KAKHETI… CORE OF THE GEORGIAN WINE INDUSTRY (2)
Kakheti might be world famous for its k’vevri winemaking but the future of the Georgian wine industry seems to be more ‘profitable’ with a new style of wine, fresh and fruity whites and powerful but still fruity and round reds. The Georgian name for this type of (non-k’vevri) wines is ‘Classical Kakhetian’, in opposition to ‘Traditional Kakhetian’. A few decades ago, many of the white wines were oxidized, nowadays the vinification process is much better, and the wines have an appealing light colour and pretty fruity and floral aromas.
Classical white Kakhetian – © Christian Callec 2006
TSINANDALI, the Georgian flagship
Tsinandali is not a monovarietal wine but an AOC wine made in a specific subzone called … Tsinandali (wide around the village Tsinandali). The vineyards are mostly located at 300-750 m above sea level. The soils are complex, made of sediments brought by the river, including loess, clay and carbonates. The climate is typical Kakhetian, moderate, not too humid, with hot summers and cold winters. Tsinandali is always a blend of two local varieties: rkatsiteli and mtsvane kakhuri. A good Tsinandali wine should be fresh, fruity (vine peach and apricot) and well-balanced. The problem however in many Tsinandali seems to be found in the vineyard… the yields are still too high and the plant density too low, making the wines lack the complexity and balance that a Western consumer will expect considering the price segment and the promising aromatic power of the wine. Many Tsinandali I tasted show very well, smell very appealing but are quite short on the palate. This leads to disappointment for the consumer used to a wide pallet of wines from all over the world. I expect that within one, maybe two decades, the Tsinandali will have gain more complexity and balance, especially where the plant density will be higher (> 5000 plants per hectare) for relatively lower yields (max. 50-75 hl/ha).
Other classical Kakhetian whites
Kakheti counts quite a few great monovarietal wines; there are made from rkatsiteli, mtsvane, kisi or khikvi grapes, all with their own character, enhanced by the different terroirs where they grow. Besides these monovarietal Kakheti wines and the AOC flagship Tsinandali, Kakheti has a few more interesting white AOC: Manavi / Manavis mtsvane (from the mstvane kakhuri with maximum 15% rkatsiteli added, light yellow with green hue, floral and fruity), Gurjaani (from rkatsiteli and mtsvane kakhuri, nice aromatic wines, herbal and fruity), Vazisubani (from rkatsiteli and mtsvane kakhuri), Kotekhi (idem as above) and Napareuli (rkatsiteli).
Very nice monovarietal whites from Khareba winery (and good reds too!) © Christian Callec 2011
King of the reds, SAPERAVI
Saperavi is the most well-known Georgian grape variety in the country and wide abroad. The wines made from saperavi can be of very good quality, but here again the vineyards are not always a benchmark for high quality basic raw material, while some vinification installations are just simply out-dated.
Back-side view of a Kakhetian winery – © Christian Callec 2006
With a higher plant density and relatively lower yields per hectare, a better concentration and complexity could be reached. Complexity should be more than harsh tannins and toasty oak tones. For the local market, no problem, but if Georgia really wants to export to the Western market, they will have to freshen up their style. Many saperavi wines I tasted were for me deeply disappointing. While I could feel the potential aromatic power of the fruit itself, the wines were often harsh in their green tannins, giving a very drying finish. Not really the kind of wine I would recommend for the Western market. On the other hand, this is just a perfect wine to match the fatty, spicy and strongly aromatic Georgian dishes, where acidity and bitterness are a significant part of the taste. Exporting those wines without the matching gastronomy would not give the same result. I really did enjoy saperavi wines in Georgia, with the great Georgian dishes and the great friendly hospitality, the music, the songs… Unfortunately, for my own taste at home, they do miss the essential qualities I look for in each wine: drinkability and balance. I certainly do believe in saperavi as a great player on the international market, but the style will have to change, with less toasty and dryish oak and riper, softer tannins. I know however that some Georgian winemakers still believe that the old-style harsh and bitter tannins do make the charm of saperavi wines. But for me, whether they are made the traditional or classical way, the wines have to be pleasant and drinkable. If not, most consumers will not go for a second glass, and surely not buy another bottle. Wine tradition is great, but when it doesn’t sell, it becomes a dead tradition. I do believe strongly in the blend of Georgian tradition, grapes and terroirs with Western quality standards. I am glad that the Georgian wine industry started to be aware of this. A great example and benchmark for this blend of Georgian tradition and Western quality standards can be seen at SCHUCHMANN WINES in Kisiskhevi, but also at CHÂTEAU MUKHRANI in Mtskheta. It is absolutely necessary for each serious Georgian winemaker to have a good experience in viticulture and viniculture of at least 6-12 months abroad (and I don’t mean Turkey, Armenia or Azerbaijan…)
Great Kakhetian white and red and very tasty lunch at Schuchmann winery – © Christian Callec 2011
SAPERAVI AOC: on the right bank van the Alazani River, Mukuzani (ripe berries, green aromatic herbs), Akhasheni (naturally semi-sweet or dry); on the left bank of the Alazani River, Kvareli (rich and fruity), Napareuli (fruity, fresh, lively) and Kindzmarauli (full, round and fruity dry or naturally semi-dry reds). (NB: the last two AOC are located on the southern slopes of the Caucasus mountains).
Cabernet sauvignon, French expat in Teliani
In the sea of saperavi vines, you will also find some cabernet sauvignon vineyards especially in Teliani, Kvareli and Akhmeta subzones. In Teliani, it even got an own AOC qualification, giving nice fruity and peppery wines. However, I do believe that the best results for most cabernet sauvignon might be reached in a blend with saperavi.
Thanks to MALKHAZ KHARBEDIA president of the Georgian wine club and his book ‘Georgia cradle of wine’ published in 2010.
See also part 1 and the other articles about Georgia…