‘Burčák? What’s Burčák?’ comes the cry of the uninitiated. ‘Don’t you have Burčák in your country?!’ comes the reply. Usually with a sly grin. Here’s why:
Burčák, basically, is young wine which is still fermenting, full of life and more fun than a barrel-full of monkeys.
The word ‘Burčák’ could be derived from the Latin word ‘Burra’ (shaggy garment), which gave rise to the French ‘Vin Bourru’ or ‘Surly Wine’. Alternatively, Our Lass’ hunch is that it is connected to the Czech ‘Bouřka’ or ‘Storm’, which makes sense, as it’s known as ‘Sturm’ over the border in Austria. Scholars of the Czech language will note the similarity to ‘Bouři mi střeva’ – ‘There’s a storm in my guts’, a possible reference to its powers as an organic purgative!
Mind you, whether you find Burčák surly or shaggy, stormy or emetic is neither here nor there in the long term; Burčák is very much here today, gone tomorrow. According to Our Mate Rob, a native of these lands, lover of wine and latterly my tutor, the Art Of Burčák lies in picking those few golden hours when it hits its peak perfection. This is not a wine for laying down! He told me that a true connoisseur will monitor the brew more and more closely as it approaches readiness; as the yeast begins to consume the sugar, the sweetness begins to disappear, to be replaced by a (shaggy?) scum of dead yeast and consequent mouldy taste.
Everyone and their dog will sell you Burčák in South Moravia in August, September and October which is when it can legally be sold. Sadly, some recognise a tourist and will sell you any old rubbish but thankfully they are far and away the minority. With typical Moravian hospitality, sellers will often lose themselves in an argument over whose Burčák is the best, if you let them.
Last weekend, Our Lass left me outside a shop in the beautiful town of Mikulov with Our Kid and Our Dog and went inside to negotiate a couple of bottles. Soon I heard the familiar arguments and tips from local experts… ‘Wait until tomorrow and go to so-and-so’s house in the next village’… ‘If you’re quick there may be some left at my mate’s house down the road’… ‘What about the stuff we had delivered an hour ago?’… ‘Oh yes, that’s VERY nice!’… ‘Is there any left?’…
Ten minutes later Our Lass came out triumphantly holding two plastic bottles of murky, creamy-brown liquid reeking of fermentation. Success!
‘He made a hole in the lid of each one so we should be safe to drive with it!’ she reported. Because it’s still fermenting, Burčák can be more than a little unstable when shaken. Our Lass once had to repaint someone’s kitchen after a particularly explosive mixture went off in her hands.
After a nervous drive home and a meal, we sampled our purchase and found that it was good! There are a few things to bear in mind when drinking this stuff, not the least of which is the alcohol content. This can be between 5 and 10% Alcohol By Volume and is hidden behind the light, sparkling taste.
The taste and feel of Burčák is that of a naturally carbonated soft drink and it is very easy to go overboard, get horribly slobbering drunk and wake up the next day with no way to hold your head that doesn’t hurt.
However, taken with or after a meal (traditionally of fatty food), Burčák is refreshing and, if you time it right, full of flavour. Everyone here will also tell you it’s very healthy as well, although they often forget to mention that it’s only healthy if you don’t get horribly slobbering drunk on it. The health benefits revolve around its high Lactic Acid, Vitamin B1 and B2 content and therefore locals will tell you that drinking Burčák raises your energy levels, helps you resist illness, improves digestion and health in the gut and gives you nice, glossy hair. Don’t forget that part of improving digestion and health in the gut can involve needing the toilet a lot more often than normal – don’t drink too much if you’re going on a long journey would be my advice!
Finally, the existence of Burčák means that the grapes have been gathered and pressed and are well on the way to producing next year’s batch of wines. This means that the growers have successfully negotiated all the pitfalls of agriculture and it’s time to have a wine festival to celebrate. Czechs love a celebration in general and a lot of their culture is connected with the land in a way I haven’t seen much in Britain – even the names of their months reflect this.
Perhaps their closer ties to the land and the seasons have developed this love more in South Moravians. After all, what’s the point in breaking your back all year tending the land, raising crops and inventing calendars if you can’t have a dirty great party to celebrate the fact that you got it right and everyone has a fair chance of living until next Spring?
If you would like to try the whole Burčák/Wine Festival Cultural Experience thing, get in touch and we’ll save you a glass or two. Be quick though, it’s not around for long!