Burčiak, pronounced boor-chak, is ‘young wine’ available in Slovakia shortly after the grape harvest in September and early October. In other countries it goes by a different name, for example, it’s called ‘Sturm’ in Austria, ‘Federweißer’ in Germany, and ‘Vino Nuovo’ in Italy.
During the wine making process, sugar and yeast are added to crushed grapes, and the mixture is allowed to ferment. The breakdown of the sugar produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. Once all the sugar is fermented, the wine undergoes clarification to remove unwanted particles, before the process of aging. However, Burčiak is some sort of intermediate between grape juice and wine, which occurs naturally prior to the completion of the fermentation. The result is a delicious alcoholic drink, typically between 4-7% alcohol, which is both cloudy and sweet, and is high in vitamins B and C. There are obviously many factors which influence the taste, so no two batches taste the same. The high sugar content masks the alcohol and makes it incredibly easy to drink. You have been warned! Unfortunately, Burčiak only has a shelf life of several days, thus is usually only found in wine producing regions in the weeks that follow the grape harvest. It should be stored in the fridge to slow the yeast metabolism, in the upright position with a loose bottle cap to prevent the bottle leaking or exploding.
If you’re travelling to Slovakia around the grape harvest time you’ll see Burčiak advertised in wine shops (vinotéka) and wineries (vinárstva), as well as at markets and in selected restaurants. There are even festivals celebrating the grape harvest, in which Burčiak is one of the most important features. If you miss the season it’s not all bad; you’ll just have to settle for a glass of regular Slovakian wine instead.