Pálava – The City and the Grape
During our pre-move July visit to Brno, my husband and I took an afternoon and wandered around to the local wine bars. Craving a heavier white wine, I asked the bartender at Just Wine, a local Brno wine shop, for their recommendation.
I explained my simple request : A white wine, preferably native to the Czech Republic. I wanted a richer, rounder texture with some bright, floral aromas, reminiscent of Viognier or Roussanne. Without a word, he ducked back into the shop and minutes later, proudly strode over with a bottle of what has quickly become one of my favorite wine discoveries here in Brno. It is Pálava, a grape varietal named after Pavlovské vrchy, a small mountain range in southern Moravia.
Immediately after popping my nose in the glass, my brain started racing for the flavor characteristics. Spice, honey, nectarine, white flower, spearmint and melon all came to mind. The wine seemed off-dry, yet the alcohol seemed to be fairly high. Part of me thought, well, this is a funny tasting Gewürztraminer, with the same lychee and rose petal sensations. I felt like I had stepped back into Tasting101, deciphering between my instinct and my tastebuds.
The grape, Pálava, was created in the mid 20th century by Josef Veverka in Velké Pavlovice in southern Moravia. It is a crossed grape varietal, meaning that the mother plant (Gewürztraminer) and the father plant (Muller-Thurgau) were bred to create a new varietal. In creating a crossing, the grape is in a way manipulated to survive through vineyard or climate hardships. Pálava can produce grapes with a higher sugar content (hence the sweetness) and prefers the warm, sunny climate in the city of Pálava, as seen here from above. And yes, the name refers to both the grape and the city.
Located in the Mikulov wine region of Moravia, Pálava refers to the last limestone hill of the Carpathian Mountains. This outcropping protected the Romans as they settled in the region in the early 200’s AD. The hill acted as a buffer against invaders from the south and offered an incredible protection for settlement near the Danube river. Limestone is a fantastic soil type for growing white grape varietals, providing a backbone of mineral raciness in the wines. Similar limestone soils are also found in world class wines hailing from Chablis, Champagne and the Loire Valley. The south facing slopes of Pálava provide excellent sun exposure for these white grapes, allowing for a slower, longer ripening season. These elements combined allow both the Pálava grape and many other white wine varietals to thrive in this picturesque region.
Pálava is featured on many wine menus here, as the grape is quite popular in the region. The combination of floral aromatics and a fleshy, juicy texture match elegantly with a slight sweetness on the mid-palate. It is quite a match to salty pork pierogies or pork knuckle, hence it’s appeal in this pork goes on everything country. In fact, the grape is in such high esteem that the Czech vintners refuse to sell it to vinotékas by the barrel, as they would with their usual stock of Ryzlink rýnský or Rulandské Bílé. The wine is sold exclusively by the bottle, guaranteeing the quality and origin of this precious grape. I had been warned by a wine shop owner, if you see Pálava by the barrel, it is not true Pálava. Since the name also designates this wine growing region, it could potentially be a blend of white varietals, hiding behind the Pálava name. I’m anxious to try more bottlings, to explore the world of this wildly unfamiliar grape.