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, January 25, 2011

Georgian Sparkling Wine - Bagrationi 1882 Brut

The former Soviet republic of Georgia is no stranger to this blog. In the course of writing this blog, Georgia is definitely the nation I've gained the most new knowledge about, accounting for about 25% of my total posts so far. I've gone into some of the history of the region in previous posts and people curious about that aspect should consult the posts linked above or in the sidebar to the right.

While Georgia's wine history goes back several thousand years, its sparkling wine industry is a fairly new phenomenon, going back about 130 years. Ivan Bagrationi-Mukraneli, born in 1812, was a member of the Georgian Royal Family who took up agriculture in 1881 (after a stint in the military) and focused on improving the farmlands around the royal estate. He recognized the lack of a serious sparkling wine industry in his home country that could compete with the Champagnes and other sparkling wines of Europe and set as his task the creation of an original sparkling wine made from native Georgian varietals. His initial efforts were made from Chinuri (also known as Chinebuli), Goruli Mtsvane (or just Mtsvane), Tsitska and Tsolikouri and were met with almost immediate success. In 1882, his sparkling wine won The National Emblem, the highest possible prize, at the Moscow International Exhibition. This achievement is reflected in the name of the current company, Bagrationi 1882.

As with most things concerning Georgia, Russia has been a major factor in the success or failure of Georgian wines. In 1937, during the Soviet occupation, a company was set up in Georgia called Tbilisi Factory (ugh) of Champagne which was responsible for satisfying 15% of the Soviet demand for sparkling wines. In the 1980's, Georgian production peaked at around 24 million bottles under the brand name Soviet Champagne. The 2005 Soviet embargo on Georgian wines had a devastating effect on the local market since about two-thirds of the Georgian production was consigned to Russia, forcing the wineries to look abroad for other markets. Bagrationi 1882, thus far, has been the only Georgian sparkling wine maker to land on American shores (and they only landed here in 2009, I believe). They have a wide range of products one can peruse here.

The bottle I picked up was the NV Brut which is made from Chinebuli, Tsitska and Mtsvane grapes and retails for about $15. In the glass the wine had a pale straw color with steady, vigorous bubbles. The nose was a bit reserved with some ripe apple and pear. It lacked the typical yeasty smells of bread and toast, which made me think that this probably wasn't made with the methode Champenois, and a little bit of research confirmed that suspicion. While some of the higher end bottlings from Bagrationi do use the traditional method, this bottling and most of their lower end bottlings use the Charmat method, also known as the metodo Italiano (so called because this is the method used to make Prosecco). In this process, the wine undergoes its secondary fermentation in stainless steel tanks rather than in the bottle which limits the wine's contact with the lees and thus prevents those secondary bready aromas.

In the mouth, the wine was full bodied with high, crisp acidity. It was definitely dry with tight, steady bubble structure. There was a little bit of green apple flavor and maybe a touch of lemon-lime citrus, but overall, there wasn't much fruit here. There was a little bit of toastiness on the palate. To me, this was somewhere between a Prosecco and a Champagne. It's certainly not a substitute for Champagne, but it definitely has its place as an aperitif or as a nice palate cleanser for light hors d'oeuvres.

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