This is a bit of a big week for me in terms of new wines, but of all the wines I’ve had over the past few days, this is the one to which I’ve been looking forward the most. Recently I reviewed the Hugh Hamilton “The Oddball” Saperavi and commented how I’d tasted two Australian takes on this Georgian grape, but had no basis as far as comparing it to wine from its country of origin. Well today I will be making amends.
I have before me a bottle of wine with writing on it that is so unfamiliar I would not have been able to name the script at first glance. Fortunately, there are also Latin characters, which tell me that this is the Taliani Valley Napareuli Red Dry 2007. The back label is similarly divided with the English half telling me that this is a red dry wine made from the Saperavi in the Napareuli district of Kakheti, Georgia.
So, Georgia. It is thought that the birthplace of wine is somewhere in the area between the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea. There’s an often referenced an article in The Independent from 2003 that credits Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum with having discovered 8,000 year old wine residue in what’s present-day Georgia, but I can only find a supposed copy. In a more recent interview with the biomolecular archaeologist, he dates the oldest winemaking facility at 6,000 years old in present-day Armenia. In any case, wine and winemaking go back quite a ways in Georgia.
Modern Georgia continues to produce wine, most of it for export, though that export is heavily concentrated in its near neighbours, with the vast majority of it going to Ukraine at the moment. (Russia used to be a very large customer, but relations between Russia and Georgia are not brilliant at the moment.) There’s a mix of traditional winemaking from smaller producers and modern techniques in larger scale operations. In some cases, fermentation takes place in large earthenware vessels, kvevri, which are not unlike the amphora which has become trendy in a number of places, even in Australia. Red, white, sparkling, and fortified wines are produced, largely from a wide range of native grape varieties. This wine is from Napareuli, which is an appellation in Kakheti, in the east of Georgia, on the north side of the river Alazani River, across from another appellation, Mukazani. It’s soil is sand, clay, and small stones. The climate is warm summers and mild winters. I can’t come up with much more information about Napareuli itself, though obviously they grow Saperavi. Funnily enough, though, there is a recent BBC article on a winery located there, which is worth a read.
I’ve written about Saperavi before from a New World perspective, but within Georgia it is apparently native to Kakheti. I mentioned that it’s known for its acidity, its colour, and that it withstands the cold very well. What I didn’t mention is that it’s a teinturier, making it one of the few grapes in the world with red flesh, which means the juice is also red. The vast majority of red grapes actually produce clear juice, which then becomes red through contact with skin before, during, and/or after fermentation. It’s also one of the oldest varieties in Georgia, which likely makes it one of the oldest varieties full stop.
Teliani Valley is not a company with whom I was familiar before today, but they are based in Kakheti and produce not just wine, but also a form of vodka made from grapes and a brandy. They’re a good sized producer, processing roughly 1500t of grapes per vintage, or on the order of a million bottles. I’ve stuck their pin on the map in Telavi, as per the town on the back of the label, but I can’t quite place the Tbilisi Highway 3. However, that’s better than using the address on their website which would be their offices in Tbilisi, roughly 60km away.
On to the wine itself -it’s a keeper. Dark ruby colour, though not quite opaque to the rim. A slight bit of light can get through if you hold the glass just right. A rich, intense nose with red fruit and a bit of licorice, and maybe a little cranberry. On the palate, it has high acidity, a medium body, but somewhat light on tannins. It gives more of the what was promised on the nose – red berries, some licorice, and very tart.
I know mentally this isn’t a super premium wine, but it does seem very well made and very pleasing. I may just be giving in to the novelty, or maybe I’m just so pleased to be tasting a Georgian Saperavi, but I really like it. I’ll have to pick up another bottle in a month or two when the moment has passed to see if I feel the same, but for now I’m happy to say that this is a very good wine and I look forward to having it again.