We are wrapping up our exploration of rare varieties from Georgia with one of the country’s most popular white varieties – Rkatsiteli. This is easily the most planted white variety in Georgia, claiming 43% of all vineyard plantings. Rkatsiteli (the ‘r’ is silent) dates back to the 1st century AD, though the genetic lineage of the variety is unclear. The name means “red stem,” as rka translates to vine cane and tsiteli means red.
Rkatsiteli is native to the region of Kakheti in eastern Georgia where it still widely grows. This variety is also prominent in Kartli and grows throughout the country, as well as in other parts of the world.
Rkatsiteli In The Vineyard
This variety produces medium-size cylindrical bunches with medium-sized, oval berries. Rkatsiteli typically has a later bud break towards the end of April and can be a late-ripening variety depending on the region. For example, in Kakheti this variety isn’t mature until the end of September or early October. Notably, Rkatsiteli is a variety with one of the shortest times to fruit set, which generally occurs only three days after flowering.
Growers love working with Rkatsiteli because it is highly adaptable to different sites and capable of achieving high sugar levels while maintaining acidity. When planted in Eastern Georgia, Rkatsitelli is a winter hardy vine and resistant to downy mildew. However, that resistance lowers when planted further west where there is higher humidity coming off the Black Sea. When dry-farmed, the grape skins obtain a pinkish-yellow hue.
A group of women harvesting grapes in Mukuzani discovered a mutation of Rkatsiteli in 1948. In a Rkatsiteli vineyard, they found a couple of shoots with bunches of completely pink berries and others that were pink on one side and yellow on the other. V. Loladze, a scientist at The Institute of Viticulture and Oenology, took the completely pink bunches for analysis. These pink berries were identified as a mutation, named Rkatsiteli Vardisperi and further propagated.
R. Vardisperi produces denser bunches capable of achieving higher sugar levels. This variety grows mainly in the Alazani Valley, but in much smaller quantities than Rkatsiteli. Wines made from R. Varisperi are usually a pale-salmon color and are broad on the palate with a bit of spice.
Rkatsiteli In The Glass
Rkatisteli wines are made with both European techniques and traditional Georgian winemaking methods with qvevri . This variety produces harmonious white wines with great body, an expansive flavor profile, and significant acidity. When vinified under European techniques, the final wine expresses more subtle aromas of florals, citrus, and green apple. Winemakers will commonly block malolactic fermentation to preserve a crisp freshness in the wine.
Many Georgians consider Rkatsiteli as one of the most noble grapes of their country because it really shines when vinified in Georgian qvevri using traditional winemaking methods. The best examples will be broad and sweeping on the palate, profoundly fruity, with balanced acidity and impressive depth. Depending on the amount of skin contact, Rkatsiteli qvevri wines will show beautiful aromas and flavors of caramel, spices, dried orange peel, honey, apricot, and other stone fruits.
Rkatisteli is a variety with more subtle aromatics. Consequently, it is often blended with a more aromatic variety to invigorate the final wine. This is the case with PDO’s Gurjaani, Tsinandali, Vazisubani, where 15-20% Mtsvane Kakhuri is added. Rkatsiteli wines are almost always vinified dry. The one exception is found in PDO Kardenakhi where they produce sweet wines with this variety.
Soil & Climate in Tsinandali, Kakheti
Tsinandali is one of eighteen wine appellations in Georgia. Located in Kakheti, Rkatsitelli’s native home, which is also known as the land of the grapes because the grape harvest here accounts for half of the country’s total production. Tsinandali has a humid, subtropical climate with hot summers and cold winters.
Kakhetian wines express soil characteristics more than any other wine in Georgia. Cinnamonic soils are one of the main soil types of this region. This soil type occurs mainly in dry regions where organic matter decays more quickly and doesn’t accumulate in the topsoil. Cinnamonic soils are sandy, red-colored calcareous clays. The red color is a result of the soil’s high iron content. Since there is no accumulation of decayed organic matter in the topsoil, the vines must dig deeper into the soil to find nutrients. As a result, the vines form strong, complex root systems without being deprived of water.
Unofficially, Kakheti is divided into many sub-regions that line the banks of the Alazani River, which flows down from the Caucasus Mountains to Azerbaijan. The most noteworthy unofficial zones are around the villages of Tsinandali, Telavi, Gurajaani, Kvareli, Sagarejo and Sighnahi.
The Winery: Mildiani Family Winery
Located in Tsinandali, Kakheti, the Mildiani Family Winery was established in 1991. Four brothers who were “enthusiastic and fool of love for winemaking” decided to start their passion project despite the many hardships Georgia has experienced over the years. The family built the winery into a large production offering a whole range of wines along with Georgian Brandy and Chaca. I highly recommend checking out the Mildiani website, which features a gorgeous video of their vineyards and cellars.
The Wine: Mildiani Qvevri Bouquet Rkatsiteli 2015
- 100% Rkatsiteli vinified in Georgian qvevri
- Beautiful orange, amber hue – like a yellow topaz with golden reflections
- Delicate aromas of apricot, quince, dried herbs, dried white flowers, a touch of spice and caramel notes
- Aromatics were quite subtle at first, then the wine really opened up in the glass
- Medium body on the palate with medium-plus acidity and light tannins
- Flavors of orange zest, apricot and touch of spice on the palate
- Persistent finish, the tannins delicately coat your mouth, leaving almost savory flavors on the palate
A Rkatsiteli amber wine is a fabulous pairing for rich, creamy cheeses like brie or Epoisses de Bourgogne. A baked brie with caramelized onions or a garlic and herb baked brie are both ideal matches for this wine. Rkatsiteli amber wines are also structured enough to enjoy alongside meat dishes, like veal chops Milanese with lemon and herbs or herb marinated lamb chops.