Burcak Wine: the First Wine of the Season
Burčák wine season kicks off when the leaves start falling. All over Prague and Czechia burčák wine stands appear. This is the first wine of the season, and the Czech answer to Beaujolais Nouveau. It is a partially fermented young Moravian wine and has a short shelf-life as availability coincides with the grape harvest. Treat offers in July as suspicious as they are true tourist traps. In July this young wine has not been made yet. Burčák is a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing as it tastes like a sugary soft drink but has an alcohol content that varies from 5% to 8%.
This half-fermented wine is poured straight from the barrel. Secondary fermentation takes place in your stomach, as the Czechs claim. Burčák is half-fermented because the Czechs can’t wait for the process to be completed. Many drink Burčák as if it is a soft drink, but it makes you slightly drunk sooner than you might think.
Burčák Wine Facts
* two varieties: white and red, red is more expensive and there is less of it.
* sold in plastic bottles which were used for mineral water
* available from mid-August to early October
* half fermented and made from grapes grown in the Czech Republic
* alcohol percentage from 5 to 8%
* contains lactic acids, vitamins B1, B2 and minerals contained by the grapes
What is burčak?
Wine can only be called burčák when it is made from grapes grown in the Czech Republic and the recipe is a well-kept secret. Burčak is a strong drink containing half-fermented grape juice and the alcohol content varies between 5% and 8%. As is often the case with alcoholic drinks produced in the Czech Republic, burčák is said to be healthy to drink. This is partially true as this wine is rich in vitamins. Burčák has a short shelf life and can officially be sold until 30 November.
How to recognize burčák wine?
Beware of counterfeits! Genuine burčak is milky white or pale yellow. Street vendors sometimes mix the wine with apple cider which results in a muddy brown colour. This is easy to spot. However, it get more difficult when burčák is diluted with water as there is hardly any difference in colour from the ‘real’ burčák. The only advantage in this case is that the alcohol percentage is slightly lower, if you consider that an advantage.
How to drink burčák?
The temperature of burčák in the barrel can reach 25°C. Connoisseurs drink the wine luke warm. It goes without saying that it is out of the question to heat the wine to reach the desirable temperature. Once the bottle is opened, the quality of burčák deteriorates quickly. The best advice is therefore to drink quickly.
Where to buy Burčák?
Burčák is bought at farmers’ markets and from burčák stands which are set up late August early September. Burčák is typically sold in 1.5 liter plastic bottles. When the season starts depends on the weather and how quickly the grapes ripen.
Selling usually starts early September and last about six weeks. Since burcák is half fermented, you should not tighten the cap completely as this could cause the bottle to explode. Also, do not keep the wine in the refrigerator because then the fermentation process stops and the wine gets cloudy.
Almost all Prague neighbourhoods facilitate farmers’ markets. The market on the quay of the Vltava River near Rasinovo nabrezi is very central and opens every Saturday from 08.00-14.00. Another attractive farmers’ market is on Jiriho Podebrady Square, in the middle of the residential area of Vinohrady. This market is open on Wednesdays and Fridays from 08.00-20.00 and on Saturdays until 14.00.
Where to drink burčák wine?
1. In beer gardens
September is the wine season and there are wine festivals all over the Czech Republic and Prague. Burčák is one of the favourites at these festivals which also feature live music and, of course, many typically Czech delicacies. Gröbovka vineyard and Riegrovy sady beer garden are two excellent places to taste burčák.
2. In wine bars
The vinarna or wine bar is the place to drink burčák. Often these bars are also wine shops. If you ant to take burčák home, it is customary to bring your own bottle and have it filled from the barrel. A must-go is wine bar u Sudu, near Wenceslas Square, the perfect place to drink burčák wine.
photos Marianne Crone