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MUKUZANI – ONE OF GEORGIA’S TOP REDS

As I mentioned in my previous post, Georgia is the cradle of winemaking, so I shan’t recapitulate that whole story in this space. But, like the previous post (which was about an ultra-traditional, clay vessel-fermented white made from a native grape called Rkatsiteli) this red wine emanates from the same region of Kakheti in the dry and sunny east of the country, but with a few very important differences.

Obviously, as just stated, this a red and not a white wine, but just like Rkatsiteli is one of the Kakheti region’s signature white grape varieties, this wine is made from one of its signature red cultivars, Saperavi, but this wine carries the name Mukuzani which can only denote Saperavi produced in the Mukuzani zone. Saperavi wines made outside of this zone is labeled as Kakheti Saperavi. Mukuzani, like any denominated cru from anywhere in the world, is so distinguished because the specific terroir lends special characteristics to a wine (in this case an added minerally complexity and powerful depth of fruit), but Saperavi has a peculiar characteristic even without the Mukuzani designation. Along with grapes like Beaujolais’ Gamay, and the crossed variety Alicante Bouschet, Saperavi is one of a handful of what are known as tinturier grapes. Though it’s decidedly counterintuitive, most red-skinned grapes have perfectly white flesh and consequently, white juice. The color in red wines made from these grapes comes from macerating the juice with the skins whose pigmentation slowly leaches into the juice to produce red wine. With tinturiers, both the skin and the flesh/juice are deeply colored, so when maceration is carried out (which is typically the case) the product is especially deeply colored.

The other major difference between this Kakhetian red and the previous Kakhetian white is that this wine is made in a clearly modern, Western European style. No Qvevri (the Georgian name for their traditional giant clay fermentation vessels), and no spontaneous fermentation here. This is a wine fermented in stainless steel tanks with selected yeasts, and aged for 12 months in oak barrels. This is a thoroughly Georgian grape, grown in an ancient Georgian terroir, interpreted via the “vocabulary” of international, contemporary winemaking. But no matter, this is still a wholly Georgian wine whose fruit is sourced from a blessed spot that can come from nowhere else in the world.

This the sort of wine that will pair well with all kinds of food, but with traditional Georgian fare it sings, so with this in mind, I matched it with two very traditional Georgian dishes: Lobio Nigozit (small red beans with walnut paste, garlic, and a cornucopia of exotic herbs and spices, served at room temperature) and then Sousi, a beef stew with tomatoes, potatoes, hot and sweet green peppers, butter, coriander, and a purple variety of basil called opal basil that I scored at my local farmers’ market.

Teliani Valley Mukuzani 2010 - very deep and bright purple/garnet color. Very elegant and expressive nose of clear blackberry and black cherry fruit supported by strong notes of minerals, briarwood, mocha, dried roses, and milk pudding. In the mouth the wine is chewy, burly and powerful but still quite elegant with sexy flavors of plum, black currant, spice, cola, and tarragon. Very dry, notably savory finish.

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