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Desperately Seeking Saperavi

November 2, 2016 16 comments

Saperavi is one of my absolute favorite grapes. It is capable of a wide range of expressions, as well as extended aging, and Saperavi wines often present an unbeatable value compare to any wines in the same or even higher price category. Saperavi is typically associated with the Republic of Georgia, where it is an undisputable star, but it is slowly gaining its enthusiastic following in the other regions. This grape also became a connection point between myself and Rich Rocca, whose passion for the Saperavi is unquestionable, and I’m always looking forward learning from Rich as to what is going on in the world of Saperavi, especially considering his focus on the New World regions. I thought it would be perfectly appropriate to offer pages of this blog for the guest post from Rich, who shares his quest for Saperavi below.

saperavi-grapes-marani

Saperavi Grapes. Source: Marani website

My name is Rich Rocca and I write the wine blog wpawinepirate. I have covered a wide variety of subjects in my posts but the primary objective has always been to provide my readers information about the wineries and vineyards in my home region of Western Pennsylvania. The Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York (FLX) has also been of great interest to me. I have made numerous trips to the FLX and it was during these visits I discovered Saperavi. Anatoli and I became friends after we began exchanging our thoughts concerning the state of Saperavi in America and even Saperavi wine itself. Those years of accessing the progress of this grape eventually lead to Anatoli’s gracious invitation to write a guest post on his blog which I eagerly accepted. Saperavi has always been a “Secret Handshake” type of wine that you either knew about or you didn’t. Here’s your chance to get into the club but unlike in the past don’t keep it to yourself and spread the word about this rising star.

The vintners of the Northeastern United States have long searched for a red wine grape that could be their signature grape. Over the years several have been on the cusp of becoming the iconic red wine grape that would be identified with the region for producing world-class red wine. Vintages of Lemberger and Cabernet Franc have produced stellar wines that can hold their own with other regions but just couldn’t elbow their way through a crowded field of reds for the attention of the wine drinkers of the Eastern U.S. and beyond. The fact that you are reading this post proves that you have a curiosity about something new in a world full of wine that can be overwhelming at times. The following is a summary of information I have gathered over the years about this intriguing grape from the winemakers and vineyard managers who know it best.

Saperavi is an ancient grape that can trace its origin to the Kakheti Region of Georgia and the surrounding regions as far back as 6000 B.C. Saperavi is a teinturier-type grape, which means it has a dark skin and a pink-tinted flesh. A teinturier variety of grape will produce an intensely colored juice when crushed because both the skin and flesh contain the water-soluble pigment anthocyanin which is responsible for giving fruits and vegetables their red, blue and purple color. Saperavi is a very adaptable loose bunch, late-ripening, cool climate grape variety that can produce large yields without sacrificing much in the quality of the fruit. These vines are able to thrive in cool climate regions even at high altitudes because they have above average resistance to cold temperatures. A more cold/frost tolerant hybrid called Saperavi Severny has been developed by incorporating genes from the hardy Severny grape. Traditionally Saperavi wine has been blended with lesser wines but recently it has been gaining popularity as a varietal bottling. A common translation of Saperavi is “dye” because it makes an extremely dark colored wine. Saperavi wine is known for having good acidity and firm but not overwhelming tannins. It is these attributes that make it a wine that takes well to aging with some examples being found to have aged nicely for fifty years. Georgia recently has had political problems with its neighbors over the export of wine, notably Saperavi, but that is a blessing in disguise because it is diverting more wine to the world market.

When talking about Saperavi I can’t contain my excitement and expectations for the wine being grown and made in the United States. I have coined the term “New World Saperavi” for the wine being grown and made by three wineries in the Finger Lakes Wine Region of New York and one in Central Pennsylvania. In the FLX Saperavi is being grown and made at Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellar by Fredrick (Fred) Frank, the son of Willy Frank and grandson of Dr. Konstantin Frank, two legendary winemakers. Saperavi winemaking is well established at Standing Stone Vineyards thanks to Martha (Marti) Macinski (owner/winemaker). She is one of the pioneers of Saperavi in the FLX and is making her wine using grapes from her ever expanding Saperavi vineyard, arguably the largest in North America. Anyone familiar with FLX Saperavi knows John McGregor at McGregor Vineyards the maker of McGregor Black Russian Red. This wine is often referred to as “THE” cult wine of the FLX. McGregor Black Russian Red is a unique blend of Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni and is only produced at John’s Keuka Lake winery. The only other producer of Saperavi outside of the FLX is Fero Vineyards and Winery in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Chuck Zaleski is the owner/winemaker at Fero and as his award-winning Saperavi vines mature he has been experimenting with different wine making techniques and styles to capitalize on the distinct characteristics this grape exhibits.

Fero isn’t the only winery exploring the possibilities of Saperavi, all three of its counterparts in New York continue to hone in on their particular vision of what Saperavi can be and what styles it can be made into. Their success isn’t going unnoticed as more vineyard managers are planting Saperavi but the addition of newly planted acreage is slow. There are several factors that have hindered the spread of Saperavi not the least of which is the scarcity of the vines themselves. Two eastern wineries that have young Saperavi vineyards are Knapp Winery in the FLX and White Barrel Winery (formerly Attimo) in Christianburg, Virginia. Anyone considering adding Saperavi to their property can start their search at Grafted Grapevine Nursery Clifton Springs, New York, a longtime supplier of Saperavi and other varieties to the wine industry.

“New World Saperavi” can be difficult to find because of the small number of producers and the limited yields from vineyards that are expanding but cannot meet the increasing demand. If you are interested in learning more about the Saperavi producers in the United States I have written an in-depth post about them. The post can be viewed at wpawinepirate.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/new-world-saperavi-report/

The next stop on our search for “New World Saperavi” is Australia. South Australia to be more exact, home to Dan Traucki, wine industry consultant, Director of Wine Assist Pty Ltd, freelance writer and my newest friend in the search for Saperavi wherever it may take me. Through his articles and our correspondences, Dan has given me an insider’s perspective of the current state of Saperavi and other lesser known wines being made in Australia. Australian wine production from its approximately 4000 wineries is dominated by Shiraz and Chardonnay making competition for market share acutely competitive. Fourteen ground-breaking vineyard managers have taken the speculative position of planting Saperavi in their vineyards. The majority of these plantings are in the warm climate of the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale Regions. Saperavi can also be found in the cool climate of the Alpine Valley Region of Victoria. The cool climate Saperavi produces a slender wine with an angular taste profile while the warm climate renders a wine of muscular body and vivid taste.

I am interested in how Saperavi’s innate ability to express its terroir plays out when it is being planted in such a diverse assortment of locations around the globe. Even though these vineyards are planted in vastly different regions of the world there is a high probability that over the course of time the DNA of other wine grapes has found its way into the DNA of Saperavi as it has with all other “pure” strains of wine grapes. The vines for Australian Saperavi were sourced from the Archival Saperavi of Roseworthy Agricultural College. This noteworthy collection of vines has been amassed from vineyards worldwide over the past 100 years. With this thought in mind, I am sure that Saperavi produced anywhere will display the unmistakable qualities that we associate with it but will also manifest certain location-specific characteristics that will be inevitable because of its genetic tendency to adapt the growing environment.

The history of the “Old World Saperavi” has been well chronicled over the centuries dating back to ancient times. Much of the craftsmanship used to make this wine has change little over time from the way it is fermented and stored in large egg-shaped earthenware vessels called Qvevri to the traditions of the Georgian communities that are as intertwined with this grape as are the Saperavi vines themselves. The story of “New World Saperavi” is still in its early chapters but luckily for us it is being written by skilled winemakers that are fearless visionaries when it comes to the future they see for their wineries. The possibilities surrounding this wine are fascinating and evolving with each new harvest. I am a curious person by nature and have always enjoyed learning about something new and exciting. I invite you to join me on this journey in the pursuit of an ageless red wine grape reinvented in vineyards a world away from its ancestral home by dreamers and risk-takers as full of life as Saperavi itself. I urge you to indulge your inquisitive side and try Saperavi from anywhere in the world. I think you will be surprised and glad you got to taste something a little different.

Thank you to Anatoli for the invitation to be a guest on his blog and the opportunity it provides me to reach so many new readers/friends. I am always interested in news of Saperavi growers and producers anywhere. If you know of any please contact me at email: wpainepirate@gmail.com or follow me on my blog: wpawinepirate.wordpress.com

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Remembering Last Summer – Fero Vineyards in Pennsylvania

August 20, 2016 3 comments

Fero Vineyards GlassDoes it make sense to write about a winery visit a year after? Well, I will leave you to ponder at that question, and will just go ahead with my post.

We have a tradition which we keep going for many years now – adults getaway. One weekend in August, we all get together for the two days of food, wines, laughter and simply enjoying each other’s company. These trips usually take place within reasonable driving distance (3 hours or less) for all people in the group (we all live in a close proximity to the New York city), and winery is always a good choice for the first stop.

Lucky for us, oenophiles, the wine bug caught up everywhere in the US, so there is no shortage of interesting wineries to visit along the East Coast of the United States. Our choice last year was the winery in Central Pennsylvania, called Fero Vineyards and Winery. The choice was not random – one of the grapes they use in the wine production is Saperavi. This is definitely not a common choice  – however, a rapidly (I think) growing trend among Eastern USA winemakers, in Finger lakes and other regions. Having been exposed to many amazing Georgian wines, where Saperavi is a king, I was very intrigued at a perspective of tasting the local rendition of such wines.

Had all the arrangements made to meet with Chuck Zaleski, a winery owner and winemaker at Fero. Chuck was taking time for this off his busy schedule, as he was participating in the town fair where he was pouring his wines.

Just curious – do you think everything is going boringly well, or do you expect a twist in this story?

So yes, the twist happened – in the form of a flat tire. About 70 miles down the road, the familiar sound appeared – anyone who had a flat tire knows what I’m talking about; if you never had one – keep it this way. Not a problem, I thought – while the spare tire is very awkwardly located in Toyota Sienna, under the cabin floor, right in a middle – at least I knew where it was. Next ten minutes of jumping around the car ended up in a grim realization – the spare tire was not there. Angry call to the dealer (luckily, it was Saturday) lead to a discovery – all wheel drive Toyota Sienna cars don’t have a spare tire as there is no space for it – instead, they are equipped with run-flats. To make long story short, after arriving with the smoldering tire to the closest dealership and waiting for about 3 hours, we were able to get on our way (of course I fully realize this was still a very lucky outcome).

As we were at least 3 hours behind the schedule, the decision had to be made – should we visit Fero (Chuck, of course, was not there) or forget it all together, just drive to our B&B and relax after such an ordeal. I’m glad the love of wine prevailed and we decided to stop by the Fero Vineyards first.

Fero Vineyards Sign

Fero Vineyards If you will look at the line up of the Fero Vineyards wines, you would find the closest match in Germany or Austria – of course with the addition of Saperavi. Despite the fact that we didn’t manage to meet with Chuck, he still took care of us, by leaving a bottle of Saperavi for us to taste, as the winery was sold out of their last vintage. We tasted through almost a complete portfolio of Fero wines, so here are the highlights for what I liked the most (as usual, there were too many wines, too little time):

2013 Fero Vineyards Grüner Veltliner Pennsylvania – dry, crisp
2013 Fero Vineyards Dry Riesling Pennsylvania – German style, nice minerality, good fruit
2013 Fero Vineyards Pint Noir Pennsylvania – dry, classic nose, crisp, very nice
2013 Fero Vineyards 1812 Lemberger Pennsylvania – crisp, crushed red fruit, pepper
2012 Fero Vineyards Pinot Gris Pennsylvania – nice, simple
2014 Fero Vineyards Pinot Noir Rosé Pennsylvania – residual sweetness, light, balanced, excellent overall
2014 Fero Vineyards Semi-dry Riesling Pennsylvania – excellent, nice touch of sweetness
Fero Vineyards Concord Pennsylvania Table Wine – yes, this is rather sweet, but if you like Concord, this was a classic, restrained and delicious

2013 Fero Vineyards Pinot Gris Pennsylvania – crisp, minerality, excellent
2013 Fero Vineyards Estate Lemberger Pennsylvania – roasted fruit, good concentration, excellent
Fero Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling Pennsylvania – nice touch of petrol, good touch of sweetness, excellent overall
2013 Fero Vineyards Saperavi Pennsylvania – excellent, nice concentration, tannins, crushed blackberries, pepper notes

I’m definitely intrigued by this Saperavi wine. Fero Saperavi has a character of its own, as you can see from my tasting notes above. I would love to taste it side by side with its Georgian counterparts, of course blind. And let’s keep in mind that Saperavi grows in the Balkans (never tasted it), Finger Lakes (also never tasted it), and probably some other places I can’t even think of. Can someone please put together an exciting blind tasting? Or this might be a great subject for the #winestudio session…

Well, I still have a few bottles of Fero wines left, including 2013 Saperavi (courtesy of Chuck, yes) – but I want to give it at least a few more years. See, this is how oenophiles build their excitement…

And we are done here. If you are looking for the great East Coast wines, Fero Vineyards must be on your short list. And who knows, may be you will be lucky enough to taste their Saperavi. Cheers!

Possibly The Best QPR Wines In The World Today?

October 5, 2015 13 comments

Colors of the Chelsea MarketToday, I want to talk about wine and value. “Value” has an interesting meaning in the world of wine – may be as subjective as the concept of a “good wine” itself. To me, the value is not an absolute amount of money one paid for the bottle of wine – if you paid $3, but poured the bottle down the drain after half-finished first sip because it tasted terribly – was that still a “value”? Or was that a pure waste of money? By the same token, if the $20 bottle of wine gave you lots of pleasure in every tiniest drop (including the one you licked of the table), would that be a “good value”? Talking about the “value” of the wine, I prefer to use a proverbial term QPR, so happily adapted by the wine lovers – a Quality Price Ratio (this is what QPR stands for) conveys the “value” concept of wine a lot better than the sheer price itself.

One of the easiest and most straightforward ways to classify and analyze thousands and thousands of wines produced today in the world is by region, as wines from the same geographic area would typically have some similarities. Thinking about all the different wine producing regions in the world, which region do you think delivers the best QPR today? I’m really asking here to think about the region as a whole, rather then individual wines. Yes, you can find delicious Napa reds for $10, but this is rather an anomaly, as on average, you need to spend at least $25 – $30 for a good bottle, so we are definitely not talking about Napa here. Thus the question stands – what is your best QPR wine region in the world?

This question might be more difficult than it seems. Wine regions don’t stand still – they are constantly evolving. As the region becomes better known and more demanded, the price increase often accompanies this rise in popularity – which obviously affects the QPR. I used to consider Greek wines as a great QPR – but many Greek wines are now pushing the $30 boundary, while not consistent in quality – this immediately drives QPR down. I used to think of Israeli wines as a great value – but same thing is happening there, with lots of better wines moving north of $30, and wines under $20 been more of “hit and miss”. My next “go to” wines were Portuguese – but even here I now have a problem – wines under $20 are often only randomly tasty; wines at around $30 and up are consistently excellent, rivaling $100+ wines from the other regions, so in relative terms, they still offer a great value – but probably not the best QPR?

“Knowing what I know now”, the region which I think consistently delivers the best QPR at the moment (!) is Georgia – not the state down south in the US, of course, but an independent country. I always loved Georgian wines, but what prompted this broad statement about QPR was a recent Georgian Wine tasting I attended a week ago at Chelsea Market in New York. Wine after wine was delicious, and priced under $20 – that is a QPR I’m definitely happy about.

You don’t have to take my word for it – you should find a bottle of Georgian wine and try it for yourself. I really hope you did just that last Sunday, October 4th, as it was a #GeorgianWineDay in the social media – and if you actually had Georgian wine, I’m curious to know what it was. In any case, let me share the notes for the wines I tasted at the “Discover Georgia in New York” event at the colorful Chelsea Market. Below are the notes, using the “+” ratings. Pay attention to the prices and corresponding ratings – don’t know what you think, but I think the “QPR” is spelled very clearly across the full range of wines I tasted.

2013 Telavi Wine Cellar Marani Rkatsiteli Kakheti, Georgia ($10.99) – +++, very acidic, requires food
2013 Telavi Wine Cellar Marani Mtsvane-Kisi Kondoli Vineyards Kakheti, Georgia ($14.99) – +++, excellent, clean, lemon notes, touch of food


2013 Telavi Wine Cellar Marani Saperavi Kakheti, Georgia ($11.99) – +++, excellent, simple, an everyday wine, red fruit, crushed berries
2009 Telavi Wine Cellar Marani Red Kvareli Special Vicultural area, Kakheti, Georgia ($15.99) – ++++, beautiful, clean, great depth
2012 Telavi Wine Cellar Marani Saperavi Kondoli Vineyards Kakheti, Georgia ($18.99, 18 months in oak, starting from fermentation) – ++++, stunning! round and delicious

2007 Telavi Wine Cellar Marani Reserve SAPERAVI block Kondoli vineyards, Kakheti, Georgia ($70) – ++++1/2, off the charts, produced only in the best years, complex, round, delicious. Yes, it is $70, and it might be to expensive for an amazing QPR, but you should taste this wine first…


2006 Wineman Cabernet Sauvignon Kakheti, Georgia ($10.99) – ++++, wow!, pick of maturity, dark notes, concentrated – another wow!
2010 Wineman Ikhalto Red Kakheti, Georgia ($12.99, 50% Saperavi, 50% Cabernet Franc) – ++++, wow!, acidity, beautiful wine
2013 Wineman Kindzmarauli Special Viticultural Area Red Semi-Sweet Kakheti, Georgia (12% ABV, $15.99, 100% Saperavi)  – ++++, beautiful, perfectly balanced sweetness


2011 Shalvino Kardenakhi Special Viticultural Area Kakheti, Georgia (18% ABV, $18.99, Blend of Rkatsiteli, Khikhvi, Goruli and Mtsvane) – ++++, made using Solera method, delicious, Pedro Ximenez like with a delicate balance
2013 Telavi Wine Cellar Satrapezo Rkatsiteli Ice Wine Kakheti, Georgia (10% ABV, $29.99 500ml) – +++1/2, beautiful, perfect balance, not overly sweet


2013 Teliani Valley Tsinandali White Kakheti, Georgia ($12.99) – +++, great acidity
2012 Teliani Valley Special Vicultural area Kakheti, Georgia ($17.99) – +++, great acidity, perfect, food friendly


2013 Schuchmann Rkatsiteli White Kakheti, Georgia ($15.99) – +++, touch of sweetness, nice balance
2013 Schuchmann Saperavi Red Kakheti, Georgia ($15.99) – +++, perfect, clean, great balance


2012 Vinoterra Kisi Kakheti, Georgia (13% ABV, $NA, Qvevri fermentation, Oak maturation) – +++, complex, very intense, unusual, thought provoking

What do you think? I understand that QPR is subjective and relative term – first, you have to like the wine, and then everyone’s idea of “value” is different – but I was (once again) blown away by the quality and consistency of what I tasted – I didn’t skip a single wine, those are all the wines which were presented in the tasting. This would make it 16 wines out of 16, which I would gladly drink again. I hope it gives you good frame of reference for my experience.

Thinking about the wines of the world, what would be your top region for the best QPR? And if you tasted any of the Georgian wines, what is your opinion about them? Cheers!

Wines of Georgia: You Have To Experience It To Believe It

June 9, 2011 5 comments

The subject of Georgian wines is not new on this blog – I wrote about Georgian wines on a number of occasions, and those were good occasions, or maybe rather even good surprises (you can find the posts here and here). But after I was lucky enough to attend Georgian Wine tasting in New York City, I don’t want to talk about Georgian wines in terms of “good surprises” anymore – I think Georgian wines are ready to take a permanent high place in the wine’s “who is who” world.

There were about 60-70 wines presented in the tasting. I didn’t have a chance to taste each and every one of them, but among those I tried, there were no bad wines. There were some which were regular, there were some which were good, there were some which were great, and there were a few which were amazing. I think this is a pretty good line up for the wines which I would collectively avoid only about a year ago, as those were mediocre at the best. There is a definite trend up in the quality of the Georgian wines, and I believe a lot of them are ready to meet discerning palates of the wine lovers around the world.

Let me share some of the notes and thoughts, supported by practical examples, of course. I already wrote before about Georgian sparkling wine called Bagrationi. It is produced for more than hundred years, using traditional Méthode Champenoise. This time I had an opportunity to try four different wines, and they all were very good, but 2007 Bagrationi Royal Cuvee was a standout for me. Medium body, very balanced acidity, very round overall.

My next personal favorite was 2010 Chateau Mukhrani Tavkveri Rose. This was one of the number of excellent wines presented by Chateau Mukhrani, and it played to my particular weakness to the Rose wines, especially during summer time. This wine is made out of the indigenous Georgian grape, Tavkveri, one of many other grapes which don’t grow anywhere else (based on information from Wikipedia, there are about 400 varieties growing in Georgia, with less than 40 used for commercial winemaking).

It is not easy to produce a rose wine with the character. Lots of available rose wines from all the different regions are virtually indistinguishable – a little bit of strawberry, and a little bit of acidity, nothing memorable. The Chateau Mukhrani Rose was totally different – lots of concentrated berry flavors, cranberries and sour cherries, all supported by very balanced acidity and long finish – truly a great Rose.

Another wine from Chateau Mukhrani I have to mention was 2009 Chateau Mukhrani Shavkapito. Another indigenous grape, Shavkapito, and yet another great tasting wine – good dark fruit expression, very round and layered with smooth and approachable tannins.

Next group of wines I have to mention are the wines made by Pheasant’s Tears and Alaverdi Monastery. What puts these wines aside even in such a distinguished crowd is a very unique method of making wines. Both wineries are making wine using qvevri, a clay vessel lined with beeswax, which is used for fermenting and aging of the wine. There were a number of wines presented, both red and whites, all made using qvevri. The white wines were especially unique, as they sported a deep yellow color,  which is typical for really old white wines, but not for the white wines which are one or two years old. Most of those white wines also showed quite extensive tannins – without being aged in the oak. All of those characteristics ( deep yellow color, tannins) are coming from prolonged fermentation and aging process which takes place in the qvevri, where grapes are crushed and juice stays in the contact with the skins and seeds for the period of up to 6 months. In addition to unique color and tannins, some of the white wines also exhibited Madeira style saltiness, coupled with enough sweetness and acidity to make overall experience very pleasant. These are really unique wines, and you should try to find them – if you can.

Last but not least are the wines which were my absolute favorite in this tasting – Mukuzani and Saperavi red wines produced by Maisuradze wines.

Both 2005 Maisuradze Wines Saperavi and 2005 Maisuradze Wines Mukuzani are produced from Saperavi grape  – one of the most popular grapes used in the production of the red wines in Georgia. The difference between the wines is that Mukuzani contains only Saperavi grapes actually grown at Mukuzani vineyards. Another difference is the aging time in oak – Mukuzani spent 24 months in oak versus 12 months for Saperavi. Both wines are showing tremendous power and structure, and while Saperavi is more approachable, Mukuzani still needs time in the cellar – it will truly shine after another 10 years (at least) in the cellar. Both wines are excellent and definitely worth seeking.

Bottom line is simple – Georgian wines are ready for the prime time. They need a bit of marketing, and a bit of luck, and then we will all have more wines to enjoy. But for now – takes this post to your local wine store, and ask them to get these wines for you – and then let me know what you think.

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