I came to Poland with no expectation for wine or more precisely Polish wine. There is a belief that wine grapes (Vitis vinifera) do not exist in northerly climates like Poland. The belief or misperception is that Poland is both not warm enough and does not have enough sunlight hours to help Vitis vinifera to properly ripen.
While there are very basic needs of the Vitis (grape vine and I am using Vitis versus Vitis vinifera) in terms of sunlight, wind speed, moisture, humidity, angle of sun, etc. (sounds like I am speaking of Terroir only, instead I am referring to a whole host of requirements that are not Terroir specific but a general or minimum requirement). Vitis vinifera (I will use the term ‘Vv’ as an abbreviation) are not all the same if examining genetic code almost all varieties would look quite similar. Instead the variation in varities that exists dictates what can grow where. Pinot Noir often thought of as a very old variety is particularly finicky–it’s delicateness is so pervasive and profound and yet at the same time very compelling. Pinot Noir is descending from the wild grape just like all other Vv’s (Vitis sylvestris) but cannot grow in every climate zone and unlike Syrah is not adaptable to hot or cool climates.
The question is global warming contributing to Poland’s ability to grow Vitis vinifera or hybrid grapes—probably not. Poland probably has been able to do this for sometime and it is through wine pioneers testing and trying what varieties do the best. I look at Quebec as a model for northerly wine grape growing. There are both hybrids and Vv—and you can find producers using both in a cuvee. Poland’s wineries are increasing and have doubled in about 3 years. Today there are at least 87 commercial wineries and some of the hurdles they have had to face are the usual regulatory hurdles.
I was at Warsaw Chopin Airport and I expected to see a lot of Polish beer and Vodka—what I didn’t expect to see was Polish wine. I went Premium Food Gate—you’ll fine everything Polish here—if I had more room I would have purchased more Polish wines and foods. There was a most helpful associate at the store talking to me about Polish wines and he was quite knowledgeable and passionate about Polish wines. He mentioned that most Polish vineyards are small about 1-1.5 Hectares (2.45 to nearly 4 acres). I get the sense like many regions around the world and it reminds me of my visits to Canadian wine countries that Polish producers are still in discovery and confirmation mode of what works best in Poland. I picked up a 2015 Zweigelt from the producer Winnica Miłosz. I took the bottle with me to Kraków and tasted there. The Zweigelt was beautiful—an identifiable Zweigelt and could be mistaken for no other variety. Beautiful tones of tart cherry, pepper, cinnamon, fruit orchard, cedar notes as well as pomegranate, strawberry. This was not just a passable wine but a wine of excellence. I could have imagined this with the cuisine of the region and with any cuisine styles would pair easily with this wine. I was not expecting a nicely developed wine and true to it’s variety’s characteristics.
I looked for Polish wines on the menus of the restaurant I visited and none of them had any Polish wines. Polish wines are new at least on premise and it will take training and some convincing of the virtues of Polish wines. I do think there are many people willing to taste and try Polish wines. First the opportunity to taste.; second the personnel to support you purchase. Why wouldn’t you want to have a wine from the region you are visiting? I think wine cultures today are built much more quickly than they have in the past. There is a demanding market place for dry wines and I think that is the majority of Polish wines.
I did find more Polish wines as I was leaving Kraków and picked up from the well known Polish producer Adoria. Adoria was founded by Mike Whitney who comes from California and landed in Poland in 1995. I picked up a bottle of his Riesling and Pinot Noir. Very skeptical about the Pinot Noir at first—knowing how finicky this variety is and not sure if Poland could produce a Pinot Noir? First from what I understand that Mike produces: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Bacchus and it took over a year and half to find the right site –he looked at over 300 sites before settling on his site in Zachowice. I tasted both the Riesling and Pinot Noir in Europe and wish I could have taken a bottle to my San Francisco home. The Riesling was nicely dry and filled with evocative notes of wet stones, green apple and mild hint of citrus tones, tea, and delicate nuanced notes of flowers.
When I first poured the Pinot Noir it reminded of a German Pinot Noir—nicely vitreous and no mistaking this wine for anything other than Pinot Noir. I loved the wild strawberry, rose petal, clove, graphite and violet notes. Completely won over by this wine. Don’t let the vitreous colour dissuade you. Don’t compare this Pinot Noir to France, Oregon or California—Pinot Noir is certainly reflecting it’s region and it would be a mistake to not take this wine seriously.
Keep an open mind for Polish wines—you might be positively surprised by what is in your glass and how this can be paired with a vast array of cuisines. It’s a big wine world out there and I am so delighted to have tasted Polish wines. Give them a taste when you get an opportunity.
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