Pennsylvania Wine School: What is a Saperavi?

Chambour-huh? Vidal who? Need some help demystifying some of Pennsylvania’s most essential wine words? The PA Wine Land Post is at your service, schooling you on the grapes you need to know.

Varietal: Saperavi (pronounced sah-per-RA-vee)

Grown: Thrives in the Susquehanna Valley

Similar to: Lemberger and Syrah

Saperavi, a vinifera grape hailing from the Republic of Georgia, is full of surprises. The most obvious one becomes apparent when you break the fruit’s skin — the variety is a teinturier. A French word meaning “tinter” or “dyer,” it describes grapes with red flesh. This is is surprisingly rare for a wine grape; most have clear juice (the wine’s color comes from the skins). Other famous teinturiers include Alicante Bouschet, and Dunkelfelder. In addition to providing a color boost, the pulp of these grapes contains the pigment anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant.

To continue our language lesson, Saperavi is actually the Georgian word for “dye.” The grape is grown throughout the Caucasus — the area between the Caspian Sea and the Black sea — where winemaking began at least 6,000 years ago. Hardy and late-ripening, it thrives in the cooler, wetter climates of eastern Europe, so it’s no surprise that Pennsylvania winemakers see its potential.

Because of the grape’s beautiful, intense color and strong acidity, Saperavi has often been used to bring pop to red blends. These days, it’s developing a reputation of its own in single-varietal wines. Case in point, a Saperavi from Fero Vineyards & Winery in Lewisburg, PA, won “Top Red Wine” at 2019 PA Sommelier Judgment.

Sapaeravi can be made into rosé, semi-sweet, sweet, and fortified wines, but the most typical style is a full-bodied dry red with big-time acidity and robust tannins. When you’re sipping an inky Saperavi, look for flavors of dark fruits, cherry, blackberry, plum, spice, smoke, leather, and licorice. If aged in oak, cedar and vanilla also join the party.

This bold wine pairs wonderfully with rich, tangy meals such as pizza or barbecue pork. You can also look to its native land of Georgia for inspiration: grilled meats, cheese, fresh bread, savory dumplings (the Georgian version is called Khinkali; ravioli or pierogis are a good substitution), or spicy stews.