Saperavi Three Ways

Saperavi is undoubtedly Georgia’s most celebrated red wine variety. A tienturier, red-fleshed grape, it appears to be native to Georgia though grown widely throughout the Caucasus and former Soviet states. It ripens late so needs time on the vine and relatively cool conditions, often afforded by a bit of altitude in the vineyard. As a variety it is very quietly trendy too, now planted in New Zealand and the USA for example.

Kakheti in Eastern Georgia is the source of around 70% of all of the country’s wines, and home to many of the top wine estates. Of course, this is an industry still adjusting and recovering from many years of Soviet control when volume was prioritised over quality. Private ownership and investment both from within Georgia and outside has begun to re-shape the industry in terms of its vineyards and winemaking.

Famously, Georgia has historically made its wines in Qvevri, large clay jars buried underground. The wines, both white and red, were fermented with their skins and aged in Qvevri. The renaissance of interest in these ancient winemaking techniques over the past couple of decades has been remarkable. Producers like Josko Gravner in Italy moved his entire production into Qvevri sourced in Georgia, but it is rare these days to visit any winery from Bordeaux to the Barossa and not see a few traditional clay vessels being used for part of the production.

Teliani Valley

Teliani Valley is one of Kakheti’s most prominent producers, and has taken the bold move to fuse and yet separate its production into traditional and modern winemaking facilities.

Their old winery is a traditional one, where senior winemaker Mikheil Khmelidze makes wines in the Glekhuri range, made in Qvevri and employing age-old techniques. But the separate Winery97, established in 1997, sees a group of young winemakers produce wines using state-of-the-art, modern equipment and techniques in a separate cellar.

The Saperavis

I recently had the opportunity to taste and compare three Saperavi wines made by Teliani Valley, two from ‘Winery97’ and one qvevri wine from the Glekhuri range.

The family resemblance was clear in the basic profile of the three wines. Each has a vinous, sappy and dry character with a solid black fruit core. The colours were also similar (perhaps thanks to that tienturier effect), but the differences between the wines was equally obvious.

Though the basic Saperavi gives an honest and authentic introduction to the variety, I did feel that both the Unflitered Winery97 and the Glekhuri wines stepped up a significant gear.

(2024) From Teliani's Winery 97, fruit is hand-harvested in the Kakheti region. 50,000 bottles were produced. A very vibrant purple wine, the nose is sappy and fresh, reminding me of both Beaujolais and Mencia perhaps. Cherry and briar come through. In the mouth that sense of freshness and sappy, juicy character continues, the wine having that dry and lightly herbal character, but with good texture, freshness and a bit of endive or liquorice bite.
(2024) Fermented in stainless steel, but this unfiltered cuvée is a selection of fruit. I am not sure if it sees a touch of oak, but if so, very much in the background. Dark dense and vivid purple. The nose has a little more brooding character than the more expressive entry level wine, but there's gloss and depth, a slightly more black-fruited character too with just a hint of sweet earth. In the mouth certainly more rounded and textural through the mid-palate, the fruit like blackberries and damsons with hints of smoke and spice. Still that good juiciness and enough tannic grip into the finish. 25,000 bottles were produced.
(2024) Made in Teliani's qvevri winery, in the clay amphora-like pots traditional to the region. Grapes from the village of Kisiskhevi in Kakheti are selected for this bottling, which has skins removed from the qvevri after nine days or so, before continuing to mature. The first thing that strikes as different is the herb and dried twig character of the aroma. These are light forest floor aromas, with a meaty and gamy undertone. In the mouth the fruit is dense and in the blackberry and damson plum spectrum, but that very dry character - twigs and briar again - has a completely different tannic structure, coating the mouth in dusty tannin with fine acid too. There is ripeness here, the mid-palate showing that, but the mouth-watering dry finish is striking. Only 6,500 bottles produced.

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