July 22, 2017


Slovakia (NB: not Slovenia – that is further down south) is not particularly well-known as a wine country. Or, to put it more accurately; Slovakia is definitely one of the least known wine countries in Europe, mainly its wines known only in the neighboring countries. But unlike in the other unknown European wine countries, winemaking in Slovakia is not a recent trend: grapes have been grown in Slovakia for centuries, if not millennia, and – believe it or not – the historical wine region of Tokaj is partly located in Slovakia!

Historically the Slovak wine has been made from varieties that are also cultivated in the neighboring countries; the most widely grown variety is Grüner Veltliner of Austrian fame (known locally as Veltlínské Zelené), while some other popular varieties are Welschriesling (Rizling Vlašský), Blaufränkisch (Frankovka Modrá), Müller-Thurgau, St. Laurent (Svätovavrinecké), Pinot Blanc (Rulandské Biele and Riesling (Rizling Rýnsky). Also Cabernet Sauvignon has been gaining fame, but as Slovakia is a rather northerly country (latitudes comparable to Alsace, Baden or Wien), the variety often fails to ripen fully – rather than attempting to make thin and unimpressive red wine, the variety is usually vinified here into a dry or off-dry rosé wine that is light, refreshing and often exhibiting those vegetal bell pepper note of pyrazines found in Cabernet Sauvignon wines that have been picked very (or even too) early.

One thing that is a more recent trend in Slovakia is the emergence of grape crossings. And not just any crossings, but instead new ones that have been crossed in viticultural research centers in Slovakia during the past 50 or so years (although there are also a handful of crossings from other Eastern European countries in cultivation). In Slovakia, one can come across such varieties as Alibernet (a crossing of Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon), Neronet ((St. Laurent x Portugieser) x Alibernet)and Rimava (Abouriou x Castets). Some of the most popular Slovak crossings are red Dunaj ((Muscat Bouschet x Blaufränkisch) x St. Laurent) and white Devín (Gewürztraminer x Roter Veltliner), the latter of which we will look more into detail in this post.

Although the Slovak crossings currently contribute to only some 3% of the cultivated vine area in Slovakia, they are steadily becoming more popular. This is mainly because they have been specifically crossed from varieties that have been cultivated in Slovakia for long and thus are known to be well-suited for the local climate. However, their recent upsurge has most likely stemmed for the recent wine trend of interest in lesser-known varieties; people around the world don't want another Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay anymore, but instead something with a local flair – a trend many Slovak wine growers are now trying to capitalize on. One should also remember that unlike those German crossings that are falling out of favor (like Dornfelder or Müller-Thurgau), these Slovak varieties have not been crossed to make incredibly high yields of uninteresting plonk, but instead wines of high quality and unique character.

The aforementioned Devín is currently the most popular white variety among these new Slovak crossings. This variety was crossed in 1958 in Modra, Slovakia, but cultivated on the Czech side of Czechoslovakia under the name Ryvola. Later on, the variety was renamed Devín, after the Devín castle, which is one of the oldest castles in Slovakia, located in Bratislava, close to the Austrian border. The variety became officially authorized in Slovakia in 1997 and in Czech Republic in 1998. As a cross of Gewürztraminer and Roter Veltliner, this variety normally reveals many characteristics of its parentage; the wines often sport those floral terpene notes from which Gewürztraminer is so well-known of, and it can get as weighty and bold as Roter Veltliners. Normally the wines show moderate to relatively high acidity, although they are prone to producing flabby, low-acid wines if harvested overripe. Currently there approximately 150 ha (375 acres) of Devín grown in Slovakia (less than 1% of the 19,600 ha (49,000 acres) of the total vineyard area) and only 20 ha (50 acres) in Czech Republic, but these number are predicted to grow in the future.

This spring I was invited to the Slovakian embassy in Helsinki to taste a selection of Slovak wines – truly a chance one wouldn't want to miss! Here is a selection of Devín wines I tasted there:

Topoľčianky Château Noir Devín 2016
  • Château Topoľčianky
  • Country: Slovakia
  • Region: Južnoslovenská
  • Grape(s): Devín (100%)
  • Tasted on: 30th of March, 2017

With its 420 ha (1,050 acres) of vineyards and annual production of over 5,000,000 bottles, Château Topoľčianky is the biggest producer in Slovakia. The winery was founded in 1933 in the village of Topoľčianky, which is situated in the Nitra region, located in the central parts of the southwestern Slovakia. The winery naturally has vineyards in the Nitra region, but also in the wine region of "Southern Slovakia" (Južnoslovenská), south from Nitra. This 100% Devín wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel.

Pale green color. The nose betrays is parentage with very Gewürztraminer-like aromas of rosewater and succulent, ripe pear with some sweet underlying hints of apricot candies. On the palate the wine feels quite full-bodied and slightly oily with moderately high acidity. There are flavors of somewhat Gewürztraminer-like floral complexity, juicy pear, some stony minerality and a curious hint of salty licorice. The wine finishes on a bright and refreshing note of acid-driven citrus fruits, stony minerality, sweet peach, some salty licorice and a hint of balancing bitterness.

Here we have a balanced and well-made Devín that shows the typical richness and floral qualities of the variety without coming across heavy, flabby or too low in acidity. On the contrary, the wine feels relatively high in acidity, especially towards the end of the aftertaste, balancing out the full body very nicely.

Summary: Overall this is a nice, easy-drinking everyday white from the weightier end. Not really the most complex effort, nor one that one should cellar for a long time, but one that can be easily paired with a great variety of different dishes, ranging from entrées to lighter main courses. A reliable entry-level Devín.


Karpatská Perla Varieto Devín 2015
  • Karpatská Perla
  • Country: Slovakia
  • Region: Malokarpatská
  • Grape(s): Devín (100%)
  • Tasted on: 30th of March, 2017

Karpatská Perla, founded in 1991, is a rather small winery cultivating their 50 ha of vineyards in the Malokarpatská ("Lesser Carpathian") wine region, located at the westernmost extreme of Slovakian border. On 2011, after 20 years of work, the winery won the Slovak Winery of the Year award, awarded by the association of Slovak wineries and winemakers. This single-vineyard Devín from their Varieto range is a wine made to show the typical characteristics of the variety, fermented and aged in stainless steel. 8,5 g/l of residual sugar and 7 g/l of acidity.

Pale yellow-green color. Youthful, fragrant and a bit restrained nose with delicate perfumed rose aromas and nuances of ripe apple. The wine feels ripe and moderately full-bodied on the palate with somewhat rich yet still rather delicate and nuanced flavors of sweet red apples, white flowers, some rosewater and a hint of apple peel bitterness. The acidity feels quite high, offsetting the residual sugar sweetness effortlessly. The refreshing finish is quite long and lively with flavors drier than on the midpalate; green apples, some apple peel bitterness and a hint of rosewater.

At close to 10 g/l of sugar I expected this wine to be something of a simple crowdpleaser, but it turned out to be a surprisingly balanced and nuanced effort. It isn't a fruit-forward entry-level wine, but instead a surprisingly sophisticated and elegant one.

Summary: Overall this wine reminds me of a well-made dry Muscat or Gewürztraminer, but with less exuberant floral character. Instead of making the wine feel simple and dull, the residual sugar here simply boosts the fruit and accentuates the richness, never really making the wine feel particularly sweet, not even off-dry. Very nice, recommended.


Nichta Devín 2015
  • Vino Nichta
  • Country: Slovakia
  • Region: Nitrianska
  • Grape(s): Devín (100%)
  • Tasted on: 30th of March, 2017

Vino Nichta, founded in 1997, is a family winery located in the Nitra wine region, situated in the southwest part of Slovakia. They cultivate a wide selection of different grape varieties over their 30 ha of vineyards, but Blaufränkisch, Devín, Gewürztraminer and Welschriesling cover a noticeable portion of their holdings. The Devín in their "Nichta" range is medium-sweet – a style that supposedly suits well this variety capable of accumulating high sugar levels – having 32 g/l of residual sugar, 6,6 g/l of acidity and 12% of alcohol.

Instead of the normal pale green Devín color, this wine is more deeper yellow with a pale golden hue. Unsurprisingly, the nose is quite sweet, but also rather restrained with delicate floral aromas, some ripe pear, hints of apple jam and a whiff of perfumed rosewater. On the palate the wine feels rich and half-sweet, yet surprisingly fresh and balanced. There are flavors of apple jam, exotic flowers, some steely minerality and a hint of cantaloupe. The residual sugar pushes the acidity down a little bit, making the wine come across medium in acidity with somewhat oily mouthfeel. The finish is pretty sweet, but also surprisingly long and refreshing with perfumed flavors of flowers, very ripe citrus fruits – even lemon marmalade, some cantaloupe and hints of rosewater.

Just like one of its parents, Gewürztraminer, Devín seems to carry even relatively high levels of residual sugar pretty well. The floral notes suit the sweetness pretty well and the acidity keeps the wine from coming across too sweet or flabby.

Summary: For a medium-sweet white wine (a style not really my cup of tea, unless it's a Mosel Riesling) this Devín felt like a very balanced and enjoyable effort, reminding me quite a lot of sweeter Alsatian Gewürztraminers. I can imagine a wine like this would suit a variety of hot Asian dishes prepared with chilies particularly well.


Editio Vinifera Cuvée Devín 2015
  • Vinalma with Karpatská Perla and Pavelka
  • Country: Slovakia
  • Region: Malokarpatská
  • Grape(s): Devín (80%), Gewürztraminer + Pálava (20%)
  • Tasted on: 30th of March, 2017

Vinalma is a Slovakian wine merchant specializing on Slovak and Spanish fine wines and Editio Vinifera is their own special line of fine wines that are made by Vinalma's oenologist Edita Ďurčová in collaboration with a ahndful high-quality Slovak wine producers. The Editio Vinifera wines aim to highlight the typical characteristics of the best Slovak wines through the use of the high-quality fruit, harvested in the regions these varieties perform the best, and sensible, pretty hands-off winemaking. I had a chance to discuss with mrs. Ďurčová on these wines and she explained to me among other things that the Devín grapes in this wine were sourced from Karpatská Perla, whereas the Gewürztraminer and Pálava grapes are sourced from the Pavelka & son winery. As the Slovakian Devín wines tend to be made in off-dry rather than bone-dry style, this wine has 9 g/l of residual sugar. Acidity is 7 g/l and alcohol 12,7%. To keep the floral characteristics of Devín on the fore, the wine sees no oak nor aging on the lees. The wine is bottled with minimal sulfite addition of 30 mg/l. Total production of this wine is only 1,000 bottles and 2% of the proceedings from Editio Vinifera sales go to support creative activities of mentally challenged people.

Pale lemon color. The sophisticated, fragrant nose shows perfumed meadow flower aromas, some ripe apple, a little bit of exotic spice and hints of honeydew melon. On the palate the wine feels full-bodied and rather ripe, borderline off-dry, with very Gewürztraminer-esque flavors of roses, meadow flowers and ripe apple, along with a nice streak of steely minerality and a hint of mirabelle plums. The acidity lingers in the background, giving the wine good structure and freshness and offsetting the sweetness from the residual sugar. The lively aftertaste follows the midpalate quite verbatim with fresh flavors of green apples, yellow plums, some meadow flowers and a hint of steely minerality.

Overall this is a lovely, balanced white wine that seems to capture the essence of Slovak Devín wines: sophisticated and balanced floral character; fruity flavors that are not quite bone-dry yet not off-dry either; round, moderately full body with balanced acidity; good richness with some weight but without any plump character or sense of heaviness.

Summary: Although not a 100% varietal Devín, this wine is a terrific example of the style that this variety is normally made in. It feels very versatile, so there's no need to overthink what to pair it with. However, I'd recommend to drink the wine within a few years, as it really doesn't feel particularly cellarworthy.


Overall it was both very fun and enlightening to taste through the different styles of Slovakian wines and out of the different local crossings I tasted, Devín definitely seemed one of the most promising! Stylistically it feels surprisingly versatile, making lovely, floral dry wines, yet carrying even relatively high levels of residual sugar with ease. Apparently the variety is also very popular with sweet dessert wines, but I've yet to taste any.

Although I tasted some pretty impressive Rizling Rýnsky (Riesling), Veltlínské Zelené (Grüner Veltliner) and Frankovka Modrá (Blaufränkisch) wines there as well, I really think that the future of Slovak wine might actually be in these Slovakian crossings. In my view, the wines made from these aforementioned "well-known" varieties face some serious challenges, the most notable being the Slovakian names for these varieties – which are both alien and quite difficult to pronounce for foreign consumers – and the competition with the neighboring countries. After all, is an average consumer more likely to pick up a Slovakian Rizling Rýnsky over a German Riesling? Or a Slovakian Veltlínské Zelené over an Austrian Grüner Veltliner? My guess is that 9 out of 10 wouldn't.

However, these new Slovak crossings are named quite smartly with short, marketable names that are easy to remember for even a foreign consumer, yet the names are also very Slovakian, so that the vine growers can easily relate to them. As this tasting showed me these crossings can produce wines of unique, but obviously high-quality character, they are a great choice for making wines that are both interesting to a consumer looking for wines that show local color, yet have no problems fitting the fine wine niche – at least after the Slovakian wine market evolves. The biggest challenge obviously is to communicate and create awareness of these wines in the global market, which isn't going to be an easy task – but I am certain that it will still be much easier than to compete with Rizling Rýnsky against German Riesling.

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