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Wine and Cycling in the Czech Republic

czech cyclingBecause of some concerted efforts from groups like the Czech Greenways Travel Club, seeing Moravia from the back of a bicycle is a breeze. Hundreds of kilometers of roads and trails connect cities and villages around the Czech Republic, with most of the routes either on trails where there are no cars or on country roads without much traffic. Many hotels, restaurants, and wineries display the cyclist-friendly sign pictured here, meaning they have places to lock up a bike and—in the case of hotels—won’t scold you for washing your sweaty shirt in the sink.

You can go on a guided tour (Czech Greenways or their sister org in New York can set you up) or you can follow the trails yourself after renting a quality hybrid bike from someone like Top Bicycle. (Figure on 19 euros a day for the latter, including assistance if you have a breakdown somewhere or overestimate your stamina and need a pickup.) You can buy excellent maps that detail all the trails, but all the routes are really well-marked along the way, so it’s hard to get very lost.

You can cycle all the way from Prague to Vienna or even Krakow to Vienna if you have the time and energy, but the 300km network going through Moravia offers some of the flattest terrain and the best wine. I was there during harvest time, which meant ripe grapes hanging on the vines, farmers running little tractors filled with the harvest, and old pressing it all up in their cellars that go back generations. The towns in this region are a slice of old Europe, returning to glory after a decade and a half of post-communist reconstruction. Castles on a hill, cobbled streets, onion-domed church spires, and pubs with half-liter beers for less than a dollar. Sweeeet.

czech wine cycling

But I was there to check out the wine, which was fair overall on the red side and surprisingly great on the white side. Plus the Czech ice wine and straw wine dessert styles can hold their own with almost anyone’s. I spent a glorious hour at the National Wine Center in Valtice, where you pay about 19 dollars and have a run at some of the 100 best wines in the country. (Rotated out each year with new winners.) For the 23 I sipped, the quality was consistently high, including the few winners that come from small family wineries just barely above hobby status. Hardly any of the stuff gets exported though–especially across the Atlantic–so Moravian wine is still kind of a local secret.

moravia wine burcakWhat’s interesting about the wine culture in Moravia is how democratic and widespread it is. Even the smallest towns have a dozen or two wine cellars on the outskirts where the locals store a year’s worth of wine after a few busy weeks during harvest time. Here wine is not looked at as some mysterious elixir judged by bespectacled men with furrowed brows. It just something that people have been making for hundreds of years in their spare time, often from grapes grown on a plot of land smaller than a typical suburban lawn in the U.S. Most of what comes out of barrels the next spring won’t win any awards, but in general it’s far better than what you’ll find in your local supermarket bargain aisle.

P.S.–The stuff that guy is pouring is not wine, it’s burcak (burr-chok), which is like grape cider. Fermented, but low in alcohol and just partway on its way to wine. It is only available in the autumn.

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