This website is certainly no stranger to Rkatsiteli. Over the past few months, I've gone on an extensive tasting spree, but most of my efforts have been with bottlings from Rkatsiteli's native homeland of Georgia. The reason for this has mostly been that the producers of Rkatsiteli in the United States don't produce a lot of bottles and their distribution doesn't reach extensively into my area. Over the Christmas break, though, I had to good fortune of obtaining two more bottles of U.S. Rkatsiteli from various places in the Northeastern United States.
One of the bottles I had been looking for for awhile is made by Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars. I had a taste of this at a Boston Wine Expo a few years back, but hadn't had much luck tracking a bottle of it down in the Boston area. I was in Pittsburgh over the Christmas holiday and happened to run across a bottle in one of the state stores for about $20, so I snatched it up.
The Konstantin Frank winery is one of the oldest in the Finger Lakes region, dating back to 1962. Dr. Konstantin Frank was the first person to plant and grow Vinifera grapes successfully in the Northeastern United States. His insight that it was the root stocks used in the vineyards and not the climate itself that was the problem with successfully growing Vinifera grapes revolutionized viticulture in the Northeast and in the Finger Lakes region of New York in particular. The winery puts out a wide variety of wines, the vast majority of which are very good, but the Rkatsiteli is the only one I'm concerned with here. The wine was pale and silvery in the glass with a clean, minerally nose with just a touch of lemon peel. It was medium-bodied with very high acidity. Lemon/lime flavors were the dominant fruit flavors, but the wine was really characterized by a wonderful clean minerality. I have in my notes that it "tastes like a clean rocky stream with lemon wedges floating in it." It's a great apertif wine that shares some similarities with the Westport offering, but lacks some of the complexity and heft on the palate.
The other wine under consideration here is from Tomasello Winery in Hammonton, New Jersey, about half an hour outside of Philadelphia. Tomasello has started to branch out into the New England area a bit, but it mostly seems to be their sweet fruit wines that are showing up on our shelves here. If you're ever down in Atlantic City, I've seen a few of their offerings for sale in a wine shop in the Tropicana. My sister in law made the trip for me and picked up a bottle of their sparkling Rkatsiteli for $15. I've read in a few places that Rkatsiteli isn't used a lot in sparkling wine production because of it's tendency to have a high alcohol content when vinified. In fact, the one sparkling wine I've had from Georgia (the subject of a future post) contained three grape varietals, none of which was Rkatsiteli.
Whether they do it in the Old World or not, Tomasello has created a sparkling wine made from 100% Rkatsiteli grapes. In the glass it was a pale straw color with small, steady beads. It smelled like sourdough bread mixed with citrus peel and ripe apples. It had a high acidity and creamy mouthfeel with kind of a loose bubble structure. There was a touch of sweetness to it, which made me wonder whether it was an aesthetic decision to leave this a little off-dry or whether it was born of necessity in trying to keep the potentially high alcohol in check by not fermenting all of the sugars to dryness. This wine also had some of the mandarin orange characteristics that I picked up in the Tbilisuri I sampled last month. This wine had considerably more acid structure than that one did, which really helped to hold it together. All in all, it was a nice sparkler, but it isn't likely to take the place of Champagne in my cellar any time soon.
My final thoughts on Rkatsiteli:
1) It's a very versatile grape. I hope that the wide variety of styles that I have been showcasing here is a good testament to the many different ways it can be vinified. It reminds me very much of Riesling in that it's good dry, off-dry and even sparkling. I didn't have a dessert wine made from Rkatsiteli, but it wouldn't surprise me if there was one.
2) It can be a very tasty grape. The New World examples, especially from Westport and Konstantin Frank really show the heights that this wine can ascend to. I didn't dislike the Old World examples, but I'm definitely not as accustomed to those styles as I am the Newer versions.
3) It's a pretty hardy grape. It seems to do pretty well in a variety of climactic conditions, from the ideal growing seasons in its native Georgia to the harsher New England climates of Massachusetts and upstate New York.
So I hope you'll go out and give Rkatsiteli a shot. It's one of the oldest varietals around, and it still has the capacity to surprise and satisfy you.
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.