Polish wine: Interview with Master Sommelier Adam Pawłowski
There are only 239 Master Sommeliers in the world and he’s one of them (check the actual count HERE). Adam Pawłowski joined the notable group in 2014 after merely seven years of intense training at Northcote and since then he has been striving to pass on his wine knowledge to the world, working as a wine consultant, educator and expert. Recently he has been working closely with a Polish restaurant Ed Red (in Krakow and Warsaw), recommended both by Gault&Millau and Michelin guides. He is responsible for the restaurant’s wine selection and front of the house service. We were lucky to get Adam to talk with us about the kind of wine we’re most interested in at Eat Polska: Polish wine.
Eat Polska (EP): Is Polish wine worthwile?
ADAM PAWŁOWSKI (AP): Yes, of course it is. I really wanted to include Polish wine in Ed Red’s wine list. I actually knew this immediately. But the thing with Polish wine is that you need to be very selective and careful about it. There are some extraordinary Polish wines, but there are still some Polish wine makers who commit basic errors in the science of wine making. Most common ones being reduction (sulfur aromas), oxidation (causing loss of fruit aromas i wine) or intense brettanomyces (giving wine barnyardy or horsey smell). Some Polish red wines are deceivingly beautiful. They may be deeply purple, ruby or garnet but once you put your nose in the glass and you taste the wine, there is not much to talk about. These are the things that still happen and they happen elsewhere as well, but Polish wine makers need to work hard on that. More expertise is needed. If anything, white wines are our stronger suit, because Polish climate is harsh. I believe we should strive to emulate the success of Austrian or German wine makers. The climate they operate in is similar to ours and it works miracles on their wine.
This being said, I see lots of progress when it comes to Polish wine making.
EP: How can you tell?
AP: Recently I was a member of jury in Poland’s biggest wine contest in Jasło. It was the third time I was there and I have to admit that over the past three years there are a lot of new winemakers who produce Polish wine. Three years ago we had a selection of 60 wines for the contest, a year later 100 and this year we tasted 212 Polish wines. We awarded different winemakers with 83 medals. Of course the majority were bronze medals but we gave 11 golden medals, which I believe is a lot. Grand prix winning Pinot Noir by Winnica Płochockich was a masterpiece in its category. It tasted like a very decent Burgundy wine. Other sommeliers were amazed that such high quality wine had been produced in Poland. What is more, in April I had the honour of being a judge in one of the most prestigious wine contest in Europe organised by a British wine magazine “Decanter”. Given that such contests are based on blind tasting premise, I had no idea whose wine I was tasting. It turned out that one of the finest Pinot Noirs in that contest was a Polish wine. It was awarded a silver medal in its category (CLICK HERE TO SEE WHICH WINE IT WAS).
EP: What is the direction Polish wine makers should take now? If we can’t measure up to France or Italy, would you say it’s a worthy idea to produce alternative wine types, such as e.g. orange wine? Just to excel at something different?
AP: I wouldn’t say it’s a good idea. You see, when it comes to wine making I’m a traditionalist. Wine needs to be made according to certain standards. You can’t tolerate mould, oxidation nor abundant sulfur aromas in wine. It needs to be drinkable. So my message to Polish wine makers would be: first, make very good classical wine. Then, perhaps you can start experimenting. Orange wines are acceptable only in very particular contexts, but they are sort of exceptions to the rule. And we all know that the exception proves the rule.
EP: So who are the Polish leaders in wine making?
AP: Certainly I don’t want to overlook anyone but I have a few of my favourite Polish wine producers who got it right in my opinion. These would be: Winnica Turnau, Pałac Mierzęcin, Winnica Modła, Winnica Płochockich, Winnica Jasiel, Winnica Jaworek or Winnica Srebrna Góra which produced wine that is being currently sold in one of the biggest market chains in Poland at a very reasonable price.
EP: Is it a good idea to sell Polish wine in supermarkets?
AP: I believe it’s a very good idea. It makes Polish wine more accessible to a wider audience. It’s not just in restaurants or vineyards anymore. This being said, only few Polish vineyards could afford such a bold move. In order to cater for a big supermarket’s needs a vineyard has to provide a constant wine supply. Most Polish vineyards are as big as 1ha which makes it virtually impossible. Winnica Srebrna Góra stretches over 20ha, but that’s exceptional for Polish market. They were forced to use most of their crops in order to be able to offer their wines to this big supermarket chain during numerous months. One could argue if the attractive supermarket price spoils Polish wine market, but I had the opportunity to taste these wines and they are quite decent ones. They are also made to a Polish liking.
EP: Meaning what exactly?
AP: Polish people tend to prefer wines with a higher amount of residual sugar and little tannins to counteract it. These wines are fine, but they are not excessively engaging. They are simple. But what putting a Polish wine in a supermarket chain does is that it makes Polish consumers more aware of its existence. I would assume that once they try Polish wine and they learn to appreciate it, they will pursue different ones.
EP: How much wine is consumed in Poland?
AP: An average Pole consumes between 3 to 4 litres of wine per year. It is nothing compared to Great Britain where an average Brit consumes between 25 and 30 litres of wine per year. Plus, there is no wine drinking culture and certain lack of wine patriotism. Polish wine is quite pricey and unreliable so Poles prefer to bet on French or Italian classics. This being said though, recent study shows that due to global warming in 2050 Poland’s territory will become one of the best places to grow grapes and make high quality wine. So hey, there’s still hope. Let’s keep an open mind about all this Polish wine making.
Read where to find great Polish wine in Warsaw HERE.