U.S. wine journalist Dr. Elizabeth Smith remembers Slovakia

By Published On: January 29, 2024

U.S. wine journalist Dr. Elizabeth Smith remembers Slovakia

An interview by Ing. Juraj Mikula and Dr. Elizabeth Smith

In July 2023, wine journalist Dr. Elizabeth Smith visited Slovakia as a guest of Rastislav Demeš, owner of Tajna Winery. Across two and a half days, she visited three producers, the country’s famed grape breeder, and participated in a Riesling Vlašský and Dunaj masterclass. The editor of the Slovak wine magazine časopis Vinotéka, Ing. Juraj Mikula, interviewed Elizabeth about her visit, and published the Slovak-language article in the December 2023/January 2024 issue. With the magazine’s permission to republish, below is the English version.

1. Summer 2023 was the first time you visited Slovakia. You tasted some wines from Slovakia, what do you think about them?
I spent three days tasting wines in Slovakia with three producers – Tajna, Kasnyik, and Château Belá – and it was an incredible experience. Tajna makes around 10 varieties at various price points – including international varieties like Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir as well as traditional varieties like Riesling Vlašský and Dunaj. Kasnyik (which is imported into my home state of California by Danch and Granger Selections) is one of Slovakia’s premier producers of natural wines. Tasting in the cellar with iconic Slovak winemaker Miroslav Petrech at Château Belá was a great honor. I also met Ondrej Korpaš – the renowned grape breeder responsible for the crossing of varieties that resulted in the creation of varieties like Dunaj, Vah, Hron, Devín, Breslava, etc. – at his small private research vineyard and winery. This was a highlight of my visit. The wines I tried during these visits convinced me that they are experiencing a renaissance, and they are ready for the world stage.

2. Did you find some of them which you really like? If yes, why?
I cannot remember a wine I did not enjoy, but I had a few favorites. I was particularly enamored with Tajna’s different renditions of Riesling Vlašský – the innovative expressions of the variety as still white wines, a skin-contact orange still wine, and a Brut sparkling – all lively with juicy fruit flavors – as well as the Gold Medal-winning 2019 Cabernet Franc from the estate Sari Vineyard. The latter was the first wine from Slovakia I ever tasted – while attending the annual Franc & Franc Forum in Villány, Hungary in November 2022. Its flavors of ripe dark berries and mint – along with fine tannins – made a lasting impression – and it was a joy to taste again. My favorites from Kasnyik were the Riesling Vlašský made as skin-contact orange wine – a textured wine with notes of apricot and orange rind – and the Brut Nature Blaufränkisch – a brightly colored rosé sparkling replete with flavors of ripe red berries and brioche. At Château Belá, I was mesmerized by the Rieslings – for which Miroslav Petrech and German winemaker and co-founder, Egon Müller – are known. I tasted at least 10 Rieslings from the 2007 to 2022 vintages at varying ripeness levels – and they were some of the finest I have tasted outside of Germany.

3. Slovakia’s wine region is specific and unique. What do you think about white wines aged in barrique. Do they have any potential?
Climate change has been kind to Slovakia. The acidity and ripeness of white grape varieties make some of them suitable for aging in barrique. One notable example I tasted at Tajna was the Chardonnay Barrique – an elegant, yet creamy wine with lemon curd, melon, and tropical flavors. I also tasted the Sémillon – which sees some French oak – and it was rich with flavors like honey and tropical fruits. At Kasnyik, all the wines spend time in neutral oak barriques – and that is the perfect winemaking regime for these unfiltered wines with a richer mouthfeel and enough acidity to age gracefully.

4. You had a few opportunities to taste wine made from Dunaj. What is your opinion about the aging potential of Dunaj?
I tasted examples of Dunaj from Tajna and Kasnyik – and participated in a masterclass at Tajna where the attendees tasted 10 examples of Dunaj. Having never had Dunaj prior to this visit, I found this variety to show itself in a wide range of styles – depending on the vineyard, farming practices, and winemaking techniques. Most presented profiles that included flavors like blackberry and blueberry compote, stewed plums, dark chocolate, and sweet tannins. I shared with the group that Dunaj reminded me of Petite Sirah (Durif), but with softer tannins. The examples we tasted that had higher acidity and lower residual sugar seemed to have the best potential for aging. While visiting grape breeder Ondrej Korpaš, the consensus was that Dunaj – along with Blaufränkisch – are the future for Slovakia’s reds.

5. What do you like about Slovakia’s wines most?
What I enjoyed most was the diversity. Producers have the freedom to make wines from a plethora of grape varieties and styles, without having to follow strict appellation rules like other countries. They are passionate and excited about making wines their way – and it shows in the quality. I was so impressed that I began searching for more. I have since had the opportunity to taste examples from Bott Frigyes and Csernus. I have barely scratched the surface of my exploration of Slovakia’s wines. I am excited to return soon and taste more. It is exciting to witness the country’s wine industry coming of age and receiving the recognition it deserves.

About the Author: Elizabeth Smith

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Dr. Elizabeth Smith is a former college professor and wine club manager turned award-winning writer, copywriter, and wine and writing competition judge. Elizabeth is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International Sacramento and Sonoma Chapters, the Circle of Wine Writers and the Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association. Connect with Elizabeth at easmith.net/contact.