December 9, 2014

Standing Stone Saperavi 2013

The Saperavi grape is a dark red, acidic, teinturier-type variety native to the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where since 1886 it has been used to make many of the region's distinctive wines. However, in the U.S. it now has a special new status.

Saperavi grapes are a bit of a mixed bag in the Finger Lakes. Although the varietal received official status 11 months ago from the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, McGregor Vineyard has grown them since the early 1980s and uses them in its Black Russian Red blend. For the past two years, Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars has produced a Saperavi, but under the name Cuvée Rouge.

However, it has always received special attention at Standing Stone Vineyards to the point that the Lodi winery held a Saperavi vertical tasting last month: the just-released 2013 vintage, plus four previous vintages including their first, the 2005, finishing with barrel tastings of the 2014 and the 2013 reserve.

Owners Marti and Tom Macinski have been growing the hardy, cool-climate grape since 1994, three years after they purchased the vineyards. They did not market anything under the Saperavi name because of the lack of government recognition. However, in December 2013 Standing Stone petitioned for it which resulted in a blindingly rapid -- for government -- thumbs up just one month later.

Thus, its champions are hoping, a star has been born.

I had the opportunity to sample the 2013 vintage just hitting markets in time for the holidays. The intensely dark red wine ("saperavi" means ink in the Georgian dialect) has a smoky, plummy initial taste, leveling out with hints of cedar and stone fruits, all of which give promise of a wine that will be eminently drinkable even some years from now. It has been aged a year in used oak, which seems to be enough to sand off any rough edges, and is bottled at 13.2% abv.

With its name now solidly recognized, Saperavi wines should be popping up in more places. However, the Macinskis' early recognition of its possibilities has led to their five-acre plot of it, believed to be the largest such planting outside of Georgia. Catching up to them will be the order of the day.

Suggested retail price: $29.99.

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