Over the holidays I became aware of a local winery bottling the juice of a not-so-local grape. I was first exposed to Saperavi’s charms at Standing Stone Vineyards on Seneca Lake in upstate New York. Owner Marti Macinski poured me a taste of the intensely colored wine and espoused the merits of the variety, reportedly introduced to the Finger Lakes decades earlier by Dr. Konstantin Frank. A cold-tolerant grape, Saperavi could be considered a natural for vineyards stretching from New England to Virginia.
Closer to home, in 2010, Chuck Zaleski of Fero Vineyards and Winery planted 600 vines of Saperavi in the Central Susquehanna River Valley. He thinks it’s the first commercial planting in Pennsylvania. “I had a friend in the Finger Lakes graft them for me; he used his own cuttings,” Zaleski shared. “These came from Dr. Frank’s stock and is believed to come from the Ukraine.”
Zaleski agrees with producer Macinski about the abundant potential for the variety. “I have sampled what they do in New York in blends and as a varietal wine,” he said. “The Pennsylvania version seems to ripen a little more in our slightly warmer climate…The flavor is unique, mixing red fruit with spice. My winemaking goal was to mimic the traditional elements of the Georgian kvevris. Basically, I ferment it and let it mature in tall containers undisturbed at a controlled temperature.”
Deeply hued and full bodied, the Fero Saveravi 2013 (which, incidentally, just picked up a silver medal at the Pennsylvania Farm Show) is a fragrant, fleshy and supple array. Simultaneously grapey and floral, there’s creamy vanilla mixed in alongside faintly herbal and meaty elements that lend a savory counterpoint. Finishing long and strong with moderate acidity, the wine imparts rich flavors that won’t easily be confused with others, and a level of fruit that could surprise PA doubters – though there is a touch of bramble that catches up at the tail end. It clocks in at 13.8% ABV and is well suited for foods like stew or lamb that will coax out its softer side.
Confident with his initial results, Zaleski is committed to the future of Saperavi at his winery. “The 2013 is our first vintage and Pennsylvania’s first production of this variety…I know it sells well especially with the sophisticated red wine drinkers. I have another 600 plants on order which will give us over an acre.”
Available from the winery and soon online for $29.99.