Natural wine....here's the thing: there is some really great stuff out there once you can get through the instagrammable bottles and names like "podfuck" in them. I know, I know. I lead a double life in a sense, where on the one hand I can be on the phone waxing philosophical about the differences in Gevrey Chambertin, micro climates and then write a newsletter with wines called "Podfuck" in them. I would say I'm a man of diversity, but I have noticed over the years that today's wine is something that all wine lovers tend to enjoy, in which I have sold a mixed case from time to time with some Champagne, Barolo and a Podfuck in it. Don't fear the Podfuck.
Anyway, Milan Nestarec is the pioneer of Czech natural wine, starting in the early 2000s about a decade or so after "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" came to the realization that vines take time to grow. The revolution will need a decade. Overall, the natural wine scene in E. Europe is a-buzzing but there is none better than Milan Nestarec and frankly, dare I say it: there is no better natural wine maker in the world today. Now, let me preface this remark by clarifying that there are tons of winemakers who happen to be natural which we have discussed at length before––La Stoppa, Foradori, Olga Raffault, Occhipinti, etc––who do happen to make natural wine but don't consider themselves "natural winemakers." Get it? Not really. Let me think of an analogy. Off the top of my head, Silicon Valley Season 2: Jared calls the interviewee a "female engineer" and she gets offended and says "What? Don't ever call me that."
Now that we have that out of the way––sort of––these wines are so freakin good. I swear by them as do a good chunk of folks reading this newsletter. If you're a boomer, please let down your preconceived notions and just try some. Who knows, you might start lining up the bottles in front of funny parking signs and sending photos to your friends.
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2021 Milan Nestarec Youngster White
Special Newsletter Price: $29.99
Blend of Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc all direct-pressed together. All the grapes are hand-harvested and processed together from the beginning. Once pressed, the juice ferments spontaneously in stainless steel tanks where it remained until May 2022. The wine was bottled unfiltered, unfined, and with zero sulfur added. Youthful acidity and fruit, a wonderful everyday drinking winereflecting Milan’s terroir!
2021 Milan Nestarec Youngster Red
Special Newsletter Price: $29.99
Blaufrankisch, Cabernet Franc, Dornfelder; macerated together in open-top vat for a few days. All the grapes are hand-harvested and processed together from the beginning. Once pressed, the juice ferments spontaneously in stainless steel tanks where it remained until May 2022. The wine was bottled unfiltered, unfined, and with zero sulfur added.
2018 Milan Nestarec Podfuck
Special Newsletter Price: $41.99
2018 is a field blend of Blaufrankisch, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. The grapes are hand-harvested together, destemmed and gently stomped. Spontaneous co-fermentation with indigenous yeast in open-top vats, then press and aging in bigger old barrels from local oak or acacia wood, where it then lays undisturbed for ~2 years on its fine lees. No fining or filtration, no sulfur addition. Perfect compartmentalization of Blaufrankisch's spiciness, softness of Pinot and a little white to take the edge off.
Milan on this wine: “The full cheating circle, you might say; but I actually see it as a continuity of this wine’s story, a story of searching for elegance despite all my imperfections. Nestarec wabi-sabi. And I can’t be happier with it – not another macerated PG that the world already has a lot of, but a unique red-white blend that wonderfully mirrors our Bílovice loess,”
2018 Milan Nestarec Umami
Special Newsletter Price: $44.99
2018 is a field blend of Traminer and Riesling from Slovenské; one of the first vineyards that Milan’s parents planted themselves. (Actually, the grape combination happened by accident as Milan’s tipsy father once mistakenly planted Riesling right next to older Traminer vines. Loess, clay, chernozem. Grapes are hand-harvested together and destemmed. Most of them are pressed directly, about 10% get a few days of skin contact. Spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeast in bigger old barrels from local oak or acacia wood, where it then lays undisturbed for ~2 years on its fine lees. No fining or filtration, no sulfur addition.
As told in the name, meant to go with Asian dishes!
Milan on this wine: “Some things are born in perfect circumstances, some by accident, some out of necessity. UMAMI is the latter: I love food. Anything connected to food. Talking about food. I might actually talk more about food than I do about wine. But wine is actually food so all good I guess. Anyway, I adore Asian fare. Especially paired with a distinctly aromatic wine. One of those food-wine pairings that blow your mind and make you understand that sometimes 1+1 equals 3 and that wine and food go together like love and marriage (ugh.. whatever). So I had to create my own umami…”
2021 Milan Nestarec Barvirka
Special Newsletter Price: $29.99
Name means “color-enhancer” in Czech (teinturier in French), as Dornfelder is one of the red grapes that also has red pulp and hence gives wines of intense ruby-violet hue, used sometimes in blends to deepen the color. Also blended with some Zweigelt and some secret white varieties. 100% carbonic maceration of Dornfelder, the winethan spontaneously ferments and matures in tanks and old barrels for about 10 months. At bottling, the juice is blended with a little bit of white wine (undisclosed varieties) to get acid/energy lift. Zero sulfur added, unfined, unfiltered.
Ink black, somewhat surprisingly, but with low tannins and low alcohol. Serve cold!
Milan on this wine: “Back in the 90s, my dad used to work in a German vine nursery. One of the consequences of this experience was his decision to plant a whole lot of Dornfelder in 2001 – a bold red German-born hybrid, fashionable back then. Tbh, I don’t love it and it took me quite some time to come to terms with it. Influenced by great wines from areas like Jura, Mosel or Burgundy, I wanted to get rid of it and replant it with something else. But – the vineyards are in great shape and it felt so wrong to uproot them. And then, something happened in my head. I lost any ambition to mimic wines made elsewhere and realized that there are other grapes than Pinot Noir and Riesling in the world. What a relief!”
2020 Milan Nestarec Transcedent
Special Newsletter Price: $39.99
Blend of Regent, Neuberger and Riesling. Direct press Regent juice is added to an open vat with Neuberger and Riesling fermenting on the skins. Once pressed, the matures in barrels without topping up and a flor (veil of yeast) developed, giving the wine a nutty note. Zero sulfur added, unfined and unfiltered. Each bottle is spray-painted by hand. Although intense pink in appearance, it tastes rather like a deep white, with slightly oxidative notes and intense acidity. Stuff to geek out on and match food with!
Milan on this wine: “The name comes from a typical “distracted winemaker” story: for the “label” of this wine, I experimented with a can of bright pink spray whose label read “Fluorescent”. This somehow mutated in my mind overnight so I thought the spray was called “Transcendent”, and liked that a lot as a sign, because what goes more beyond our usual perceived reality than a rosé under flor?! The next day, I was a bit sad to discover that my conceptually perfect puzzle of wine and its name was a fallacy and that the spray is actually called Fluorescent.. but hey, that doesn’t make the wine any less transcendental, right?!”
2019 Milan Nestarec Melancholia
Special Newsletter Price: $44.99
This wine is a special cuvée from a distinct part of Milan’s signature vineyard. 100% Neuburger. Understated elegance, no shouting, more introspection and focus. Or a long, quiet conversation with a person you really enjoy talking to because of their outside-the-box views and human depths. “I could spend hours only smelling, searching, thinking about this wine…” the winemaker says – and it definitely is material for introspection, although we also had the experience that it’s so juicy that it can disappear in no time. This freshness also makes it ready for further evolution – Neuburger gets even more interesting with time.
Milan on this wine: “We usually use these grapes for TRBLMKR, blended with other parts of the same vineyard, but in 2019 this particular barrel kept being so different from the rest that I eventually decided to bottle it as a wine in its own right, because this material deserves it. It’s so… subtle!!”
2021 Milan Nestarec Nach (Liter)
Special Newsletter Price: $28.99
The 2021 blend is Blaufrankisch, Modrý Portugal (Blauer Portugieser) and Pinot Noir. Grapes are hand-harvested and destemmed, gently crushed and macerated on skins for a couple of weeks. The wine is spontaneously fermented in stainless steel tanks without temperature control. It rests in the same vessels for about 8 months until the following spring. Bottled unfined, unfiltered, unsulfured.
Milan on this wine: “This wine embodies my unassuming Moravian roots: the light-bodied, fun juicy reds with good acidity that are truly at home here. I grew up with them, so it was sad to see that the (vain) pursuit of hefty Cabs, fake tannins and new oak became fashionable in Moravia as well. Nach is my tribute to the real Moravian reds, wines with lot of fruit and little alcohol so that you can drink heaps of them every day. Hence also the 1-liter bottle: I remember hearing the word “másnica” used for a bottle of wine when I was a kid. Only as an adult did I learn that it derives from the German Mass, an old volumetric unit roughly equalling 1 liter, which used to be a standard size of bottle for a guy working in the field (mixing it with water to get more quantity). I do love the term “minimagnum” too, though, courtesy of my Montréal friends.!”
2021 Milan Nestarec Ruz (Liter)
Special Newsletter Price: $29.99
Zweigelt, Saint Laurent and Cabernet Sauvignon. Blend of different vineyards in Velké Bílovice and Moravský Žižkov, aged from 5 to 40 years. Estate-owned, organic. Grapes are hand-harvested, sorted on the sorting table and then gently foot-stomped and left to macerate overnight. Slowly pressed the day after, spontaneously fermented and then left to mature on lees in stainless steel tank, to keep the wineyoung and fresh. After about 8 months, the wine is bottled unfined, unfiltered, with cca 15ppm of sulfur at bottling. Juicy, plump, laser-sharp! Although still easy-drinking, this is a rosé of the lovely intense kind that you can enjoy no matter the season, long after you cover your pool. Full of red and dark berries and ready for some food-winepairing fun – it’s freshness perfectly cuts through fatty meats or charcuterie.
Milan on this wine: “To make our liter-bottle rainbow complete, we found a new pink pal to our beloved Běl, Okr and Nach. The name is once again a simple description of its color, since “růžová” means pink in Czech. I prefer to make a rosé this fresh, “paysan” in the best of senses of the term. Using some of our previously F&K Rosé grapes, this is a prime raw material in humble disguise, definitely high value for money.”
2021 Milan Nestarec Okr (Liter)
Special Newsletter Price: $33.99
The name Okr (ochre in Czech) follows the concise, color-themed concept of its siblings Běl and Nach, and honors eponymous natural pigment with a long history of use by humans, made from actual earth and offering the same hues as orange wines, from yellow to orange or amber. Chardonnay, Gruner Veltliner, Sauvignon and Traminer. Grapes are hand-picked, gently destemmed and then spontaneously fermented mostly as whole berries, without stomping and with only gentle punch-downs, 5 – 7 days depending on the variety. All this in order to get only a gentle extraction, to make this wine as palatable and drinkable as possible. Once pressed, it spends about 8 months on lees in stainless steel tank, then bottled unfined, unfiltered, unsulfured.
Milan on this wine: “Our wines have been gradually shifting towards less skin contact and more nuance – especially the White Labels, our “top shelf”, see shorter and shorter maceration times. That said, I still like to enjoy a (tamed) skin contact wine from time to time; and I understand that a lot of people are, on the contrary, suckers for this style, since hardly a week goes by without someone asking me for something orange. In short, skin contact wines still have their place in my heart and cellar, and creating an amber brother to our dear Běl & Nach liters was kind of a no-brainer."