Historical wine cellars, with their distinctive moist smell and walls overgrown by moulds, make all your senses tingle. These entire places are dominated by wine: stacked bottles cram the shelves, barrels line the floor and people quietly chat with glasses in their hands.
There are countless examples of places like this on the Small Carpathian Wine Route, a string of more than 30 towns and villages along the east side of the Small Carpathians of which Pezinok, Modra and Svätý Jur are the best known. There are more than 100 wine growers in this region, each following a tradition that dates in the area from Roman times. The real wine renaissance came in the 13th century, when German colonists settled here.
According to the 18th century polymath Matej Bel, “Svätý Jur wine is the best, Pezinok vineyards are the most beautiful and Modra vineyards are the most fertile”. Although a lot has changed in the region since then, the assessment still holds largely true.
Driving out of Bratislava, Svätý Jur is the first town to greet the keen wine-taster, but it’s worth taking a few minutes to explore the town itself before delving into the cellars. Svätý Jur’s hillside location grants terrific views from the top of the town. Eventually you will wind up with a glass in your hand and in the company of a local wine producer.
“You never buy good wine at the supermarket,“ said Miloš Grančič, 41, who is typical of Svätý Jur’s wine makers, decrying the mass production of millions of litres of wine a year. “The thing I like the most about wine making is to sit down with people, talk with each other and enjoy the wine.”
Further along the road from Svätý Jur is Pezinok, the de facto centre of the Small Carpathian Wine Route. The town also houses the Malokarpatské múzeum (Small Carpathian Museum), which informs visitors about the wine-making process and the lives of the people who work in the vineyards.
“The wine in the past was produced from lots of grape types, so the wine wasn’t pure and it contained more alcohol,” said Martin Hrubala, the museum’s historian. “Nowadays, 85 percent of wine produced in the Small Carpathians is white wine.”
The cellars under Pezinok castle house the Národný salón vín (The Slovak National Collection of Wine), which contains the 100 best wines chosen each year from all around Slovakia. A fee of around €17 will buy visitors 90 minutes of unlimited wine tasting.
“Modra – the capital of wine” (a registered trademark) is another typical wine making town whose hillside vineyards can be seen from afar. Although the most common wines for the region are internationally-known white wines such as Riesling or Veltliner there are also new Slovak grape varieties.
“You can taste Dunaj, Hron or Nitria, which are red wines,” said Jerguš Hajdučík, a 28-year-old wine-maker standing next to row of barrique barrels.
Apart from winemaking, Modra is well known for its multi-coloured, hand-painted ceramics, of which white and blue are the most typical. Various fine examples are displayed in an old tower gate converted into a small museum, as well as the gallery of Ignác Bismayer, where there is an exhibition of special ceramics depicting people working in vineyards, beggars, brides or typical Slovak outlaws.
This article was published in the latest edition of Bratislava City Guide , which can be obtained from our online shop.For those who would like to see it online first, you can read it for free here.
24. Jan 2014 at 0:00 | Peter Nagy