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.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rkatsiteli - Alazanis Valley, Georgia

The Alazani Valley is formed along the Alazani River in the Khaketi region of Georgia. The river forms in the Caucasus mountains and forms part of the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan before it empties into the latter country. This valley seems to be the focal point of the Georgian wine industry with towns like Tsinandali and Akhasheni located there.

As mentioned previously on this website, they've been making wine in Georgia for a very very long time and for a big portion of their long winemaking history, they've been making wine from rkatsiteli grapes. There is archaeological evidence of rkatsiteli seeds dating back to 3000 BC.

You may be asking yourself at this point "since the wine history goes back so far here, why is it that I've never heard of a lot of these grapes and wines?" The short answer is: the Cold War. The longer answer involves a history of occupation by foreign powers. Georgia's location at the crossroads between Europe and Asia made it a popular target and the country has been under the rule of the Mongols, the ancient Persians, the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the modern state of Russia. Whenever the nation of Georgia appears in the news these days, it's usually because of their ongoing conflict with Russia, who still occupies a good deal of land in the center of the country.

The most disastrous of these occupations as far as the Georgian wine industry is concerned was the Soviet occupation. Behind the Iron Curtain, most of the production from Georgia was controlled by the Soviet Union and produced for consumption within Soviet borders. In the 1965 book Wines and Cognacs of Georgia, the emphasis is clearly on gross production numbers rather than on quality. You get quotes like: "It was after the advent of Soviet power that wine-growing in Georgia began to develop on a planned, industrial basis." To any quality wine lover, the word "industrial" sends a shiver down the spine.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia was still the biggest importer of Georgian wines and very few of them were exported to the United States. The former Soviet bloc area was still Georgia's primary market. That all changed in 2006, however, when Russia instituted an embargo on Georgian wine due to allegations of counterfeiting labels. The issue is a complex one that goes beyond the scope of this piece, but the primary result is that Georgia's major source of wine exports dried up virtually overnight and they have been looking to expand into newer markets recently. A few bottles are starting to show up outside of Eastern European specialty stores around Boston, but the widest selections are still in these specialty markets.

So, all that as a prelude to this bottling. The label says Alizanis Valley, though this is clearly the Alazani Valley mentioned above. It seems that wines made with the regional distinction "Alizani(s) Valley" are a relatively recent phenomenon, first being produced in 1977. My guess is that this wine is akin to buying a French bottle simply marked "Burgundy." The grapes are probably sourced throughout the valley rather than in very specific sites as the rest of Georgian wine seems to be. I believe this bottling is 100% rkatsiteli, though other producers do seem to mix in a few other white varietals as well.

The producer is the JS Corporation, which may also go by the name Coporation Kindzmarauli. It's hard to say, honestly. In any case, the label to the left is the label on my bottle, and this company seems to be the most heavily represented in many of the wine shops I've been to. The price tag on this bottle was $12 and the vintage was 2007. I should note that there are two wines from this producer labeled Alazanis Valley. One is white and made from Rkatsiteli grapes while the other is red and made from Saperavi grapes. The bottle color should be a dead giveaway for those of you shopping for this, but do double check the label very closely, as they are virtually identical (in fact, as I was writing this, I double checked the image, and sure enough, this is the red label...I can't seem to find the white one online anywhere and have already discarded by bottle).

In the glass, this has a pale yellowish straw color. The nose is a bit reserved with lemon peel being the dominant note. The wine is off-dry, which brings up another point about Georgian wines. They have a lot of ways to indicate that the wine is kind of sweet, and I'm not sure i they are standardized at all. I've seen semi-dry, semi-sweet, medium-dry, medium-sweet and sweet all on different bottles. This one says semi-sweet, but to my taste, this was semi-sweet like a Riesling or a Vouvray with a little residual sugar in it. This is definitely not a dessert wine.

The wine has a medium body on the palate and probably medium plus acidity. It's nowhere near as racy as the Westport Rivers offering. The wine is floral in the mouth with more stone fruit flavors like apricots and white peaches. There isn't quite so much zippy citrus in this wine. The finish isn't particularly complex or lingering, but has a minerally edge that feels nice and clean. For comparison's sake, Riesling is really the obvious parallel here, though this lacks the acidic structure of a fine Riesling. This wine is probably very similar to Riesling, though, in its ability to match up with food. This would be particularly nice with spicy foods, as the residual sugar would be most welcome to a scorched mouth. I find that on the whole, I have a better tolerance for the semi-sweet white wines than reds and have been focusing on them more lately. There's another semi-sweet rkatsiteli wine from Georgia that I'll write about very soon, though up next will be a comparison of two different dry wines from Tsinandali.

1 comment:

marybeth said...

Thanks for the review. we received a bottle of this and had never heard of it (found your blog via a google search).