Enter through a quietly cloistered courtyard whose cobblestones reflect the light that shines from above, through arches and columns both stately, yet sooted by time. A soft bronze glow of filament bulbs and candles gently twinkling through the phalanx of glasses and bottles cast merry shadows on the vaulted walls of a place that one might think dilapidated if you didn't know it was a wine cellar. There is community here, the revelry of young and old both crowded around a common table and the high tops wedged in any alcove not otherwise lined floor to ceiling with wine bottles. We're inside of Vinarna Bokovka -- self styled as a decrepit courtyard offering great wines -- an absolutely exquisite wine bar we discovered in the heart of Prague, capital of the Czech Republic.
We've written of this excellent wine bar before: not just one of the most enchanting little cellars we've ever encountered, but an excellent introduction to Prague's vibrant wine scene, Czechia's little known but delightful winemaking, and the "natural wines" that clearly own Bokovka's heart. We paired delectable cheeses with a lineup of natural sparkling and Grüner Veltliner (a white grape widely grown in central Europe) from Moravia, an "orange" Pinot Grigio and another natural Pinot Gris from Italy, and a return to Moravia for a more classically styled Pinot Noir. Their repertoire is as impressive as it is unique, and the lineup of cheeses, meats, and freshly baked bread will leave you feeling -- if you're not careful -- as if dinner is a thing of the past.
There is, more than anything, a profound sense of community here as regulars and guests of all ages, young and old, gather around tables to explore wine without assumption or pretension. Vinarna Bokovka exudes a revelry and familiarity that would make anyone long to find it on the corner of their own neighborhood. This is the essential starting point for your exploration of Prague's wine scene. Reservations recommended.
I must thank Michaela, who guided us through her favorite wines at the bar, and Lucie, who we actually encountered afterwards on Instagram, and whose photos have us desperately wanting to return. Michaela, so sorry if I have spelled your name incorrectly, for the Czech language is not one of my strengths 😔.
2015 Dobrá Vinice Crème de Parc National Sparkling Wine (Moravia, Czech Republic)
Set aside some disagreement of the origin of this sparkling wine; the sommelier asserts it to be a blend of Welschriesling, Rhine Riesling, and Muller Thurgau, though sources on the Internet claim otherwise. Its defining characteristic is unfiltered, making it stylistically very different for drinkers used to sparkling wine made in the "Traditional" method for which (say) Champagne is known. That lack of filtration produces a beautiful, cloudy, shimmering gold color in the glass, from whose center a lone seam of bubbles emanated. The nose is reminiscent of light cider, reminding us of what high quality producers like Pennsylvania's (USA) Big Hill Ciderworks are doing now. It effervesces lightly in the mouth, again, a far cry from traditional method sparklers. Largely apple and subtle pear notes pair beautifully with the mouthfeel and entire visual experience to produce a glass that we'd drink again and again.
2015 J. Novák Grüner Veltliner (Moravia, Czech Republic)
Grüner Veltliner is an excellent white alternative to some of the other better known grapes (Riesling?) produced throughout central Europe… but this bottle isn't at all like what you expect from a typical Grüner. It's biodynamic and natural, dark and cloudy gold in the glass, shimmering in front of the candle similarly to the sparkling we had just finished. Floral in the nose, with definitive notes of grey poupon mustard and tuna. Bear with me here: It is distinctly possible that you'd have to try this yourself to understand why we liked it, because our (accurate, I believe) tasting noges do not read well. Briny, The fish elements carry through in the palate, mingling with lemon and lime that is typical of a Gruner. Pair this with poultry, not fish, for the wine brings its own fish, like opening a can of tuna, making a sandwich, looking at the cat and saying "screw you, Nicholas, I'm drinking this," and then carrying on with your life. …and now that I've turned you off with the least appetizing tasting note I have ever written I will conclude re-affirming that we absolutely loved this wine. Promise.
2011 Macea Pinot Grigio (Tuscany, Italy)
Our sommelier took us away from the Czech Republic and over to Italy with this Pinot Grigio made as an "orange wine", a white left to age with the grapes' skins. Yes, it looks orange in the glass, particularly so when drinking by soft candle and filament lights. Orange wines are creations that most drinkers will either love or hate, but that I happen to love. The nose throws up notes of hay made wet from a fresh morning dew, cumin, and sweet grapefruit. You'll find toasted hazelnut when it sip it, but not a lot of fruit on the palate.
2017 Nestarec "Youngster" Pinot Gris (Milan, Italy)
Another natural wine -- this time from Italy -- the "Youngster" Pinot Gris is indeed quite young, made from grapes just harvested and fermented this year, as many natural wines can tend to be. Its youth is born out by its qualities: very light, pear juice colored in the glass, a nose of lilly and pear, green and yellow applies with notes of lemon lime spritzer on the palate. Our first wine tasted from any 2017 vintage anywhere is a success!
Víno Zrálo V Barikovych Sudech Pinot Noir (Moravia, Czech Republic)
Back to Moravia for a more classically styled Pinot Noir to end the evening. A bit of cedar and milk chocolate in the nose is followed by Vanilla bean that emerges after some good swirling in the glass. Bokovka served this wine slightly chilled, which we think is appropriate. The mouthfeel is creamier than many other Pinots. It's overall a great reminder of two things: How great Pinot Noir can be found the world over, and that Austria isn't the only central European country that knows how to be one of those places.