Wednesday, June 03, 2009

New Grape of the Month: Rkatsiteli

And no, I didn't spell it wrong.

Rkatsiteli is a new grape to me and I suspect that's true for many of you reading this post. It's the kind of grape that has us all channeling our inner wine geek and scurrying to dig out our Oxford Companion to Wine.

When you find your reference books, you'll discover that Rkatsiteli (pronounced "rkah-tsee-tely") is widely planted in eastern Europe, especially in places like Georgia, Bulgaria, and the Ukraine. In Russia, they make fortified wines (akin to Sherry) from the grape, and even turn it into brandy.

So how did it get to the Sierra Foothills, which is where the bottling I tasted came from? Rob and Marilyn Chrisman of Avanguardia Wines like relatively unknown and untrodden grapes even more than I do and have specialized in growing and making wine from them since 2004. Avanguardia grows Italian, French, Russian, and University of California crosses like Refosco, Peverella, Forestera, and Rkatsiteli. Some indication of their independent spirit can be seen in this statement from their web site: "As California wines go, our wines are somewhat atypical: we don't produce high alcohol wines, we don't like 'fruit bombs'. Only subtle oak is OK. Acidity is higher than most in order make them food friendly. Balance is everything here at Avanguardia." I've had two of their wines (so far) and they are terrific value and some of the most interesting wine I've had from my home state, so check them out if you're in need of spicing up your cellar.

The 2006 Avanguardia Cristallo I tasted recently is made with around 85% Rkatsiteli, with the remainder of the juice coming from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Melon de Bourgogne. (available direct from the winery for $14) With nothing to compare it to in terms of varietal characteristics, I have to say that whether it is "correct" or not I really liked this wine. It smelled of fresh shucked corn--green and creamy at the same time. The palate is creamy, too, but it retains its herbal acidity and freshness, with grassy and floral notes. If you like your wines fresh and zesty, you will think this is a very good QPR pick. If you like your wines fresh, zesty AND geeky (as I do), you will think it has excellent QPR.

With your Rkatsiteli, I'd suggest some grilled fish. We had it with grilled halibut with a roasted pepper relish and some green beans with basil. The fresh, creaminess of the fish was a nice pairing for the creamy aspects of the wine, and the wine's herbaceousness accented the roasted peppers.

Calling all Rkatsiteli lovers: tell me your experiences with the grape in the comments below. Let's get a Rkatsiteli fan club going, ok?

Full Disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.


Dave Nershi said...

Rkatsiteli is a specialty of Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinefera Wine Cellars in the Finger Lakes. I was unfamilar with the grape until tasting it there last summer. On their Web page it says, "Along with the intense fruit are the typical spicy notes as well as pineapple and mango notes. The wine is presented in a dry version with the crisp acidity, the residual sugar and the tremendous fruit providing a very pleasant balance."

Rkatsiteli is considered one of the top achievements of Dr. Frank in the Finger Lakes. Dr. Frank, a Ukranian immigrant, is the "father" of Finger Lakes vinifera wines. His dry reisling is outstanding.

Larry the Wine Guy said...

Nice to see Rkat in California. I've enjoyed Dr. Frank's version and brought some back with me on my last trip east. The east coast version is deliciously food-friendly. Hope this one is too. Can't wait to try it.

Mr Taz said...

As soon as I saw your post, I assumed you'd be talking about Dr. Frank. He's the man when it comes to Rkatseteli! I've had his Rkatseteli a couple of times, and found it very interesting. If you can find it in CA, or order from the winery, it might be interesting for you to do a comparison with this Cali version.

Dana Estep said...

In the East, besides Dr Frank, Horton Vineyards in VA also makes a nice Rkatsiteli.

Max said...

Rkatsiteli as it was and still is produced in Eastern Europe (call it the original stuff if you will) is typically a cheap and crappy wine. We used to drink it when I was a teenager, and nobody would give a damn about nose or palate or anything else other than alcohol content, so it worked great. But I wouldn't touch that stuff now with a 10 foot pole.

I'm sure it was different before my time, but Soviet mass production pretty much killed all quality wines, with very few exceptions. So, it's a good thing someone picked up this grape and is trying to make good wine out of it. The grape deserves it.

Amy Atwood said...

Yep. Absolutely new to me. Thanks for the recommendation and the info.This is the kind of post that is a real value add for wine lovers.

Anonymous said...

I have had the Horton R-Kat and found it excellent and a very nice summer wine - quite refreshing. I hope to get back to Virginia and especially Horton soon.

jason said...

The Sierra Foothills and surrounding areas are just loaded grapes that are unheard of. Be it this, Pinotage or many others. I'm planning a visit up there soon to visit these wineries. What a great place to explore!

Dr. Debs said...

R-Kat. I love it! Thanks for sharing your stories and for the additional names for me to check out.