Jaroslav Osička is a legend in Moravian natural wine, a kind of Pierre Overnoy. Except that Jaroslav not only makes wine, but taught at the local wine school for thirty years. Many of the younger generation of winemakers learnt from him, and indeed some have stories showing Osička’s true grasp of teaching winemaking: lots and lots of tasting (and drinking). He instilled the first law of winemaking, to trust your palate. Each wine is different, each vintage is different. This is what he manages in his own winemaking, ably assisted now by his son, Luboš.
The Overnoy comparison is apt in a way because Jaroslav was inspired by the wines of the Jura, long before they became fashionable and achieved a profile that was more than local. Not that his wines are in any way replicas of that region. His portfolio concentrates to a degree on local varieties, or more often local clones of international varieties which have been in Moravia for many years.
The Osička vineyard is only around three hectares in size, but they do manage to make a lot of wines from it, almost in parallel with another Eastern French region, Alsace. Their base is in the important South Moravian wine village of Velké Bílovice. His two main vineyards, one stretching up the slope behind the cellars, are on mostly sandy loess at around 200-to-240 masl. The vineyards are lovely to walk in, full of other plants and flora. Far from discouraging local wildlife, Jaroslav puts out salt for the local deer in summer, placed under small wooden constructed shelters. He says you need to balance the needs of man with nature, something followed through in the winery. He means this in the wider sense.
Everything is done as you’d expect with natural wine – wild yeasts, spontaneous fermentations, etc. There is generally barrel maceration for white wines, whole bunches added to the must which he believes stops bitter compounds leeching into the wine. It also adds freshness. Wood is a mix of oak and local acacia. If SO2 is used at all, it’s a tiny amount at bottling, and the only wines to see a (coarse) filter are the young wines which are bottled after six months. Anything else is unfiltered. This means Osička wines of all colours do tend towards texture.
Of course, it’s all well and good to ensure low yields and to keep the vineyard and winery free from synthetic agri-chemical inputs, but here it’s all about listening (not literally) to what each wine is saying, being in tune with the fermentation and reacting to its individual needs. As father and son both stress, there is never a template. Each wine from each vintage is individual, and is allowed to express itself as such.
As a nod to the Jura, oxygen is seen as a friend here more than an enemy. As with all of the best natural winemakers, there is an innate understanding here that exposure to oxygen at an early stage ensures resistance to the potential negative effects of such exposure later on, especially when the wine is not drowned with SO2. It’s rather like us learning that exposure to certain things allows we humans to build a resistance to germs, if that’s not too ridiculous an analogy.
We had a pretty comprehensive tasting with Jaroslav initially, then joined by Luboš. The intensity of the (relaxed) tasting illustrated the profound thinking and evident passion behind the wines, but not a technical intensity. Of course, we learnt how the different wines are made, but we learnt much more about the wines on an emotional level, I think.
Moravian Rhapsody 2021
This is going to be the new name for Akacia, one of my favourite Osička white blends, Moravia being the southern Czech region to balance Bohemia in the north. This was a barrel sample, a blend of 75% Rhine Riesling, 20% Pinot Gris, and the balancing 5% Neuburger. “No chemistry, just artistry”, Jaroslav half-joked, although he did admit that this unsulphured sample will probably get a touch of sulphur at bottling. It’s very fresh, although underpinned by the richness of the Pinot Gris. Can’t wait for this to appear.
Pinot Gris 2021
This is also still in barrel, on its lees, although it has also seen a period in fibreglass tank since it was fermented. Between 10-15% was fermented as whole berries with a one-month maceration on skins to give a little texture. Pinot Gris certainly has a degree of richness in Moravia, but not the full-on Alsace style of richness. It also has that classic Osička lift. I think a lot of people would be surprised by this.
BB stands provocatively for Bílovice Burgundy. Of course, it doesn’t bear any relation to the French region whatsoever, being a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Blending red and white varieties is fairly traditional in Moravia, although you don’t often see this blend. However, the name seems more apt when you taste it, discovering the smoothness of a good Cöte de Beaune. Jaroslav favours Czech oak here, suggesting that he wants to keep the wood source as close to the vines as possible. This is why many Czech natural winemakers also use acacia, or robinia (aka “false acacia”).
This has seen almost two years in Czech oak. The oak and fruit are already integrated quite nicely and it already shows a stunning bouquet. It will age magnificently, and should be allowed to do so, although my guess is that it will be extremely enjoyable now. It’s an impressive wine in a market full of really good Chardonnay, so don’t be afraid to choose this if you see it on a restaurant list.
Modry Portugal 2021
Modry Portugal is varietal Blauer Portugieser, a variety which probably originated in Lower Styria (now in Slovenia), but which is far from uncommon in parts of Germany. Aged in old oak, in 2021 this signature red was riper, with lower yields. It has an extra degree of alcohol (at 13% abv rather than its more usual 12%). This makes it a richer, more concentrated, wine, but it also has the structure given by its tannins. Perhaps a good year to try this, although previous vintages have been more gluggable. It is always densely purple with sappy dark berry fruit, a result of the variety, but in the past Modry Portugal was taken far less seriously. Those who have taken the time to do it justice have generally yielded good results, this being a prime example.
P is for Pinot, N is for Noir and in between comes A for André. This is a local variety, developed in Moravia in the 1960s, but it now crops up to great effect down south, in Austria’s Burgenland. It’s a crossing of Blaufränkisch (aka Lemberger) and Saint-Laurent. The André grapes for this blend come from a vineyard called Panský, planted only in 2014. Ageing is in 3-to-4-year oak so there is a neutral effect on the wine. It’s a lovely garnet red, not at all heavy, very much lifted in both bouquet and palate. Another Osička wine I like a lot, although it would be hard to think of any I don’t. I think once the André vines are older it may go out as a single varietal, but in the meantime enjoy this blend.
The Rysak ’21 blend is equal parts Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. You’ll have realised by now that Jaroslav sees a distinct affinity between these varieties, as interestingly do a few natural winemakers I know in Eastern France. The maceration here is short, maybe five to six hours only, with both varieties co-fermenting in the vat as whole bunches. The result is a pale and light red wine, but the colour deceives. There is a concentration of fruit here which appears along with a real zing on the palate from the natural fruit acidity.
This is an unusual blend of Müller Thurgau and Neuburger. It’s a pale white wine with a floral bouquet and a fresh palate underpinned with a little pebbly texture. Very easy to drink. It may be simple, but simple and satisfying as the maxim goes.
Pinot Gris 2020
It’s the same wine as the PG tasted above, but with an extra year’s age. A bit more depth, a little more mellow, but no less fresh to my palate. It shows this wine will age. Perhaps the extra year has broadened it a little and whether you’d keep it longer (you certainly could), it’s delicious to go.
Likewise, we have another wine from the 2020 vintage with an extra year over the example we tried earlier. This had seen six months in bottle when opened. It is still young, accentuated by the fact that this vintage saw new Czech oak, though being untoasted the wood effect is less pronounced. Tasting this wine showed that it’s good to be patient. This is gorgeous!
Likewise, waiting is advised for this wine. Not necessarily years as this is from a vintage they described as “open”, but certainly six months would help. Made from six different Czech clones of Chardonnay, it’s yellow-gold in colour, rich and mineral at the same time. You can see that they are masters of Chardonnay here.
This was made in new Czech oak. They now use steam to temper its effects, but the oak used here was found to be too aggressive. It was only bottled at the end of 2019, but with three years in bottle any aggression has softened. It’s still a young wine as it has undergone the slow evolution offered by the Osička cellar, deep and cold. It’s probably all the more impressive as a “fine wine” as a result.
I had already tried this remarkable wine at the Real Wine Fair in London earlier this summer. V stands for vertikal, and this is a blend of 2017, 2018 and 2019 Chardonnay in the proportion 60/30 and 10 percent. If you were to find some it would be a treat. It really is a summation of the three vintages, with complexity in abundance. It exemplifies the benefits available for multi-vintage cuvées, if done with the right degree of empathy and intuition.
This is actually made from Roter Traminer, with no skin contact and just a few hours in the press. It is then aged in Robinia. It’s beautifully aromatic but dry.
100% Traminer aged in acacia after maceration in open vats as whole bunches. The colour is somewhere between sunset gold and bronze. It had only been bottled a few weeks but its freshness and vibrancy shone through. It is also developing a characteristic savoury edge. Drink it now, for sure, but there’s no doubt it will become more complex.
That’s the end of the tasting, fifteen wines being a good way to really get to know this genuinely great producer. You can’t beat being in someone’s company to get the feel of them as a person. Father and son are very different in so many ways, but they are both passionate and committed. Jaroslav is completely immersed in his oeuvre.
We began the tasting in the upstairs barrel room, quite small. Then we moved down to the underground cellars. We finished, despite the mid-thirty-degree heat, out in the vines. Moravia’s vineyards are attractive anyway, the rural nature of Moravia more beautiful than I had imagined. But visiting a much-loved natural environment like this, with everything in balance was quite magical. It could hardly fail to make me appreciate the wines even more than I did…and to have an even more emotional response when I drink them.
As with all the producers in this series of articles, the UK importer is Basket Press Wines. I was invited to Moravia by Basket Press and accommodation was provided by them and Petr Koráb in Boleradice. All other expenses (flights, car hire, and beer for my co-visitors on occasion) were provided by myself.
I can but hope that these wines make their way across the Irish Sea
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We are lucky to get them. Under the radar excellence from a wine scene many (not all) UK writers know little about.
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