Tamada Saperavi 2003
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Tamada Saperavi 2003 Tasting Notes

My mother's father was born in Tbilisi in Georgia, at that time a part of the Russian empire, later a Soviet socialist republic, now an independent country, and never to be confused with the American state of the same name. Researchers believe that Georgia, or a slightly larger region of which it forms the core, saw mankind's first wine production some six millennia ago. The Georgians of today are certainly proud of the claim that the country is, as the label to this Saperavi states, the “cradle of wine.” Wine is an integral part of Georgian life. The term “Tamada” in fact refers to the Georgian host or winemaster, the arbiter bibendi as the Romans called it, the man who pours the wine and makes sure everyone at the feast has a proper good time.

The Kakheti region in southeastern Georgia where this wine is produced is responsible for a good two-thirds of national production and has been the area attracting the greatest level of foreign investment in the post-Soviet era. That said, Georgia has extremely varied and often sharply mountainous terrain, varied climates, and hence produces an impressive range of wine types and styles, red and white, dry, sweet and sparkling. Georgian wine has always been popular in Russia—so much so that the Russians are said to consume twice as much Georgian wine as the Georgians actually produce—but with strained relations between the two countries the Georgians are now looking west for markets, and so much the better for us.

The Saperavi variety is quite unusual, in that both the skin and the pulp of the grape are red (most “red” grapes have clear pulp and hence need maceration on their skins to give color to the juice). The grape, which is extensively planted throughout southeastern Europe, has relatively high acidity and plenty of flavor potential. The $11 Tamada is an excellent spokeswine for all these attributes. The wine is clear and yet a deep scarlet, with an unusually wide pale rim at the outer edges.

Most of the fruit notes in the wine are, unsurprisingly, red. The nose gives cherry and dried cherry, prune and a little woodiness, but it also has some pastry shop notes in two distinct ways: the pleasure of baked and caramelized pastry crust, accompanied by some baking spice, particularly nutmeg and clove, a “cherry pie” combination. The flavor notes on the palate are similar.

The Tamada is fully dry, medium bodied, with mid-level tannins, possibly from some wood aging. In line with the Saperavi reputation for acidity, the wine had some puckering force, but it was well integrated with satisfying cherry fruitiness. The finish combines some tannic woodiness with that succulent red fruit. Ultimately the wine's twin winning attributes are full flavor (with excellent fruit extraction) and a very friendly mouthfeel (aided by the not-excessive 12% alcohol level). I enjoyed this wine with roast lamb.


Verdict: Flavor and fun
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Georgia calls itself the “cradle of wine.”

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

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The author's grandfather and great-grandfather in Tbilisi, Georgia, about 1916.

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