A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rkatsiteli - The New World Version

The next few posts here will all be about the same grape treated different ways. The grape in question here is rkatsiteli, an ancient varietal grown extensively in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and in other areas of Eastern Europe, with some plantings in the US. I've read conflicting accounts regarding the total acreage devoted to this grape worldwide. Some sources say it is likely the second most planted white grape varietal behind Airen in Spain, while other sources say that after Gorbachev's vine pull scheme, the total acreage dropped below other worldwide varietals. In either case, the fact remains that rkatsiteli is a widely planted grape that is virtually unknown in the United States. There are a few producers on the east coast who have had some success with the grape, and this post is about one of those producers. I will delve a bit more into the history of the grape when I examine some of the wines coming from Georgia.

Westport Rivers in southern Massachusetts is best known for their production of sparkling wine. Their vineyards are populated with the pinot noir and chardonnay necessary for their sparkling wines, but they also grow other white varietals such as Riesling, pinot gris and pinot blanc. In the midst of all these well known European grape varietals sits rkatsiteli. Wineries in New York state such as Konstantin Frank in the Finger Lakes region have been having some success with rkatsiteli and since the New England coastal climate shares some similarities with the Finger Lakes microclimate, it makes sense that a New England producer would give this grape a shot. Westport Rivers produced 218 cases of the 2008 vintage and sell it for $18.99.

I tasted this wine twice, once at the winery and again several months later at home, with similar notes. In the glass the wine has a pale straw color. On the nose, this is all lemon/lime citrus flavors with some flowery aromas in the background and a bit of oak. Lemon is all over the palate. This is a very high acid grape. When I tasted it at the winery, I wrote "runaway acidity...almost too sour." After a few months in the bottle, this acidity seems to have settled into itself a bit more and though it was very present, it wasn't nearly as out of control as the first time I tasted it. Westport doesn't specify whether this spends time in oak, but I'd be very surprised if it didn't (UPDATE: the winemaker has emailed me and indicated this is 100% stainless steel fermented. That's pretty impressive, considering the fairly weighty texture the wine has in the mouth). The body has a certain fleshiness and creaminess to it that apparently is solely a function of the varietal itself..

When I tasted this wine at home, I sampled it at several different temperatures and found that I enjoyed it most right around room temperature. A lot of the nice citrusy flavors were muted when the wine was very cold and all I really got from it was the creamy mouthfeel and some of the acidity. As the wine warmed up, the lemon/lime flavors really started to pop and the wine became very dynamic, lively and interesting in the glass. Think of a dry Loire or South African Chenin Blanc with a bit more heft on the palate and you'll be on the right track with this bottle.

This wine would probably go with just about any kind of food you can think of barring red meat dishes. The acidity in it would be very nice with richer cream or butter dishes, while the body allows it to stand up to lobster, chicken and probably even pork. Westport really seems to specialize in these kinds of ultra-versatile food wines, as my recently emptied case of their rose of pinot noir demonstrates. If you're ever in their neck of the woods, be sure to stop by and try their selection. For my money, they're the best thing going in the Northeastern United States by a fairly wide margin.


Anonymous said...

Actually the 2008 Westport Rkatsiteli is 100% stainless steel fermented with no oak barrel aging or influence lol. What you tasted there was pure quality in winemaking :) Bill Russell has been knocking them dead since 1989 in Massachusetts.

Rob said...

Thanks for the information. Bill emailed about this also so I've posted a small update in the body to reflect this. I know a lot of the old-world versions are treated with some oak (Tsinandali, for instance, is given some oak, though what kind and for how long I'm not sure about) so that probably influenced my tasting a bit.