Next stop on my little tour of Rkatsiteli is the little region of Tsinandali in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. From a cultural perspective, Tsinandali is best known as the home of the poet Alexander Chavchavadze. I'm not familiar with the man's work, but he is apparently something of a big deal in Georgia literature. More to the point here, Alexander had a winery on his estate which, if I'm reading the wikipedia article correctly, was called Marani. There is still a winery by this name, but a bit of digging leads me to believe that it's not the same. Georgia wineries seem to go by more than one name a lot of the time and I believe what's labeled as Marani wine these days is perhaps better known as Telavi Wine Cellar. It seems that perhaps the old winery on the Chavchavadze estate is being converted into a museum which sounds pretty cool (that's the estate in the picture to the left).
According to Wines and Cognacs of Georgia, Tsinandali has been "manufactured" since 1892. They go on to say that the "European" method is used in the production of Tsinandali, as opposed to the Khakhetian method or Imeretian method, where the wine is fermented in large clay jars buried in the ground. The blend consists of rkatsiteli and mtsvane grapes which are harvested, sorted, destemmed, pressed, fermented in temperature controlled tanks, clarified and matured in oak casks for 2-3 years, though this last part seems to be pretty variable (of the two Tsinandalis I tasted, only one specified the amount of time in oak: 9 months...neither bottle specified whether it was new or neutral oak, but more on that below).
I had two bottles of Tsinandali to sample. The first was a 2007 vintage from JS Corporation (Corporation Kindzmarauli?) which retailed for $12. The second was a 2006 vintage from Alaverdi for $9. There seems to be more than one company called Alaverdi in Georgia (at least three and possibly four), and mine was made from this company. As a side note, almost all of the Georgian winery websites are just awful to try and navigate. Click on the link above and just try to get somewhere. Only one of the links on the opening page actually works, and that's the Home link. Once you click on that, it takes you to a page where you can navigate the rest of the site.
So, the wines. The JS Corporation Tsinandali was a pale straw color with a pretty reserved nose. There was a bit of melon and vanilla, but not much else. On the palate the wine was clean and neutral tasting with very little fruit, which seems to be a hallmark of Georgian Tsinandali. The Alaverdi bottling had a blurb on the back which touted the "thin fruit taste." What fruit there is is mostly diluted lemon and lemon peel. As the wine came down to room temperature, the lemon flavors started to jump out a little more and a faint melon flavor showed up. It was medium bodied with pretty good acidity. If this actually spent nine months in oak, there's no way it was new oak. My guess is that this is mostly neutral oak casks or at the most a few batches see some new oak and those batches are blended into the final product.
The Alaverdi Tsinandali had the same pale color with some silvery undertones to it. The nose was much more lively with an herbal characteristic. There were a lot of green melon and lime peel aromas as well. This wine had a little bit more heft to it than the JSC wine and also carried the characteristic rkatsiteli acidity. The fruit on the palate were was light with lemon leading the way backed up by some nice, round honeydew melon flavors. The finish was crisp and clean. Not a lingering finish, but just the kind of thing you're looking for with shellfish, either raw or cooked. Again, the back of this bottle touted their use of oak, but there's just no way that new oak was used here in any great quantity. The one caveat about this wine: if you buy it, drink it all the day you open the cork or just pour it out when you're finished for the day. This was abysmally bad the next day.
For less than $15, the Georgian Tsinandalis were very interesting and certainly have their place at the table. Both were very clean and crisp on the palate but had enough body to them to possibly stand up to lighter chicken dishes. This certainly wouldn't be out of place as an aperitif, either. Of the two, the Alaverdi was more interesting and represents a better value. I will certainly be looking to have a few of these on hand once summer rolls around again.