I will never be one of those people who waits as long as possible to give up cold drinks like iced coffees when it gets chilly out. In 55-degree weather, the last thing I want is to clutch a freezing drink in my hand, let alone ingest it. I’ve always been a warm drink kind of person: There’s nothing I love more than sipping on a hot coffee in the morning, a hot tea with honey at night, or a hot chocolate while it’s snowing outside. Maybe it’s because I’m a November baby, but I’m drawn to things that are warm and cozy and feel like being wrapped up in a soft blanket.
I’m the same way when it comes to wine. In the summer, nobody wants to sip on a full-bodied red, the same way they don’t want to sip on a piping hot latte while they’re sweating through their t-shirt. While I almost always prefer a light-bodied, juicy red over a white or rose, I succumb to what the weather requires the same way I do with my caffeinated beverages. So, when daylight savings time kicked in and the weather dropped below 50, I was elated to finally enjoy a big, intense, full-bodied red that was the epitome of a winter wine.
While most people think of Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah as the quintessential bold, tannic reds, I recently discovered Saperavi, which might actually be my new go-to. It's a grape varietal that is native to the country of Georgia, where wine is speculated to have been invented. “Saperavi” actually means “dye” in the Georgian language, which is an appropriate descriptor given this wine’s inky quality.
Ethno, the small producer of this Saperavi—which was exported to the US for the first time just this year—creates wines in the traditional Georgian method: fermenting and aging the grapes in qvevri, or clay pots, with long skin contact. They produce it in Georgia’s Kakheti region, which is well-known for its long-standing winemaking traditions. The process gives the wine an unparalleled complexity and character. To boot, they use organic and biodynamic farming practices, ferment the grapes with native yeasts, bottle with very little sulfur, and don’t fine or filter their wines, so its perfect for those looking for a truly low-intervention wine.
Grape vines at Ethno Wines, located in the fertile Kakheti region of Georgia, which is famous for its long-standing winemaking traditions. The winery is owned and operated by two local winemakers who are passionate about living and producing wine naturally.
Dark violet in the glass, this wine had a bit of a wild nose, with notes of dried fruits, cigar box, and pepper. It also had a subtle a smoky essence, which reminded me of curling up by the fireplace in the living room of my rural childhood home while snow coated the silent streets. The palate followed through on the intensity of the aromas, with a long, tannic finish that was a bit overwhelming at first. Notes of pepper, baking spice, and tobacco were prominent on the front, with earthiness and umami lingering on the back.
The rather high acidity was well-balanced, though I’d either age or decant this wine to soften the robust tannins a bit. Though I usually prefer a more fruit-forward wine, as I said, the weather called for something richer, and this wine was exactly it. The fruit notes I did find were dark and brambly, like blackberries, black cherry, dried fig, prune, and blackcurrant.
In essence, this wine was cozy, giving me a warm flush all over my body that was perfect for curling up on the couch with a hangover from my birthday party the night before. In a more sophisticated setting, it would be the perfect food pairing wine, especially with richer dishes, like grilled steak or lamb, strong cheeses, roast pork, mushrooms, and meaty stews.
This is a great wine to share with friends who are interested in trying something new and different, especially at a Friendsgiving or holiday party. It’s perfect for sitting by the fireplace or, if you’re in NYC like me, the steam radiator. It would go nicely with gingerbread or other foods made with holiday baking spices. Bundle up & enjoy!