XOXO, Samsa: Nestarec meets La Degustation, again
Aah, the bliss of working with like-minded people. Forever grateful for working with Zdeněk Oudes & his team at La Degustation, a collab that started about a year ago, with the first barrel of pure Pinot Blanc that Zdeněk chose in our cellar as a limited edition available only in their restaurant.
When something works, double down, right? After a lil Frankovka this spring, two more limited bottlings were born just this December – an oxi number called XOXO and Samsa, an elegant white blend of Neuburger and Chardo. Again, you'll only be able to taste them when dining in La Degustation or at their newborn sister restaurant/wineshop Marie B / Vin de Marie, nowhere else.
We spoke about our coop and shared vision at the beginning of 2023, when that first-born Pinot Blanc arrived to the restaurant; the article (in Czech) was originally published on Jídlo & Radost, a Czech culinary magazine. Although I feel a bit uneasy about "reprinting" Zdeněk's kind praise of our work that you can find in the dialogue, I thought it'd be interesting to translate it and re-publish it here, to provide you with some context and the "why" of this unique collab. (If you're only curious about the latest two wines we made, just scroll down.)
Jídlo & Radost Interview with Zdeněk Oudes, General Manager, La Dégustation Boheme Bourgeoise
Jídlo & Radost: Zdeněk, how did this collaboration come about?
Zdeněk: I have been following Milan and his wines for a while. I think that until recently, he was a bit underestimated here in Czechia – almost as if some vintages at the beginning of his career closed him from the Czech market and opened the overseas ones. Nowadays, my restaurateur friend from São Paulo enthusiastically sends me photos of himself drinking Milan's wine in his garden in Brazil, while in the Czech Republic, there are people who I suspect didn't taste his new vintages at all and are still living under decade-old impressions of what Nestarec is, completely ignoring the journey Milan has made in the meantime, as a winemaker.
I think that's a huge shame. And I feel there's a certain parallel with our own experience – we're all happy to hear positive feedback not only from our foreign audience but also from the Czech ones. Anyway, Milan and I were talking about what we could do together, and he came up with the idea of one barrel bottled purely for us. We immediately agreed that this was a great idea for all involved.
J&R: You chose the wine with the winemaker directly in his cellar. What does such a "wine casting" look like?
Z: We went there with my colleague, sommelier Tomáš Trojan mid-November . First, Milan and I had a long talk about his and our philosophy, about the vision and evolution of both LDBB and Nestarec... We have a lot in common: values like humanity, respect for raw materials, commitment to quality and transparency towards the customer. Milan showed us his vineyards in Bílovice and Moravský Žižkov and then we tasted around fifteen different barrels in his cellar - wines from the sites we had visited before, the same wine from different barrels and so on.
All of this, of course, was intertwined with a debate about the nuances of different winemaking and viticultural practices and different perspectives on vinification. By the way, Milan names the vineyards after the people he bought the land from. Even when it's a cool location and he could call the barrel "loess terrace, 1955" to show off, he puts the name of the person who previously owned the land on the barrel. Relationships and history count more than business. I like that.
J&R: Why did this particular wine, a 2020 Pinot Blanc, win in the end?
Z: The Pinot Blanc was coincidentally the very first wine we tasted. I was immediately intrigued, but I took it with a grain of salt as the initial sample is sometimes more of a "palate-setting" one. All the other wines were great and interesting in their own way, but at the end of the tasting, we went back to sample #1 which confirmed my hunch that this was the one. It's a wine that will evolve nicely over time and can be served throughout the year, so we don't need to worry about taking three hundred bottles. And, importantly, the wine has something signature of both Milan and LDBB.
Z: Similar to Milan, I enjoy wines with a slightly oxidative touch, based on good acidity, and this Pinot is 100% that. The wine shows great know-how of working with smaller barrel, and overall it's beautifully balanced – it has everything that I'm looking for in a wine that I'd happily drink with food as well as on its own. It was simply the most complex and interesting wine in the context of our preferences and needs.
J&R: How is the wine making itself "at home" in the restaurant?
Z: I was very pleasantly surprised at the condition in which it arrived. Wines sometimes close themselves during bottling - understandably so, since the transition from barrel to bottle is a big shock. But this one had the same energy and instant drinkability I remembered from tasting it from the barrel a few weeks before. Milan said he personally carefully racked it from the barrel by hand, no pumps involved, to make sure everything was perfect, and I think it shows in the result.
We'll definitely be serving the wine in our wine pairing, especially in the spring, but I've already had unequivocally positive reactions from our guests. When we present the wine at the table, we try to emphasise that Milan is a great local talent and his wines are really something else. And of course, there's the talking point that you can't get these bottles anywhere else. Especially when our guests are surprised that their Vivino app can't find the label. [chuckles]
J&R: According to Milan, the vineyard-specific conditions specific give the wine good ageing potential. Will you be saving some for later?
Z: We'll definitely keep at least a few cases aside. We are curious about the development ourselves, and I think it's nice to offer guests a 2020 vintage in four years' time. Also, I see this as an important proof of our commitment to the winemaker, because – I'm speaking as a GM now – cellaring wine is obviously a significant cash-flow setback for a restaurant. I see my work as very much relationship-based, and having this direct relationship with the winemakers works well for us, as we can work with the wines in a way that's more efficient and tailored to what we need. I think it's a win-win situation as it also creates an invaluable feedback loop for everyone involved.
J&R: Speaking of relationships - various "special bottlings" for top restaurants have existed for some time – Christian Tschida works with the hip Viennese venture Mochi, Franz Strohmeier's cellar housed barrels selected by Mads Kleppe for Noma, London's KOL has a whole range of house wines made by Slobodné... I assume you played with a similar collab idea a while ago already. Why did it happen only now?
Z: I must say that I used to be a bit resistant to this concept. The examples that you named are close to our philosophy, but unfortunately I also often came across wines that felt as if the restaurant's logo was stuck on an entry-level wine, its special label keeping the customer in the dark about its low price. And I didn't want to be associated with that. But Milan has already built a solid reputation, which is why I also wanted the label of our wine to clearly show that it is first and foremost a wine from Milan Nestarec, not just a "La Degustation special".
It's a collaboration that I see as valuable and beneficial for both Milan and us. And the more I taste our/Milan's Pinot Blanc here in our restaurant, the more I like the idea of our own bottlings. If Milan is up for it, I can happily picture having a barrel of Frankovka and some white wine with "La Degustation" scribbled with chalk on it, ageing in his cellar.
A letter from Bílovice: Milan Nestarec about LDBB
"Making a limited edition for La Degustation is a collaboration that makes me very happy because it's happening here, at home. And I care a lot about having Czech customers. I appreciate every bottle sold anywhere in the world, but selling wine in my own country makes me even more content.
It's also a collaboration where I feel a lot of mutual respect and shared vision. I've been following Zdenek Oudes for a long time and I think we have a similar perspective on a lot of things. Well, actually, I'm not 100% sure. But I do know there's one thing we have in common - Zdenda is an aficionado of Roland Velich's (Moric) wines. And if I had to name the winery I've drunk the most bottles from, it's Moric, by far. Blaufrankisch connecting people, haha. I like Zdenek's passion and eagerness for information. I'm impressed that he doesn't have prejudices - the only benchmark for him is the wine itself and its quality. I value consistency and see it as an essential trait of LDBB, as well as attention to detail. They are very driven to take the best of local materials and conditions and push it (and themselves) further. Maybe that's why our connection makes so much sense to me - I feel like we care about the same things.
We do not have much wine that we could release as in this case, i.e. the whole barrel. The Pinot Blanc Zdenek chose would otherwise end up in one of our White Labels, our top-of-the-range wines. (Or I would selfishly keep it to myself and sip it with my family and rare visitors during long winter nights.) He selected a 2020 Pinot Blanc from the Zímarky vineyard in Velké Bílovice. The vineyard is about fifteen years old, and we managed to acquire it in 2019. It is a field blend of several varieties but it is the PB that stands out here, so we vinify it separately; each year, it only gives us two 225-litre barrels tops.
The Zímarky area is the highest spot in the whole cadastre of Velké Bílovice (= 262 metres above sea level). It is also a natural reserve - the reason for its protection is the Pannonian loess steppe grasslands with an important occurrence of the Tatar cattail and other rare species of plants and animals. The site is relatively windy and open, the vines grow here in pure Quaternary loess with an admixture of quartz, without any humous topsoil. We have had the opportunity to process four vintages from this vineyard so far and they all share a clear trait: the wines always have a certain precision and firm acidity that holds everything beautifully together.
All these attributes help to maintain the acid structure and optimal alcohol content, so the wine has a good ageing potential. This character cannot be achieved in lower-altitude vineyards with richer soil. Terroir, the French would say. (Shy of this term, I call it genius loci.)
The vinification of this Pinot Blanc was very simple: we pressed the whole grapes, then spontaneous fermentation and ageing in older oak barrels of 225 litres, where the wine lay until it was carefully racked in December 2022. We deliberately use older barrels for Pinot Blanc because its affinity for oak is not as great as that of its Burgundian relatives like Chardonnay or Pinot Gris. I consider PB in general (along with Gruner Veltliner) to be a very suitable variety for our area. It's one of my favourite players in blends because it's always down to fun and works beautifully with other grapes. And if one can work with its subtle elegance, it can shine on its own, as it does in this wine. Viva La PBLD, as I call this wine for short.
Exactly 282 bottles of it were created, as the label counts. They were tailor-made for this collaboration by our graphic designer Klára Zápotocká. She combined the Najbrt visual identity of LDBB with ours in a design that is clean and elegant. Pure essence, no frills, just thoughtfulness and timelessness. Just the way I like it. Just like the wine. I hope the guests of La Degustation will like it, too."
Roughly 70% Chardonnay, complemented by Neuburg. Velké Bílovice, Zadní hora vineyard, micro-location called "U míchárny", precisely 2 blocks located about 50 m apart. Both blocks sport pure loess soil and both are quite appreciated within the village. The Chardonnay was planted in the 1980s, the Neuburg in the 1970s (= unusually old vines in the local context).
The slope where the Chardonnay grows has a slight northern exposure, which guarantees a good acidic backbone every vintage. In contrast, the Neuburger grows on a south-facing slope, therefore reaching always very nice phenolic ripeness.
Samsa is our very first wine from these two plots. A very simple vinification, both varieties together from the very beginning. The whole grapes are foot-stompt and remain on the skins until the next day, when they are very gently pressed. The wine was fermented and aged in a 450L, five year old Burgundy barrel. Bottled from gros lees in October 2023. 130 magnum and 350 normal size bottles were produced.
Aka [ox ox], a name that refers to the wine's character. For us sherry lovers, the arrival of flor in a barrel always makes our day. Let alone for Sauvignon, a grape whose expression can become far more interesting as a result. If you were thinking rather of "hugs and kisses" or the legendary sauce, you're not wrong either: this wine really does give a lot of love to its drinker, and it sure has loads of umami flavours, too!
100% Sauvignon Blanc from Slovenské, a 22-year-old vineyard in Moravský Žižkov. Precisely from the Zahrada (= Garden) micro-locality. An interesting little block, just 0.4 hectares protected by forest from the north-east. Very dry, rather flat. Loess mixed with clay.
The great 2021 vintage blessed us with really perfect and rare raw material: we picked only in October, which is unusually late by our standards, especially for Sauvignon. But back then, the mild autumn of 2021 allowed for a slow ripening, very good pH and ripeness to acidity ratio. In the cellar, no maceration, pressed on a prototype of our own "foot-treading" wooden press.
Very, very low press-yield (max 55%), resulting in one oak barrel of 650 litres, on full lees all the time. In the summer of 2022, the surface started to get covered with flor which is always a happy signal to stop topping up and look forward to what the wine will become.
The cask remained untopped until October 2023, when its contents were carefully transformed into exactly 767 0.75 bottles.
All the bottles are exclusively for La Dégustation Boheme Bourgeoise & their sister-restaurant Marie B, you can't get either of these wines anywhere else. Can't wait to see what their somm team comes up with with this pairing and how the wines in their cellar evolve.