New Grape Ish: An Intro to Georgian Wine

Oct 20, 2020

ty morrison

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The cool part about the “New Grape Ish” series is not only introducing you to new varietals, but learning about them myself. Back in August, I attended this virtual wine blogger conference where I got the opportunity to hear Meaghan Frank talk about Dr. Konstantin Frank Wines during a panel. She mentioned some varietals that I had no clue how to write nor pronouce. I just remembered she said they were Georgian grapes. I knew this was a wine region that I was not familiar with and reached out to Meaghan to learn more. She was kind enough to send me two of her wines: a Rkatsiteli and Saperavi.

She shared that Rkatsiteli and Saperavi are two ancient varieties originally from Georgia (not to be confused with the U.S. state). Georgia is one of the oldest wine producing regions in Europe. Today, it ranks fourth in grape production in the former Soviet Union behind Russia, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova. Meaghan’s grandfather Dr. Konstantin Frank worked with both varietals back in the Ukraine. He was a World War II refugee that fled from the Soviet Union to come to America with his family at the age of 52 in 1951. He had no contacts in the U.S. nor did not he know how to speak English, but he did have a PhD in viticulture. He knew from his experience growing grapes in very cold climates that high quality European vinifera wines could be made in New York. In 1957, he planted his first vinifera wine on the southwestern hills of Kueka Lake in what would later be become Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery. He went on to make history in the Finger Lakes and is credited with being the first person to successfully grow the European vinifera varieties in the eastern United States. Today, the Frank family (four generations) continues Dr. Konstantin Frank’s legacy producing over 30 different wines ranging from sparkling to still, and bone-dry to sweet. There’s literally something for everyone! Meghan currently works with her father Frederick Frank who took over leadership of the winery in 1993.

Now that you know more about the producer, join me as I take a closer look at Rkatsiteli and Saperavi and review the two wines that were sent to me.

What is Rkatsiteli?

Rkatsiteli (pronounced ruh-KAT-see-TELL-ee) is one of the oldest grape varieties in the world. It’s a pale skinned white grape that originated from the country of Georgia, primarily the Kakheti region, and can be traced as far back as 3000 B.C. It is also mostly planted in surrounding Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, and even Russia. The name Rkatsiteli literally means “red stem” or “red horned” due to the color of the stems of the vine. The grape has a very strong resistance to cold winter conditions and retains high acidity even in the hottest summers. Rkatsiteli is Georgia’s #1 white grape and can be used in a variety of styles of wine from dry single varietal whites to fortified sherry-style wines, sweet dessert wines, and even sparkling wines. It is a wine known for their bright citrus flavors, soft spice and gentle aromatics, along with its high acidity and oftentimes higher alcohol.

Food Pairing

When it comes to food pairings, the wine can be quite versatile depending on which style of Rkatsiteli you are drinking. The dry wines can be considered good “picnic wines” and pair well with foods from the regions where it grows in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Think in terms of Lebanese, Turkish, Iranian, and even Indian spiced meats and lentils. These wines also pair nicely with fish, poultry, and oysters. More off-dry styles of the wine will go well with spicier foods such as Thai or other spicy Asian dishes.

2019 Dr. Konstantin Frank Rkatsiteli

Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery is the leading producer of Rkatsiteli in America. In fact, Dr. Konstantin Frank was the first to plant Rkatsiteli in the Finger Lakes during his experiments in the 1950s and 1960s. They grow just under 10 acres of Rkatsiteli on our Keuka Estate: 3.1 acres planted in 1983, 2.8 acres in 1987, and 3.8 acres in 2003.

I had no clue what to expect, but I have to say that I was completely blown away by what was inside of this bottle. This vintage is 100 percent Rkatsiteli. There is an array of fruit aromas from citrus notes of grapefruit and lime to apricot and pear. Although, Rkatsiteli is classified as a dry white—in a glass, this wine boasts of tropical fruit flavors. But, then there is a hint of herbaceousness and acidity that round out the wine with a long finish. I absolutely loved this wine! The flavors were so vibrant and crisp. I had to force myself from finishing the bottle in one sitting. This white would have been the perfect patio pounder during the summer. But, I’m not going to pigeon-hold this Rkatsiteli into being a seasonal wine. I plan on placing a couple of orders before the month is over.

What is Saperavi?

Saperavi (pronounced sah-per-ra-vee) is Georgia’s leading red grape variety. It is also grown in Armenia, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan,Azerbaijan, and in small quantities in the Niagara and Finger Lakes regions of New York State and Northeast Ohio. Its name means “paint, dye, give color” in Georgian because it is a teinturier-type grape variety with red flesh and red juice. This dark-skinned and dark-fleshed grape makes deep red, inky, and often opaque wine with heavy body and profound texture. Saperavi is a great wine for aging due to its naturally high acidity. Due to the grape’s marked acidity and myriad characteristics of black fruit, licorice, chocolate, earth, smoked meat, tobacco, savory spice, and pepper, it is extremely versatile and can be made into rosé, dry, semi-sweet, sweet, and fortified wines.

Food Pairings

The Saperavi grape pairs well with hearty dishes like roasted meats, wild game, spicy stews, and hard/aged cheeses.

2017 Dr. Konstantin Frank Saperavi

Outside of Georgia, Saperavi is now being grown in the Finger Lakes area thanks to Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery. Most of the grapes (95 percent) come from the winery’s estate vineyards on Seneca Lake while a small portion (five percent) come from the Keuka Estate vineyard. The 2017 bottle is 100 percent Saperavi. It’s a dry, full-bodied red. I got aromas of ripe dark and red fruits like blackberry and plum with a little bit of smokey oak and spice. On the palate, I got a lot of the dark fruit flavors that were on the nose along with hints of chocolate and coffee. Overall the flavors are bold and you notice a lot of the tannins on the finish. I enjoyed the Saperavi, but it wasn’t my favorite. You know that I’m not the biggest red drinker plus when I do drink reds I like them to be light and more fruit forward. If you like big bold reds, you enjoy this one.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of “New Grape Ish.” I know I enjoyed learning more about Rkatsiteli and Saperavi, as well as getting to try wine from the Finger Lakes region. Now that you know a little bit more about these varietals, I hope that you’ll feel more confident the next time you see these names on a wine list and will give them a try. A huge thank you to Dr. Konstantin Frank winery for sending over these great wines to try. I definitely recommend checking out their wine portfolio. There’s so much history and love behind these wines. I love a good family wine story! Until next time…glasses up.

**Photos of Dr. Konstantin Frank and the Rkatsiteli were provided by the Dr. Konstantin Winery. The Saperavi photo was courtesy of Google. All other images of the wine bottles were taken by me.

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About theBlog

In 2015, I started the YGOM blog as a creative outlet to chronicle my journey to learning about wine. I started off mainly reviewing different wines and wine-related events. As my passion and knowledge grew, I began offering tips and advice to make wine consuming fun and easy for wine lovers, especially those who were novice drinkers. Over the past six years, the YGOM blog has evolved into a valuable resource helping readers better understand their palates.

Today, as the vision for YGOM has expanded, the blog will focus on highlighting fun, out-the-box experiences that put a fresh new spin on wine. Consider this your guide to finding wine activities to add to your “must try” list. We’ll also provide tips and hacks that will teach you how to elevate your own wine experiences whether you’re at home, hanging out with friends, or entertaining a group. YGOM is going to help you feel confident in your wine knowledge no matter the occasion.