Poland – more than just Vodka!
Mention Poland to anyone, and the first drink they mention is Vodka. But on visiting Poland you will find out there’s so much more on offer including locally brewed beer, cider, wine and so much more!
In part 2 of this 2 part blog, I cover Polish wine and wine tasting experience as well as Polish Brandy and Cider.
Note : this post contains references to alcohol, and is therefore only for reading if you are of a legal drinking age in your country of residence (21 years in the UAE) and non-Muslim.
Wine tasting at Krako Slow Wines
It’s our second night in Krakow and we’re heading off to explore the little known, to me, world of Polish wine. When I think of wine producing countries Poland is not one that I had really thought about and I’m surprised to hear that there are over 150 registered wineries in Poland.
Krakow Slow Wines is the perfect place to find out more and we’ve been booked into a tasting session to learn about Polish wine. Krakow Slow Wines is a wine shop/bar and is located in a warehouse in an industrial location. Inside there’s a bar, plus a fully stocked shop and plenty of seating. Upstairs, which is where we sit, is a more intimate seating area perfect for our tasting session.
Five different wines have been selected for us by the head sommelier which have been selected to give us an overview of the range of wines produced.
We feast on large platters of local meat and cheese along with some great bread, a gorgeous salad with soft cheese and order an additional platter of hot cooked sausages to seal the deal and line our tummies.
Don’t leave empty handed – the shop has a large selection of wines from exclusively ecological vineyards (over 100 vintages). Some are certified organic, many are Polish. Also spotted for sale, local beer and cider plus some potato vodka which may have been purchased and brought home by one of our team!
Discovering Polish Wine
Poland has a rapidly developing wine culture and in 2017 there were officially 151 registered wineries. This number is growing with more being started up and developed including a large winery close to Krakow. The wineries are supported by over 500 vineyards, most of them are small and designed for small-scale production.
The Polish climate as well as long summer daylight hours and long growing season mean that most of the vineyards are located in the southern and western parts of the country. The main wine producing relations are near the city of Zielona Góra in the West, Wroclaw in the South-West, Krakow in the South and the Podkarpacie region and Kazimierz Dolny region in the south-east. There a also a few wineries in Northern Poland too.
Polish winemaking history goes back to the 9th century starting with Benedictine and Cistercian monks making and consuming most of what they produced. By the 14th centre, the upper-classes, nobility and aristocracy began to plant their own vineyards and produce wine. The majority of wine made was white wine, with some red wine made in much smaller quantities.
Today, sales of wine in Poland have increased by almost 60% in the last ten years and it’s said that there are more wine bars in Poland than in Germany that said, there’s still a way to go in terms of consumption. Polish consumers drink on average 3.5 litres per person, while the European average is 35 litres per person, and in countries known for winemaking – about 50 litres per person.
Drinking Polish Wine
From our tasting, I much preferred the whites over the reds, they seemed to be much more refined and polished. That said, white is my preferred choice of wine these days as I feel that red better suits a cold winters day and an open fire, ahhh perhaps my next Winter trip to Poland will achieve this! Apparently the Poles prefer wines that are on the sweeter side, preferably white and some of the wineries are adjusting their wine to suit the Polish plate.
In terms of pricing, whilst the costs of Polish wine, are incredibly great value compared to purchasing wine here in Dubai (ranging from 70/AED to 120/AED a bottle in a restaurant), they are still quite expensive by Polish standards.
Our guide explained that it costs quite a lot of money to buy an average bottle of Polish wine compared to a great bottle of wine from another country. The high price is explained by the large costs that the winemakers are having to invest to their business and the labour intensity that goes into whole process in the vineyards which is primarily done by hand.
International Recognition and Awards
Polish wine is beginning to attract international attention and to win awards and one of the sommeliers we chatted to, said to expect great things going forward. Of course, she may be a bit biased, but why not! As the industry develops there’s every chance that they can go far!
Polish Ice Wine
Polish ice wine is a type of liquor made from frozen grapes. They grapes are frozen naturally on the vine then harvest at a minimum temperature of 7 degrees C. Ice Wine has been made by the Jagiellonian University vineyard in Łazy near Bochnia of since 2012. The wine produced is quite a sweet wine, with high alcohol content (approx 16%), and also higher acidity.
Wine Festivals and Museums
Each year the city of Zielona Gora hosts an annual week long wine festival.
According to an ancient legend, the goddess Pallas Athena murdered Bacchus and then sprinkled with his blood the regions which were going to produce wine. One of the drops hit Zielona Gora and this started the tradition of wine production there.
With ten large wine producers in the region and a wine university, it’s easy to see why this area is described as the Polish capital of wine.
Zielona Góra is home to the only Wine Museum in Poland as well as the largest wine festival.
Pictured below a section of the wine that we were served during our trip, some Polish and some others.
Polish Brandy and Fruit Wine
From Kraków to Łącko
Łącko is about a ninety minute drive from Krakow and we’re visiting as part of a two day excursion to lesser Poland.
We are in the Łącko Valley known for fruit farming because of the terrain and and mountain ranges. The locations provide favourable thermal conditions for fruit farming. The micro climate allows fruit to thrive and the fruit variety is pretty varied. Fruit grown include Peach, Apple, Elderberry, Cherry, Redcurrant, Pear, Blackcurrant, Rhubarb, Plum, Sour Cherry, Cranberry and Raspberries to name a few.
Krzysztof Maurer, is our host for the afternoon along with his son. Their business, Maurer is a manufacturer of Cold press juice, naturally unfiltered cider and fruit wines as well as fruit brandy. We’re in for a treat, as we are going to do a tasting of most of their products. But before that we spend some time learning about the produce available to them.
Łąckie Jabłkowa (Łąckie Apples)
Our trip was supposed to have included a visit to an apple orchard, but the weather didn’t allow for this. Instead, we learn about apples whilst taking shelter in the production area of the Maurer business. The apples, are called Łąckie apples and have Protected Geographical Indication. Łąckie refers to 15 different varieties of apples produced in the Lacko, Podegrodzie, Stary Sącz and Lukowica municipalities in Malopolskie Voivodship. The majority of orchards are situated on slopes, providing the most favourable distribution of yearly temperatures.
Lackie apples are characterized by a skin blush, a firm texture and their high level of juice. Their taste is distinctive, intense, aromatic and tart, highly acidic and sour, which is why Lackie apples are known to have a so-called ‘green mountain’ flavor. Apples that you might recognize from this region include Idared, Jonagold, Golden Delicious and Gala.
The apples are put to good use and the first thing we learn about is how they are juiced to make cold pressed juice.
Moving away from the production facility, we take a short drive (via a cherry orchard) to the Tlocznia Maurer flagship store and juice bar which has just opened in Zabrzez . It’s a gorgeous spot which includes a shelter tasting area, a shop stocked with local produce as well as a wide range of their drinks and tasting barrels where you can sit inside a large barrel for a tasting experience.
Our tasting begins and we work our way through the following drinks:
COLD PRESSED JUICE – made as it should be
*TŁocznia Maurer translates as the Maurer Press and one of the key parts of their business is Cold pressed juice made from locally sourced fruit and vegetables. The juice is made using traditional methods using a presss whicch squeezes the fruit and vegetables to release their juice. Once squeezed the juice is pasteurized to help preserve the nutrients and vitamins as well as colour and flavor. The juices that are produced are extremely tasty. They are unfiltered so have a tiny amount of natural sediment, which only adds to their rustic appeal.
A first for me, we try fermented fruit and vegetable juices which are new to the range. I’m really taken by red cabbage and apple which is something I’m going to try and recreate when I get home, it’s so good!.
Juice tasting over, we now step up the game and start tasting some of liquors, wines and cider which they also make.
As well as being cold pressed into various juice combinations, Jabłkowa, which means apples, are also combined with alcohol to make an apple infused spirit drink. Paying homage to the region and the special apples, there are also a few ‘single origin’ drinks based purely on a particular kind of apple including Boosop, Landsberska and Rubinola.
Poland has a long tradition of making Slivovitzh. One of the famous drinks from the area is Śliwiwica which is a naturally distilled clear fruit brandy.
The most famous of which is Plum Brandy (Śliwowica Łącka) which over the years, has been regarded as one of the best Polish Slivovitz.
Slivovitz is the famous plum vodka from Łącko region which is well-known not only in Poland but also abroad. We tasted two different ones. The first had an alcohol content of 50% whilst the second comes in at a more than hearty 70% by volume which is almost heart stopping! Other flavors included Blueberry, Peach, Cherry, Apricot, Raspberry, Apple, Currant, Pear and Sour Cherry and Pear plus Aronia (Chokeberry – which is apparently a ‘super’ berry native to North America and which has naturalized in Europe).
Slivovitz was also distilled in large quantities by local Jewish communities in Poland mainly before World War II. As a popular Passover alcohol Slivovitz had a strong standing among the traditional Orthodox communities. Śliwowica Strykowska which is made by a local distiller in cooperation with Łódź Jewish Community holds a Kosher for Passover certificate.
Naturally Fermented Wines
The wines made by Maurer are made using natural fermentation without the addition of sulphates and any other chemical substances. The wines are organic and include Chokeberry, Gooseberry, Blueberry, Blackcurrant, Wild Rose, Currant, Rhubarb, Sour Cherry and Plum with an alcohol content of 12-14%.
Instead of being decanted into bottles, the wine is sold in glass flagon bottles which add to a reminder of how they were bottled traditionally.
We tasted naturally cloudy cider created from organic apples grown in Lackich Gardens. The cider is pretty special as it doesn’t have any added sugar or water, nor sulphates and preservatives. It’s pretty good and a nice sweet ending to our tasting.
Cherries fresh from the tree!
We were supposed to visit an apple orchard, but a torrential rain storm just before we arrived made that not possible. No worries “plan B” was quickly put into place and instead we visited a close by cherry orchard. This is one of the orchards that the cherries are purchase from. The cherries were due to be picked at the peak of the ripeness which was anticipated to be in the next few days. We couldn’t help but harvest a few (ummm loads!) to taste them just to make sure. If you live in Dubai, you will know just how expensive fresh cherries can be, so we were more than happy to feast on these deliciously juicy and sweet cherries just as nature indended.
The joy of picking and eating fresh cherries straight from the tree is really indescribable. Seriously they tasted amazing! But you’ll have to come here to try them for yourself as I can promise you that shop bought cherries pale by comparison. Poland is really abundant with fresh, seasonal, local and importantly, tasty produce.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Krajowy Osderek Wsparcia Rolnictwa (the National Support Centre for Agriculture in Poland), Poland Tastes Good and the Krakow Municipality with the mission to learn and share about Poland and its food, cuisine, culture and culinary traditions. This compilation has been drawn from their experiences – some of them hosted and some self-paid. www.kowr.gov.pl