Ever heard of Saperavi? If you’re into Georgian wine (the former Soviet Union country, not the state) then you may have stumbled upon this intense dark purple red varietal. Another place you may have come across this unique wine? The Finger Lakes! Yes, that’s correct. More specifically, it is one of the featured wines produced at Standing Stone Vineyards on the east side of Seneca Lake.
Standing Stone Vineyards was opened in 1991 by Marti and Tom Macinski, winemaker and who sought to create world-class Riesling and Gewurztraminer. When they bought the vineyard, it had already had a long history, with vines dating back to the 1970s. Over the next decade, the Macinskis planted a wide variety of vines, testing out traditional and non-traditional grapes for the region. While they may have sought to be known for their Riesling and Gewurztraminer (which are very, very good), they have become famous for their Saperavi. While others in the Finger Lakes are using this grape, Standing Stone is the only one making it into a standalone wine (spoiler alert: it’s amazing!).
Marti invited my partner and I out for the winery’s Barrel Bonanza, an opportunity to try their newest wine straight out of the barrels, and also to sample some of the older wines from their library.
We began the event with a tour of the winery, moving from the fermentation room, to the press room, and ending in the barrel room. Marti led the tour, and shared with us the story of the winery and some of the decisions they’ve made in the winemaking process.
In the barrel room, we tasted the 2016 Chardonnay, which had bright green notes of pear, apple, a hint of mint, and lanolin (a fancy way of saying it has a wooly smell), with an intense acidic palate. This wine isn’t destined to be released for another year, and will spend that time sitting in an American oak barrel continuing to age and develop. Next was a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, which won’t be bottled until 2018, and had notes of cherry, cranberry, and cedar, with high acid, green cherry and a chewy, dry tannin on the palate. Finally, the star of the day, we had a 2016 Saperavi, which despite being so young, tasted surprisingly pleasing with jammy dark berries, hints of spice, and a brightly acidic palate.
What really struck me about the Saperavi was the brilliant color- a bright purply red that seemed almost otherworldly on the snowy day.
For the next part of our tasting, we ventured back into the tasting room for a vertical of Saperavi. A vertical means you taste the same wine from the same winery, but different years.
Saperavi in general has notes of plum, cherry, raspberry, spice, leather and a certain earthiness to it, with sour cherry, bright acidity, and a chewy tannin on the palate, however each year is slightly different.
2010 Saperavi: The 2010 was the only wine that had changed in color, and had more of a brick red appearance than the others, which were more purple red. It also had a chewier tannin than most, and despite being 7 years old, still had bright sour cherry and acidity on the palate.
2012 Saperavi: Unlike the others, the 12 had hints of chocolate on the nose, the carried into the palate with unripe cherries, and a chalkier and drier tannin.
2013 Saperavi: This was voted as our table’s favorite of the bunch, and was the one we ended up purchasing. It had a lot of the jammy fruit coming through in the nose, with cinnamon, spice, and hints of smoke. On the palate, there was bright, a nice acidity, and a great chewy tannin. It was the one I kept coming back to.
2014 Saperavi: The 2014 was the only one that had notes of prune and a smoother tannin that I didn’t get elsewhere.
2015 Saperavi: Finally, the youngest one had similar notes of others, but they were a bit greener and less ripe. It had nice jammy notes on the nose with hints of spice and smoke, and a great chewy tannin. This will be an interesting one to see how it ages.
The next stage of our Barrel Bonanza was the wine geek experiment. Have you ever decanted a wine? Ever wonder how long you’re supposed to do it? Hour? Two hours? Can we really wait that long for wine to breathe? Marti and her team tested this out with their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. They opened one bottle at 1 p.m. the previous day (around 26 hours open), the second was decanted at 10 a.m. (about 5 hours open), the third was only open a little less than an hour, and the last was opened at the time of tasting.
In general, the wine had notes of black cherry, cedar, and pencil lead, with a bright cherry, chewy tannin and mid-range acid. The freshly opened bottle had much sharper characteristics- the acid was a little more forward, the tannin a little more drying and the cherry more green. As we moved to the wines that had been open longer, the non-fruit notes of the wine became more apparent, and the tannin and acid smoothed out. Then, when we got to the one opened for 14 hours, an odd after taste appeared that made the wine less pleasant to drink, and it had lost some of the fruit notes.
Our vote? Much like Goldilocks, the 1 hour wasn’t quite enough, the 5 hour was a little too much, and if we had had a 3 hour we think it would have been just right. This was fascinating, because we usually only decant wine for an hour or so. Now I know I need to be a little more patient, and wait longer. Perhaps open a decoy bottle of wine to distract me from the decanting one…
One of the things I really loved about this event, was that the focus was on getting ‘geeky’ about the wine, as Marti put it. It was fascinating to try the wine decanted at different hours, and in the future they plan to do a tasting where they have different styles of glasses. It’s all about playing around with the wine to see what makes it taste the best. It also opened up my eyes to the awesomeness of Saperavi, which I intend to start drinking more of.
The passion of Marti and her staff (big shout out to Sandra) was clear throughout the whole event, and we’re excited to return for the next one.