In the first week of May 2017, I joined a group of wine and travel writers, social media influencers and sommeliers and traveled around Georgia for five days on a Familiarisation trip organised in part by the National Georgian Wine Agency, National Georgian Tourism Agency and Taste Georgia. It was a trip organised around the 2017 edition of the New Wine Festival. I enjoy wine festivals and fairs because there are a large amount of producers in one place which gives wine professionals like myself the opportunity to discover new wines.
One of my favorite discoveries was the 2016 Chateau Khashmi "Rkatsiteli Vardo," which is made from a pink clone of Rkatsiteli, officially known as Rkatsiteli Vardisperi. Vardisperi means pink in Georgian.
In a sea of mediocre wines, this was a wine that stood out because it was well made, clean and expressive. It is also rare, which adds to its appeal. Most of the wines at the fair were good, and I loved seeing so many new faces and seeing so many young people embracing Georgia's wine culture. However, sometimes new means inexperienced and that often translated into wines that were mousey, Bretty and sometimes not drinkable. For me, drinkability is of the utmost importance. When I taste a new wine, I love that feeling that makes me say, " I want to drink more of this," and I find myself imaging what I would eat with it.
And so it was with this wine.
I was able to catch up with George Kokrashvili, the winemaker at Chateau Khashmi, to learn more about their Rkatsiteli Vardo wine. He told me that Rkatsiteli Vardo is a natural clone of the grape variety Rkatsiteli. The history of this variety began during the 1948 harvest when workers picking Rkatsiteli grapes discovered that there were pink coloured grapes on some of vine. This was reported to the vine institutions and examinations started. The DNA color mutation was confirmed by Dr. Loladze. The majority of Georgian ampelographers agree that it is a clone of Rkatsiteli and not a separate variety. He also added, "The difference between ordinary Rkatsiteli and Rose Rkatsiteli is not only colour. Rose Rkatsiteli has richer aromas, depth and taste."
Despite its potential, the variety is not well spread, and can be only found in very low quantities. Mr. Kokrashvili discovered this variety during a conversation with an organicgrape grower and decided to buy he entire harvest. It was a tiny amount. Only 235 kilos!
Sometimes a passion project comes in a small package. George understood the potential of the grape variety but hesitated due to the small amount available and its marketability.
He says, "When I tasted grapes of this variety, it was amazing. It had the taste of Rkatsiteli (which is my favourite grape variety), but had very intense taste, that lasted almost 10-15 minutes on my palate.
Then came the period of hesitation. When I told my plan to make this wine to my friends, and consultants everyone told me that this grape had no future, because it was too rare, and that I could not expand my production. They told me that if people liked my wine, it would finish too soon that would be bad for the brand name. There would also be problems in distribution."
He faced a chorus of naysayers, it seems. It is a family project, and so he turned to his wife Tamar who advised him.
She told him, "George, we want to do premium natural wines, we are not looking only at the brand and revenues. Forget about business this time and let’s do a great wine that people will love. If the market and distributors will not accept it in such low quantities, we will drink it. It not a big quantity. Do it for me." And so, his wife pushed him in the right direction.
They make the wines naturally, using low intervention techniques including spontaneous fermentation, no filtration or clarification. The wines are made from selected grapes which are sorted after harvest. Only the best organic grapes will make it into the qvevri. The make all of their wines in the traditional Kakhetian way. Long maceration in qvevri, which produce beautiful and expressive wines.
Chateau Khashmi is located in Kakheti They produced only 130 bottles of the Rkatsiteli Vardo in 2016 and they have only 30 bottles left.
This wine is a light golden hue which hints at a pinkish tone. On the nose it is full of fresh apricot, orange peel, dried figs, white flowers with notes of hazelnuts. It has a complexity of primary and secondary aromas, that are youthful and full of potential. On the palate it is very powerful both at the front and mid palate. It is quite fresh, the apricot is quite obvious, with nutty flavours. It is very clean, with a great structure. Long, fresh, finish that leaves the palate with a hint of sapidity. Delicious, complex and could pair with a variety of foods. I'd suggest dishes that include tarragon.
Update: Both Dr. José Vouillamoz of Wine Grapes and Georgian winemaker Ramaz Nikoladze were quick to point at that Rkatsiteli Vardo is not the name of the wine grape, the official name is Rkatsiteli Vardisperi.