Winnica Golesz

Polish wine (not a joke) plus MWB 6P Tokáji 1993

A group of tasters including Wiktor (our gracious host), Marek, Tomek, Robert and yours truly has been asked to assess wines from a new winery here in Poland. These wines are not available commercially for the time being and probably will not be in the nearest future due to bureaucratical obstacles (e.g. the absurd requirement of a chemical laboratory to be available in the place of bottling). The winery is called Winnica Golesz, is located in Jasło in southeastern Poland at the border with Slovakia and has been founded and run by one Roman Myśliwiec, a retired chemist in his 50s, who has been making a living out of a vine nursery but started making wine from plantings he experiments with. I understand this post has purely academic interest for readers on this board, but I decided to post it nonetheless. For those interested in the MWB Tokáji please find the TN at the bottom end.

Some historical notes: vines had been grown in Poland in historical times, with production exported to Germany and as far as Rome back in the 11th and 12th century. A slow but important change in climactic conditions moved the northernmost border of vine planting south of Poland in the 14th century. Throughout later history, the Polish aristocracy has imported and consumed wine on a large scale. Until the 1930s, some Bordeaux châteaux were bottling wine with labels in Polish (Léoville-Barton is an example). However, the preferred wine here appears to have been Hungarian, or 'węgrzyn' as it was referred to ('Węgry' being the Polish word for Hungary). The influence Polish demand had on wine production in Hungary is reflected by the fact that the word Számorodni used to describe the lightest, non-Aszú-inclusive style of Tokáji was borrowed from the Polish language where it means 'self-generating', and was originally used to describe wine from grapes that self-fermented on the long way from the Tokáji hills to Southern Poland.

The situation today is less inspiring. Years of exercise have made beer and vodka the preferred beverages here. During Socialist rule, the only available wine was bulk produce from other Socialist country, mainly sparkling Ukrainian Muscat and indifferent over-yielded Bulgarian plonk known under the generic brand name of Sophia. Quality wine only started to appear in any quantities in 1989, but then was shockingly expensive and remains so until now. Note that customs on alcoholic beverages imports are over 30%, there's an excise tax on alcohol, 22% VAT and anywhere from 20% to 100% retailer markup. Consequently, when a $10 French retail bottle sells for $18 here is considered a happy situation, $25 is more like the norm. Adding the fact that salaries here continue to be two or three times less than in Western Europe certainly does not help to promote quality wine consumption. Some change is evident, the growing middle class is starting to show some basic interest in wine, be it only from snobbery. The government is not helping much, keeping those outrageous taxes consistently high and banning any publicity for alcoholic beverages, something which beer and vodka producers have learned to escape: the former by advertising alcohol-free beer, the latter by putting together a sailing team with the vodka logo proudly displayed on the sail (Polish 'łódka' standing for 'boat', while vodka is 'wódka').

This was to put the recent tasting in perspective. Roman Myśliwiec is a bold man to have started production altogether given the circumstances. He is even bolder to have insisted on quality and to have reached pretty convincing results, as will appear from TNs. The main problem here is the climate is basically too cool to grow vines: the ripening season is quite short, with severe spring frosts constantly threatening the vines' very existence. So far Myśliwiec has mainly resorted to hardened non-vinifera varieties such as Seyval Blanc, which are aromatically uninteresting (at least most of them) but which have the advantage of frost and disease resistance and early ripening. Another problem is that since he is still experimenting with varieties, all of his vines are very young and do not yet allow for proper concentration of flavours and body to be obtained.

Unfortunately I do not have too many details on the grape varieties used; some info can be found in general publications, of which I recommend Jancis Robinson's excellent "Guide to Wine Grapes". Some of these varieties might be grown and vinified in Canada or England, some are so obscure they do not even have names, just serial numbers. I assume most are non-vinifera, though Bianca and Rondo are said by Myśliwiec to be vinifera (at least in part). Wines are vinified in the traditional way, I have no details apart from the fact that chaptalization is used in some wines but not all (where available I will state this), fermented and matured (briefly) in steel. No wood is used, wines are not filtered. After some months in steel wines are kept in c. 50-liter glass demijohns.

Tasting occurred on Tuesday, March 27th, 2001. Wines were bottled at the estate about a week before tasting. All (including whites) were decanted for 15 minutes to 2 hours. Tasted from rather large, Bordeaux-type stemware and a smaller, Riedel's-Riesling-like glass which seemed to me to give purer, less foxy noses.

Winnica Golesz Seyval Blanc 1999

Light golden, luminous colour. Neutral white wine nose at first, slightly reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc, some gooseberry with clean mineral notes, a whiff of volatile acidity. Off-dry, very cheap-flavoured on the palate, like a Bulgarian or Hungarian muscat ottonel. Slightly fizzy as well, a sign of instability that we found in all Myśliwiec's wines. Short. A growing hint of white-pepper put it into a Grüner Veltliner register, though the consensus was this is very Loire-like (Melon or Gros-Plant). The cleanest, sleekest of the whites, and quite enjoyable.

Bianca 1999

(a Hungarian crossing which is at least partly vinifera)
Golden-greenish. A bad corked whiff on the nose that blows off. A cooler, damper nose than the Seyval Blanc, with the funk dissipating quickly, leaving yeast, some pear, a hint of citrus and mineral, fairly vague Sauvignon Blanc flavours again. Better structure here, though not as sleek as the previous wine, slightly longer finish. Shier nose, but fuller palate.

Muscat of Odessa 1999

Super-funky muscat nose of rotting grapes, a bit of that cardboardy-foxy smell too, with a lemony, sour/foul apple edge to it. Not the oxidized apple peel thing though. Nutmeg and a bit of stemminess on the nose also. Acidic on entry, rather short. Less interesting than the two above (because much foxier), though with better acidic backbone.

Hibernal 1999

(the grape's name says it all)
Cardboardy nose again at first. Stemmy nose, some wet dog aromas, very dirty initially. Then some tomato sauce and tomato leaf, boiled pasta. Thicker, fuller body in this one, good structure, already what appears to be a properly 'sculpted' wine, with again that impression of minerality, a sleek, quite pure wine for what it is (for those appalled enough by the notes so far, please remember the context). Myśliwiec sees this as his best white, but we (I) could not agree.

Jutrzenka 2000

(a prototype grape that only has a number was nicknamed 'Sunset' by Myśliwiec himself)
Light straw colour. Bad muscat nose of sweet grapes, slightly yeasty, with growing mustiness and wet wool. With airing time the funk blew off (these foxy characteristics of non-vinifera grapes seem to be the most volatile), revealing a slightly medicinal (bitterish) nose of bread dough, some gooseberry, green apple, a bit of vanilla. Slightly fizzy in the glass. An impression of citrus on the palate, lemon or tangerine. Medium acidity, lower than the Seyval or Bianca above. Slightly bitter finish, but pleasantly so. Lacking body, there's almost nothing happening on the palate here. A bit of fermenting vat aromas later on, which made us think of the recently tasted (and TN-ed) organic Sauvignon by Claude Courtois from the Loire, and BTW the green apple, yeast and vanilla profile was also similar. Lacks the pronounced minerality of other whites, rather short as well. Growing resiny, pinewood impression with even more airing, which we found a good thing and a common trait with the following.

Sibera 2000

Slight fizz again. Very light straw, probably the lightest wine in colour. More mineral on the nose, grapes or even sultanas, resin. Very 'empyreumatique', as the French put it. Pretty fat and oily texture, medium to low acid. Medium short. Aromas of raw chicken meat, sultanas, wet glass, some sweet pear on the finish. Fairly neutral unfortunately, because it does seem to have quite decent structure to carry flavours more expressive than these.

It seemed to us that quite a satisfactory wine could be obtained by combining the stuffing of the Sibera with the aromatic richness of the Jutrzenka and the steeliness and minerality of the Seyval. Alas the on-the-spot blend we prepared did retain only the worst characteristics of all three: aromas of dirty socks, raisins, mustiness etc. Airing did help, but not significantly so. We were still convinced, however, that blending might be a solution to the inherent weaknesses of these varieties and that some way of getting more body and persistence on the palate must be found here.

Two reds then:

Rondo 2000

(at least partly vinifera)
Slight fizz here again. Pretty deep purple verging on raspberry, astonishing colour extraction for what it is. Pure nose of raspberry, fried porcini mushrooms, licorice, some tar which kept growing. Highly perfumed and pungent in the good sense. The tar evolved into something more like nail polish, but was not too unpleasant. Palate is of sweet raspberry syrup, just a hint of artificiality in that it is intensely bitter. Slightly short as all wines were, and close to off-dry. No tannins. Medium acidity, with something slightly unpleasant on the finish. An obvious excess of bitterness here plus a general lack of body are the only flaws. One would just like it to show a bit more stuffing on the finish, may be to convert the residual sugar into a more tannic uplift to make it a definitely enjoyable wine. Very well-made really. Suggestively reminiscent of a light Valpolicella or Beaujolais to me (a St-Amour it almost could pass for), though others thought it more like a Syrah, especially on the nose (which was more Grenache-like IMO, if one was to stick to the Rhône). Extremely impressive given the circumstances, the more so since we expected the red wines to be much inferior here, perhaps based on what Slovakian or Moravian wine we've had in our sinuous wine lives.

Wiszniowyj Rannij / Medina / Sevar / Cascade 2000

A semi-sweet blend of different grapes, the latter of which is probably grown to some extent in Canada. Slightly darker than the Rondo, though still in that cherry-juice shade of ruby. Very earthy and dusty nose, with tar and licorice again, a very semi-sweet nose and that is no praise. A stemmy sweetness on the palate which is very unpleasant. Close to undrinkable frankly. This style of wine just doesn't work no mater what you do.

We all agreed that the common trait in all these wines was a fragrance that manifested itself as resin in the whites and as tar in the reds. There was also a pronounced minerality in the whites that immediately set them apart from common Eastern European commercial plonk and indicated thoughtful winemaking. Yet another recurring characteristic was the structure, which I would call tall and sleek, with a purity quite remarkable in the circumstances. None of the wines had a particularly impressive length, but our overall impression was that Myśliwiec had succeeded in providing a solid framing for future aromatic development.
Were these common traits signs of terroir or a winemaker's signature? Quite impossible to say based on such a limited record, but it seemed obvious to us that the winemaking process had been brought onto a distinguished level of quality. The wines' shortcomings seem to stem from the grape varieties used, and we were torn between two possible paths to improvement. One would be to blend two or three selected varieties in order to get the best characteristic from each, as mentioned above. Another, which I would think preferable, would be to somehow switch to noble vinifera varieties instead of these rather uninspiring crossings. The Polish climate being what it is, I think growers in northern parts of Germany or in England have been experiencing quite similar problems with frosts and ripeness, and have learned how to solve them. There must be some hardier clones of Sylvaner, Rieslaner or Müller-Thurgau, not to mention Siegerrebe, Ortega etc., that could reach satisfying sugar levels even here in Poland. It also seemed to me that there could be a chance to give grapes extra ripeness by using botrytis or even elaborating an eiswein style (which BTW could be made in Poland in October : -)) ).

We will be monitoring Myśliwiec's production and encouraging him to persevere in his quest for quality. His pioneering efforts left us quite impressed and it is likely that in the not too distant future we will see Polish wine not only sold locally, but also exported, just as Slovakian or Hungarian wine is. Thanks for reading so far, I hope this post is of interest to someone, be it as a pure curiosity. As a bonus to finish off the tasting at Wiktor's house, we had this (Mitteleuropa patriotism oblige!):

Marta Wille-Baumkauff Tokáji Aszú 6 Puttonyos Holdvölgy 1993

Purchased for $20 in Cologne this winter. 12% alcohol, 170 g/liter of sugar I think. Decanted for two hours (yes, I know, that's infanticide). Deep orange-amber, with quite deep rosey or even reddish hues in the decanter. A slight whiff of yeast and chlorine (?) initially on the nose. Very intense nose of quince and elderberry syrup, orange zest gelée, amazingly fresh with that glacé impression. Extremely sweet of course, with acids I would define as medium. Botrytis and orange peel bitterness on the finish which is shorter than expected, though still quite long, and a baked bread impression echoing the yeast on the nose. A bit watery really despite all that sugar, slightly hollow on mid-palate. The main flaw however is a lack of aromatic richness and/or complexity. Enormous sweetness, huge bitterness, and in their context I found the acidity lacking. A relative disappointment, though I had been warned it is not the greatest 6P around. Special thanks to David for his kind (and constant!) advice on Tokáji matters.

Nerval 03-30-01

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