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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!

Top Twelve of 2015

February 8, 2016 7 comments

In the 5 years this blog exists, I always summarized my wine experiences of the year with the list of most memorable wines. For the 2010 and 2011, the top lists included exactly 12 entries. However, 2012, 2013 and 2014 lists comprised of a first and a second dozens for the total of 24 wines or even more.

There were lots and lots of great and spectacular wines in 2015. But it is February of 2016 already, so I will simply limit the list to only 12 wines. Okay, of course not only 12, but I will stay as close as possible to the 12 – which makes it a fun challenge in itself, as now I need to go over the bigger list again and decide what to include into the  one and only. From here, it makes sense to explain how this Top Wines list is built.

The Talk-a-Vino Top Dozen list is simply based on the memorable wines of the past year. I don’t take into account color or style of the wine. I don’t take into account price. I don’t take into account availability. What matters for this list is that one look at the name of the wine is enough to say “ohh, yes, I remember that” – these are the wines which left the biggest impression.

Done with all the explanations, let’s get to the list, shall we?

14. 2012 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Pomino Bianco Benefizio Riserva DOC ($45) – I have a weak spot for a good Italian Chardonnay, and this wine was just that – classic, clean and beautiful.

13.  Changyu Red Wine Blend Ningxia, China (~$36 on the wine list in a restaurant in Beijing) – this wine was definitely an unexpected surprise, especially after unsuccessful first encounter with the Chinese wine. Classic round Bordeaux-style, with perfect balance and lots of pleasure in every sip.

12. 2013 Fero Vineyards Saperavi, Pennsylvania ($25) – Saperavi of course is best known as the star Georgian grape. However, it is quickly rising in popularity in the eastern US. Fero Vineyards might be a good example as to why – this wine had a characteristic Saperavi tartness over firm structure and nice earthy profile. It was my first and successful experience with the New World Saperavi.

11. 2014 Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($24) – of course we are all familiar with “white Pinot Noir” in the form of the Champagne and other sparkling wines. But this was a still wine, and it was clean, crisp and unusual, just if you would think about.

10. 2010 Massena Mataro Barossa Valley, Australia ($35) – I still have to write this post, as this wine was a surprising find in the Mourverde single-grape wine tasting. The wine was powerful, luscious and delicious.

9. 2014 Sangiovanni Leo Guelfus Piceno Superiore DOC, Marche ($20) – organic and superbly refined. I don’t drink a lot of Piceno red wines, as they are scarcely available in the typical wine store. This particular wine showed perfect silky layers and beautiful balanced fruit. An amazing QPR at a price.

8. 2010 Turley Zinfandel Tofanelli Vineyard Napa Valley ($45) – it was the smell which made me think of this wine over and over again. Fresh berries with spices, just unstoppable. Smell is the best part of wine drinking – and this wine was offering an infinite pleasure.

7. 1994 Chateau Lilian Ladouys Saint-Estéphe ($15) – love surprises. When I picked up a bottle of this wine at the local store, my only thought was “what do I have to lose”. After two hours in decanter, after the first sip, my only thought was “I really, really hope they still have it in the store!”. Outstanding.

6. 2010 Irwin Family Tempranillo Piedra Roja Block 22 Sierra Foothills ($36) – Best US made Tempranillo. Don’t think I need to say anything else. You disagree? Try this wine first, then let’s talk.

5. 2009 Quinta do Tedo Vintage Porto, Portugal (~$70) – After been told that 2009 was a very bad year in Portugal, I didn’t expect to find any Vintage Porto from 2009. The one I tasted during the visit to Quinta do Tedo was absolutely magnificent as all the young Porto wines are – powerful, full of fresh berries and in-your-face greatness.

4. 2014 Abbazia di Novacella [Kerner, Gruner Veltliner, Sylvaner, Sauvignon Blanc] Alto Adige, Italy (~$20) – yes, that is a whole bunch of wines for one single entry, but there is no way to chose only one. Spectacular aromatics and mind-boggling deliciousness (yes, I’m getting very excited as I even write this) across all.

3. 2011 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Giramonte Toscana IGT ($150) – I can’t tell you too much or too little about this wine. Instead, I will use just one word – finesse.

No, there is no mistake down below. Both wines are #1 – best of the best from the 2015.

1. 2011 Quinta do Tedo Grand Reserva Savedra Douro ($30) – Spectacular – only as the best Portuguese Reserva wines can get. Espresso, dark chocolate, eucalyptus – there is no end to the descriptors you can apply to this wine. Truly outstanding and pretty much a steal at the price (problem is to find it anywhere outside of the winery).

1. 2011 Emiliana Coyam Colchagua Valley, Chile ($35) – imagine your mouth is full of ripe blueberries and wild strawberries. Now swallow all that, and take another handful of those fresh berries and eat them too. Repeat until happy smile will show on your face. Yes, that was my impression of this wine. Outstanding.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Better late then never, that is the way I see it – yes, this is a late post, but I still wonder if you had any of these wines on your own and if you did, what do you think of them. Or if any of the wines from 2015 are still in your memory, I would love to hear about them too. Cheers!

 

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