Slap Me a Saperavi
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.