Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Star Saperavi

Last Saturday’s fine wine supper started as a tour of Eastern Europe.  The idea was to give a quick overview of the exciting things that are happening in Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria and many more places.  It did deliver on that as the bottle shots and the list below testify.  We did our tour of the, for us unpronounceable, but very drinkable varieties from Turkey, Bulgaria (with a bit of Italian style), Hungary of course for sweet wines and dry, Montenegro and so on.  Croatia will have to wait for another day.

But the real star of the show was the Georgian grape Saperavi. We had no fewer than four examples to try thanks to some generous donations of ‘bonus bottles’ by our tasters. Just as Plavac Mali is worth seeking out in Croatia, so Saperavi is surely Georgia’s greatest vinous treasure, at least in terms of the grape variety. Intensely ruby-red to the point of impenetrability in youth, full-flavoured (deep plum and earth notes), high acidity and tannins which make the big Italian reds look soft and easy … it is grape that demands respect and not a little time to mature or hearty food. Searching for a parallel, it reminds me of Portugal’s Touriga Nacional, which is high praise indeed.

Here are three examples, conveniently in three different styles: traditional, modern, prestige modern

1.  Gvino, Saperavi, Lagvinari, 2011, Georgia –  marzipan, intense plum, vegetal and earthy notes on nose and palate; a long way from a clean modern wine but with loads of character and even more tannin.  This is made in a traditional kveri, ie earthenware pot underground, with stalks, skins and seeds being left in the brew for six months. Then rack off and age for as long as you like … and certainly longer than three years!  With great timing, it has just been announced that the Georgian kveri has been added to UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage list, as reported by Decanter.

2. Tbilvino, Saperavi, 2010, Kakheti, Georgia, 13% – deep ruby red, just on medium in terms of the intensity of the nose but then powerful red and black fruit on the palate, medium length, showing some polish from time in well-judged oak barrels. A good compromise between the power of the grape and modern, refined winemaking.

3. Orovela, Saperavi 2004, Kakheti, Georgia –  deep colour again but this time the nose is dominated by refined, expensive oak – vanilla, cinnamon and smoke – followed by positively sweet ripe fruit but still with that ring of impressive tannins. This wine has a pedigree in the West, being lauded by Jancis Robinson and stocked by Waitrose.  Personally I prefer styles 1 and 2 but this will speak to many.

In short, think Georgia, think Saperavi!

Other wines tasted – grape varieties in square brackets:


Hilltop Estates [Cserszegi Füszeres] 2012, 12%, Hungary

Prince Stirbey [Tammaioasa Romaneasca] Sec 2012, 14%, Romania

Prince Stirbey [Feteasca Regala] 2011, 13.5%, Romania

Verus, [Furmint], Stajerska Slovenija, 2010, 12%, Slovenia


[Vranac], Plantaze, Lake Skadar Valley, 2010, 13%, Montenegro

Vinkara, [Öküzgözü-Bogazkere], Ankara, 2011, 13%, Turkey

Mukuzani, [Saperavi], Teliani Valley, 2006, 13%, Georgia

Soli, [Pinot Noir], Thracian Valley, Edoardo Miroglio, 2010, 13%, Bulgaria

[Cabernet Franc,] Villányi, Heumann, 2008, 14.5%, Hungary


Royal Tokaji, 5 Puttonyos Aszú, [Furmint], 2008, 11.5%, Hungary

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