2002 was harvested at around 105 deg Oechsle, or about 13 per cent potential alcohol, and two out of the three vats have already finished their fermentation while the third one is still at it. We have reason to hope that with the 2002 vintage we will be able to make a very nice dry Riesling - at a relatively friendly price.'
Chateau Bela is an ancient property of the Baron Ullmann situated in Slovakia on the banks of the Danube River. The first vines were planted by the Romans and today Riesling grapes are grown on the hills below the castle and vinified by Miroslav Petrech and Egon Muller. Egon Müller has discovered the potential of wines in the Château Béla area in Slovakia and makes a dry Riesling which objective is to challenge the best Rieslings from Austria and the Alsace region. The first vintage was 2001. Food pairing: Pork, Rich fish (salmon, tuna etc), Spicy food, Sweet desserts, Vegetarian, Poultry.