Try January!

For many, January is a time for re-alignment. After the indulgences of the festive season, it’s time to get things back on an even keel. Some sort of detox is called for; an arbitrary sacrifice that must be adhered to with sombre commitment!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think ‘dry January’ is a noble pursuit, though a month without a decent glass holds little appeal for me. So instead of ‘Dry January’ I prefer ‘Try January’ – a chance to sample wines that you perhaps wouldn’t normally pluck from the shelf. And here is what I found:

Nachbil Riesling 2019 (Romania)
When we think of great wine producing nations, Romania wouldn’t feature on most people’s lists. And yet this former member of the old Soviet bloc has a considerable area devoted to the grape: around 180,000 hectares. EU membership has also encouraged investment in its wineries and the results can impress. The climate is continental, but moderated by the sweeping curl of the Carpathians. Indigenous varietals are plentiful – Feteasca Alba and Feteasca Regala to name two. But international grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris have also found a home here.

Most wine production is associated with the Moldovan Hills to the east, while the Transylvanian Plateau is home to one of Europe’s biggest if not the biggest vineyard at 2,400 hectares. But to find the fruit sourced for our bottle of Nachbil, we must go to Maramures in the North West. The sandy loam soils do well for the Riesling grape – or should I say Welschriesling – that flourishes here. Welschriesling has little to do with the more grand and famous Riesling that we know so well from Germany. It has a different genotype altogether, but when grown well can produce wines with a similarly complex profile. The Nachbil Riesling is such a wine exhibiting that delicate balance between residual sugar and taught acidity that allows the palate to be both full and structured. The finish goes on for miles. Proof that Romanian wine can be as enticing as its culture.

Tasting note:
Balanced and harmonious. Closest in style to a decent Halbtrocken from the Pfalz, this is refreshing yet deeply complex and with a beautifully elegant finish.

Teliani Valley Saperavi 2019 (Georgia)
For my other January gem, we must remain around the former USSR a while longer. Georgia boasts a far more distinguished wine making pedigree than that of the Romanians. It has been producing wine of quality long before it peaked out from the folds of a fallen Iron Curtain. Archaeological evidence points to a viticultural heritage that can be traced back to around 6,000 BC. Russia may be a neighbour to make anyone nervous, but its attentions have done little to harm or hinder Georgia’s wine-making traditions. Quite the opposite. Even after the Georgians found their independence in 1991, the Russians remained a dependable market for its wines. Teliani Valley still sells most of its production across the Caucasus Mountains, though it is also attracting a following further afield, notably in the US – two very different audiences indeed.

So, what is the attraction? Well, Georgia has around 500 of its own indigenous grape varieties for a start. Chief among them is Saperavi, a black grape which, depending on how it is grown and vinified, is just as capable of producing wines reminiscent of crunchy Argentinean Malbec as it is exuberant Beaujolais! Then, there are its enchanting ancient traditions. The huge clay amphora-like pots (or qvevri) which were used to ferment grapes millennia ago are still in use today especially in Kakheti in the far east of the country where most Georgian wine production is based including Teliani Valley. The viticultural area spans the varied terrain of the foothills of the Caucasus producing wines that can amaze and delight and this bottle is no exception. Deep purple in colour with warm, juicy dark berry flavours, this is Saperavi of the ‘Malbecian’ variety and it’s nothing short of a treat!

Tasting note:
Strikingly deep purple in colour. The palate is opulent, full and rounded, with fresh crunchy dark berry flavours and perfectly balanced acidity.

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