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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sommelier Gregory Alonzo On Nectar Of The Sun: Unique Georgian Wines

Striated with colored hues of magenta and amber, sunset slowly covered Tbilisi’s skyline. As the sky slowly purpled above us, Medea and I hustled to meet Shorena, our  fellow sommelier. Tonight we planned to meet in Old Town’s poplar jazz spot, Cafe Kala. Shorena had arranged for us to taste three of Georgia’s most unique wines.

“I see her,” Medea called out. “She’s sitting in the patio area.”

“It is such a lovely evening, I thought we’d sit outside.” Shorena motioned us to take our seats. “Once the band starts, we can easily here the music from here.”

To my delight, our servers immediately filled our table with eggplant, peppers, tomatoes,   stuffed mushrooms, goat cheese, lamb kabobs, and lavash bread. “A table set for a king.”

“Or a prince,” Medea said with subtle coquetry.

“A prince without a crown,” I chuckled.

“Grigol,” Shorena called for my attention. Tonight we will be tasting Saperavi, do you approve?”

Saperavi is Georgia’s hardy varietal and a staple in most Georgian blends. Translated, it’s name means ‘paint or dye.’ What makes Saperavi unique is both the skins and flesh are red in color. The best Saperavi grapes are grown in the Kakheti region of the Alazani Valley.

“Shorena, what is our first wine?”

“Pheasant’s Tears. It is a 2008 unfiltered Saperavi,” Shorena said confidently. You know the owner of the winery, correct?”

“Yes, I know both John Wurdeman and his wine maker Gela Patalishvili. They produce some interesting hand-crafted wines. They do this by following the ancient Georgian tradition of pressing the grapes and then storing them in bees-wax lined amphora pots called “kvevri,” I replied matter-of-factly.

“Grigol, do you know the tale of the Pheasant’s Tears?” Medea queried.

Before I could answer, Shorena blurted out. “In the story, a hero claims that only a wine beyond measure can make a pheasant cry tears of joy.”

“On that note,” I smiled. “Let’s drink some wine … Gaumarjos!”

On first sight, the wine is such a dark red it is called black by Georgians. Savory hints of charcoal, black pepper, smoke, black currant, and pomegranate are dominated by mulberry and plum. On the palate,  this full-bodied wine has a velvety structure with strong tannins and acidity, and a most pleasurable finish. Pheasant’s Tears is an exciting and original wine that even the most discerning of palates would enjoy. This Saperavi pairs best with roasted meats and hard cheeses. However, Georgians often prefer this wine with sheep cheese which is typically soft in the middle.

“Shorena, what is the alcohol content?”

“13 per cent. Grigol, are you ready for our next wine?”

“Of course.” I gave a nod of approval.

“Our next selection is a 2003 Saperavi from Vinoterra. The alcohol content is 13 per cent,” Shorena flashed me a wide beaming smile.

“Isn’t Vinoterra now owned by Bukhard Schuchmann? Medea queried.

“Yes, and his winemaker, Giorgi Dakishvili and I go way back. He is my friend and teacher.” A smile filled my face as I reflected on the times I raised a glass with the gentleman I consider to be Georgia’s finest winemaker.

Vinoterra Saperavi is made in the traditional Kakhetian style. Fermented for 20 days in amphora pots before transported to oak barrels for 24 months for full maturation. Finally, the wine is bottled unfiltered. There is a deep inky purple coloring to this wine. Along with complex cherry aromas, there are notes of ripe blackberries, mulberry, and a hint of mint and clay. There is a rustic side to this concentrated charmer as the silky tannins accompany a long lasting aromatic finish. Overall, this Saperavi is a deep wine rich of extract with good aging potential. This wine goes well with an assortment meats and cheeses.

Medea nodded her approval. “I understand why you admire Giorgi. He is an artist when it come to hand-crafted wines. I wish I knew his secret.”

“Love and passion for his craft,” I smiled. “Also his preference for using the best grapes from vineyards 30-50 years old.”

“Ready for our last selection?” Shorena asked with excitement.

Giving a nod of approval. “What’s the next selection?”

“A change of pace. I have selected a 2006 Mukuzani from Teliani Valley.”

“You know my next question.”

13 per cent alcohol,” Shorena chuckled.

Teliani Valley uses totally modern techniques with temperature-controlled fermentation and some aging in small oak barrels. Though their methods for making wine are quite progressive, this winery’s soul dates back 80 centuries. One tradition kept alive at Teliani Valley, all grapes are hand-picked.

So what makes Mukuzani so special and one of my personal passions? The Saperavi grapes come come from only the Right Bank of the Alazani River in Kakheti’s renown Mukzani Appellation. This is the creme de la creme of Georgia’s favorite grape varietal.

Shorena’s final selection certainly lived up to it’s reputation. The wine is dark ruby red in color. The bouquet is a smooth aroma of ripe berry, black currant, plum, and hints of oak. There is a generous mouth filling of fruit on the palate. Fleshy cherries and black plum abound.

“Followed by luscious blackberry.” Medea was quick to add. “And the slightest hint of … licorice.”

“This Mukuzani is juicy and tasty,” Shorena remarked. “And since it was aged in oak for 13 months, this adds to it’s complexity.”

“I also liked the smooth finish. Ladies, I think with the moderate tannins and acidity, this wine would pair nicely with roast beef, lamb chops, and grilled steak.”

“Barbecue veal or ham,” Medea was quick to add.

Flashing both Medea and Shorena a quick grin. “For fun, I would even pair our Mukuzani with spicy Indian dishes.

Georgian reds are definitely distinctive and delicious I thought to myself. Breaking my mood of of thought and reflection … Medea giggled playfully.

“Mmm, spicy Indian food. Little India Restaurant?”

We broke into laughter as Shorena was first to speak. “I guess we will come back for the late jazz session.”

But that my friends is another story …


Gregory Alonzo
Excess within control
rgregoryalonzo@gmail.com

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