When you drink Rkatsiteli wine, you will experience the tones of golden plum, white mulberry, ripe apricot, peach, white cherry jam, tea, dried quince, and just a hint of earthiness. Your taste buds may also feel a hint of citrus, which gives liveliness to the wine.
Rkatsiteli is #1 among the 525 endemic varieties of grape grown in Georgia. A number of wines with a Protected Designation of Origin are made from Rkatsiteli grapes, including Gurjaani, Vazisubani, Kardenakhi, Kakheti, Napareuli (white), Tibaani, Tsinandali, Kotekhi (white), Bolnisi (white), Zegaani and Tsarapi.
In Georgia, Rkatsiteli is made in one of two ways. The first is from Kakheti, a method where the wine is aged in a qvevri, a traditional Georgian clay pot used for fermenting and aging wine. The qvevri process, especially with full skin maceration, gives the wine a heavier, richer taste with more tannins and a dark golden color. The second method uses the European classical methods with direct press and fermentation in a large steel tank, to make a milder, lighter wine with a soft golden color.
In the 20th century the famous Georgian historian Ivane Javakhishvili, along with other European historians, studied Georgian wine, including Rkatsiteli. They concluded that Rkatsiteli originates from the first century AD.
This unique Georgian grape variety is a symbol of Kakheti. However, recently, a large amount of Rkatsiteli grapes have been planted in both far-away and neighboring countries. Despite this burgeoning popularity, oenologists agree that wine made from the Rkatsiteli grape, grown in Georgia, and more specifically, on the slopes around the Alazani River Valley – is incomparable.
While historians have established that Rkatsiteli originated in the 1st century AD, it is quite possible that Rkatsiteli has a much longer history if we judge from the age of the qvevri itself. The oldest qvevri found in Georgia is confirmed to be at least 8,000 years old, making Georgia the oldest known wine producer in the world. The qvevri is a symbol of the unbroken chain of viticulture and winemaking over the last 8,000 years in Georgia.
People from Kakheti like to say, “a person is born with wine and dies with wine”, meaning Georgians celebrate every important event at a traditional supra feast with wine. A child’s birth is celebrated with the best wine, every significant date and event through a person’s life is toasted with wine, and, eventually, their death will see a person’s friends and family send them off with a toast.
In Kakheti, the homeland of Rkatsiteli, there is one strange tradition still maintained by some winemakers to this day. When all of the grapes have been picked, and the very last bunch comes in from the vineyard, the most rotund man is chosen from all those who participated in the vintage, and he is rolled around on the ground of the vineyard. This rolling of a large man is meant to ensure that the next year’s vintage from that vineyard will be plentiful.
Despite being thousands of years old, Rkatsiteli is still a fairly flexible grape variety and creates fantastic blends. One of the best varieties is made by blending Rkatsiteli with the Mtsvane grape. Also, in Tibaani PDO, up to 15% of Khikhvi grapes can be used for sepage.
Both the European version and the traditional skin contact version of Rkatsiteli go with many local Georgian foods, from simple lunches to traditional Georgian feasts. It pairs well with most types of Georgian cheese, especially sheep cheese, as well as Georgian salads, mchadi cornbread, khachapuri, and more.
The grapes themselves are also used as food for the whole season, since they keep well. Boiled Rkatsiteli grape juice is even used to make different kinds of desserts - pelamushi and churchkhela.