A dark-skinned variety, Saperavi has pink flesh that gives a deep colour to the wine. Its high tannin and acidity provide the backbone for a wine with long ageing capability. It has black fruits and spicy characters rather like a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. With age, it develops a tertiary bouquet of chocolate, walnut and dried fruits. It is versatile and can be made in different styles: concentrated and tannic using the traditional kvevri method; easy drinking and fruity wine using stainless steel fermentation and minimum tannin extraction; or more elegant and structured wine combining the kvevri method and ageing in oak barrels. It can be dry as in Saperavi or Mukuzani, or semi sweet as in Kindzmarauli.
The Saperavi grape is capable of producing high alcohol wine but thanks to the continental climate in Georgia, most wine has a moderate alcohol level of 12.5-13.5%. Although it can sometimes be as high as 14.5%, it is always balanced by the high acidity. With careful branding and positioning, it could well be the equivalent of the Malbec of Argentina or Touriga Nacional of Portugal.
As my previous article pointed out, I think having a flagship wine is a good national strategy as it provides a clear way of differentiating the country concerned from other producing countries and allows for a focused campaign. Its quality and relatively easy-to-pronounce name plus Asians’ preference for red wine make Saperavi the logical candidate to be the leader among Georgia’s myriad indigenous grapes in this part of the world.
And the candidate for the whites? It has to be Rkatsiteli, by far the most widely planted grape variety with over 50% of total vineyard area. The wine has high acidity and versatility: from refreshing 100% Rkatsiteli, and Tsinandali (a blend of Rkatsiteli and Msvane), to kvevri style, dessert wine and fortified.
Wine lovers should watch out for the emergence of these exciting wines from Georgia—the country with the world’s longest winemaking history.