Saperavi means “something to colour with,” or “to dye”. A very old variety, Saperavi is Georgia’s most widely planted red grape, with 10% of all plantings throughout the country (over 4000 ha). Saperavi can be dry, semi-sweet, full-on sweet, or fortified. Both traditional and European methods are used, and it may be aged in French, American, and Slavonian, Russian, or Hungarian oak. Regardless of how produced, this tenturier variety (i.e., it has red juice as well as red skins) gives wines that are inky, often fully opaque, with aromas of dark berries, liquorice, grilled meat, tobacco, chocolate and spices. Texturally, the wine is sappy and tannic, with fine acidity; alcohol levels can range 12-14%. The aromas are terroir-sensitive: cooler mountain sites give red berry aromatics and elegance; warmer regions, with darker soils, have more black fruit and meaty notes, with higher alcohol levels.
The diversity of clones and varieties of Saperavi attests to its ancient origin. Ampelographers studying Saperavi over 150 years have discussed at least 17 variations and clones. Many have colourful, evocative names (e.g. Saperavi Budeshuriseburi, lit. “Saperavi with stretched berries.” In 2012 N. Tsertsvadze alone lists 7 seven different variations of this version and, characterizes S. Budeshuriseburi as a mutant of Saperavi.) Typically the variants were interplanted in small numbers with common, Kakhetian Saperavi.
Leading PDOs based on Saperavi include Napareuli (dry), Mukuzani (dry, often with riper, more intense flavours); and Kindzmarauli (semi-sweet, but with crisp, fresh acidity). The area of Akhasheni, in Kakheti, has a decent concentration of older vines that can produce complex, dynamic and age-worthy expressions of Saperavi. When vinified dry, concentrated, serious efforts merit extended ageing for 10 years or more. Semi-sweet wines such as PDO Kindzmarauli and PDO Akhasheni are intended for early enjoyment, usually within 1-2 years of bottling.