Wine column: Our northern neighbor Saxony
Wine has flourished where the wall couldn't manage
Posted: January 30, 2013
Out of season, the Schloss Wackerbarth's steep vineyards, in Radebeul, are covered in deep snow.
From Prague, the nearest foreign wine region lies just a little more than 70 miles (120 km) to the north. The Federal German State of Saxony is home to the wine region of the same name, one of the two regions of the former German Democratic Republic, the other being Saale-Unstrut. Saxony or Sachsen consists of a tiny area hugging the valley of the Elbe River between the city of Dresden and the town of Meissen, the latter more renowned for its refined porcelain. Wine has been around in Saxony for at least 850 years, under the auspices of the church and aristocracy, the principal landowners down the years.
Not only is this among the smallest, it is also the northernmost of Germany's wine regions. Vineyards account for a mere 470 hectares (1150 acres), of which more than 80 percent is planted with white grapes. The climate is deeply continental, with a considerable likelihood of spring frosts as well as of grapes failing to ripen with insufficient sun, though the proximity of the Elbe helps temper these extremes.
Vineyards often lie on steep slopes divided into small plots. Since German reunification, much effort has gone into maintaining winemaking in this part of the world, mostly through the efforts of the 3,000 small growers. These often make wine a sideline while belonging to growers' associations like Winzergenossenschaft. The best wines are fruity with a refreshing acidity. Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) are the main varietals grown here, with Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Dornfelder the most popular red grapes. The Goldriesling crossing is a local speciality that produces wines said to be similar to those of Austria's Wachau region, though far lighter.
Possibly the most renowned professional winery lies between the main centers of Dresden and Meissen, in the Baroque chateau of Wackerbarth in the small town of Radebeul. The chateau was built by Augustus the Strong, who ruled the state in the early 18th century, during which time he was also responsible for building many of the other splendorous architectural treasures in the area.
Although the estate remains the property of the state of Saxony, it is by no means a relic of its communist past; the winery, boasting the oldest sekt production in Saxony, has recently undergone much reconstruction. It is now high-tech with thoroughly modern facilities throughout, including a shop, hotel and restaurant hosting a range of wine-related events. The belvedere provides a popular spot for weddings. Since its reopening after the renovation in 2002, the chateau and winery have been under the very capable management of Slovak Sonja Schilg, who has overseen an annual increase in profit from 2 million to 20 million euros.
Overall, this picturesque region is very well-geared to tourist activities with a 55 km wine trail that follows the Elbe River from Pirna, through Dresden, Radebeul and on to the small wine village of Diesbar-Seusslitz, to the northwest of Meissen. And not far from here is the magnificent castle, Schloss Moritzburg, where the most popular Czechoslovak fairy tale ever, Tři oříšky pro Popelku (Three Nuts for Cinderella), was shot in 1973. It has been shown on TV at Christmas ever since.
Winery of the Month: Vinařství Novosedly Vinofol
In 1992, the Foltýn brothers, Pavel and Richard, set out to make their own wine. Using the name Vino-Fol(týn) in the village of Novosedly near Mikulov, where the Roman legions of Emperor Probus planted the first vines, they have been investing slowly but surely in the modernization of plant and technology. They now cultivate 85 hectares on sites in Novosedly and on the well-aerated slopes of the Pálava hills at Pavlov.
Vinofol produces some excellent wines from the keg as well as several ranges of quality such as Top Collection, Pavlov and Novosedly Exclusive, which are widely available.
For some time now, the company has actively supported sport in the Czech Republic: The wines regularly accompany the national hockey and soccer teams on their world travels. Intent on seeking new horizons, Vino-Fol(týn) was one of two Czech representatives at this year's EnoExpo in Kraków, the largest wine show in Poland. Visits can be arranged by e-mail. (Contact Zuzana Foltýnová at email@example.com)
Wines of the Month:
Goldener Wagen Edition 1950, 2011
Producer: Schloss Wackerbarth, Radebeul, Saxony, Germany
The Golden Wagon refers to a vineyard planted with quality grapes here in 1950, so the vines are now more than 60 years old. It's a Riesling, Traminer, Pinot Gris and Silvaner blend. The bouquet has a delicately perfumed nose featuring ripe peaches with notes of rose petals and honey, very expressive of Pinot Gris and Traminer. Lush opulent taste with a long, lingering finish and a fine Riesling minerality. Enjoy the rarity, says the label (19.90 euros for 50 cl). Schloss-wackerbarth.de
Welschriesling Pavlov Exclusive Collection 2011
Producer: Vinařství Novosedly Vinofol, Novosedly
Bright pale straw to the beholder. The nose of this sprightly youthful wine is reminicent of green apples and bananas and is intensely floral with a hint of honey. The tongue picks out all the lemony tones and the fine mineral backup can be associated with the wine's origins on the calcareous slopes of the Pálava hills (U Božích muk vineyard), whence hail the very best Moravian Welschrieslings. (220 Kč) Vinofol.cz
On Monday, Feb. 4, the doyen of Prague's wine moderators, Zdeněk Reimann, will host his weekly wine session at Hotel Hoffmeister opposite the Prague Castle steps close to the Malostranská metro station. The subject will be South African wines, and the tasting will be complemented by regional delicacies such as braaivleis (barbecued meat) and snoek fish. The kickoff will be at 6:30 p.m. All this for only 496 Kč. Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org
John & Helena Baker can be reached at