Slap Me a Saperavi

Step Inside the Little Known

Step Inside the Little Known

My first introduction to Saperavi was in 2001. For awhile, I had heard how “incredible” Georgian wines were. Like many similar comments, I dismissed the “incredible” possibility due to the many Georgian Champions’ local experience and global inexperience enthusiasm. Most fans were from that realm (their homeland) and I considered there might be a bit of bias?

I did try several at the time, though. Pretty consistent ‘producer’ to ‘producer’.

They come dry. They come sweet. The dry could surprise most wine explorers. The sweet wouldn’t.

Serious color. Serious tannins. Serious acidity. Fun for the whole family! Saperavi (translates to “dye” or “paint”) is a red wine grape that is named for its dark pink flesh and very dark skins. Originally from Moldova, the land that puts this grape on the map (along with Rkatsiteli, Mstvane, and Tsolikauri) is the Kakheti District of Georgia. In the days of the Soviet Union, Georgian wines were generally thought of as the jeweled crown and it has been said that the land of Georgia (Europe’s oldest wine-producing region) has been producing wine 7,000 to 9,000 years!

Saperavi (especially the dry) tends to have a barnyard, cinnamon, cigar box, soy-sauced mushroom, gamey-plum thing going on, with a sledge hammer of tannins and a lower PH (medium-plus acidity). It can be brilliant for By-The-Glass programs because some will last for days! And with the right amount of serenading to sleep and nightly brushing the bottles “hair”, these wines can age upwards of 50 years, though most fade at 6 – 10 years. The 3 common styles are Saperavi (aged 1 year or less), Kindzmarauli (aged 2 years), and Stalin’s favorite wine Mukuzani (aged 3 years or more). Also seen are Napareuli and Akhasheni. Though, I’m still looking… I’ve never found evidence to support it, but I’ve often wondered if there is a relation to Syrah or Lagrein.

On the downside, Georgia could probably use some updated wine-making techniques. Two somewhat consistent “barnyard” comments on Saperavi are the perceived Brettanomyces (mousey/horse taste) and 4-ethyl-phenol (lopsided leather turned manure smell/taste). At low levels, these 2 things can be considered an attraction in some Rhones and Burgundies, but the recently trendy American Brett love is not for me. And it should also be noted that the days of grape powder blended with spirit to produce “Georgian Wine” are still here, but there ARE some pretty exciting Saperavi wines out there. Go fish.


~ by GoodTasteReport on July 20, 2009.

5 Responses to “Slap Me a Saperavi”

  1. Dear good taste,

    I am a winemaker from Australia who has been consulting to Tbilvino in Georgia to do exactly what you suggested and bring some modern day techniques to the region. I believe Saperavi has massive potential as does Georgia. The 2008 Saperavi, Mukuzani and Special reserves that I made for Tbilvino is the first time I have been really impressed with the results. It is also the first year we had a strong team of trained cellar hands and winemakers, at least the basic equipment I feel is needed for modern wine making, strong sanitation and a good vintage. I would be very interested in knowing the company’s Saperavis that you tasted and if possible your individual tasting notes on these. Being a relatively unknown variety around the rest of the world it is hard to get a wide range of consumer opinions.

    I would also love to hear your opinions and tasting notes of any other saperavis you have tried outside of Georgia.

    Thanks for the information and good tasting for the future.


    • Jeff, I’m also a winemaker in Australia [Adelaide Hills]. We’ve made 2 Saperavis from our own fruit. The 2009 seemed good at the beginning, but has lost “structure”. The 2010 has amazing density or extract, without being tannic. I’m watching it to see if it keeps its structure. I’ve heard that gum arabic is used to stabilize tannins, but I’ve never used them.
      I’d appreciate any advice on winemaking. With the 2010, we did a natural ferment, and I’m quite happy with the result. We’ve pulled out some Riesling to plant more Saperavi.
      If this website could email Jeff, I’d appreciate it.

  2. […] via Slap Me a Saperavi « Good Taste Report. […]

  3. “Originally from Moldova, the land that puts this grape on the map (along with Rkatsiteli, Mstvane, and Tsolikauri”.
    Here is a mispint. Saperavi is from Georgia not from Moldova. By the way, everyone can make Saperavi at home using our wine kits.

  4. Hello to all,
    I am not professional winemaker; i am from Kacheti region of Georgia where Saperavi grows; Saperavi is vine variety, and it all depends to when grapes are picked, which fermentation process is used and one can get number of different in taste, structure and characteristics wines. So, I was brought up with traditions of wine drinking; tradition to look after vineyard have been embossed in me; each step starting from spraying, watering, cleaning from weeds, then picking (not harvesting ), pressing and enjoying fresh still fermenting wine; over the following months helping granddad to move wine from one barrel to another, from one earth-buried clay vessel to another and on and on….to ensure that he will get what he was aiming to, the final product. All has been done by hand with help of local villagers. Granddad was making around ten ton of wine per year, including both read and white (Rkatsiteli) for our own family use. Grandads red’s were bit less acidy and not as high in tannin level as most of local wine makers were making; over the years grandad was able to put very nice collection of wines from Saperavi grape; these included Saperavi, Akhasheni, Mukuzani of different age; when I got married (30 years ago) granddad unlocked 20 year old Mukuzani cask for wedding celebration (which he made and locked up in year when I was born). That Mukuzani tasted as if it was young and fresh as 3 year old wine but wise, settled, solid. Most wine drinkers should remember that these are young wines and the secret is to ensure that wine stay young for many years; the skill is for the wine drinker to be able to distinguish difference between aging, maturing wine and young wine getting wise, experienced – this is what my Granddad told me.
    In early 1990th Georgia went through civil war and anarchy period, when ‘democratic’ changes occurred, when neighbours and relatives started to shoot each other, when most important person was that one who had more bullets. Granddads wine cellar (it was more like a small factory) was ransacked, there was fire too and Granddad passed away, he was 94 year old. I left country with my immediate family and settled in Sydney. I did provide safe life for my children, but they do not know what Saperavi is; probably my own fault because I was busy taking care of other things. My dad is trying to get to secrets of what his father was creating but not very successfully; we still have one of the best vineyards in terms of land quality and climate in Kacheti.
    It is not difficult to find good Saperavi if you are in Georgia, however to produce it in quantities that could compete with other wines on market will be difficult. Saying this, need to say that there are not many young wines on the market. And good Saperavi and Mukuzani would make any wine collectors or appreciators money well invested and time well spend enjoying it.

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