Rkatsiteli Grape Variety & Wine Profile
Rkatsiteli (ruh-KAT-see-TELL-ee) is one of the oldest grape varieties in the world. It is a Vitis vinifera vine that originates from the country of Georgia, primarily the Kakheti region, and can be traced as far back as 3000 B.C., when it may have been known as “Kukura.” The name Rkatsiteli literally means “red stem” or “red horned” due to the color of the stems of the vine.
Rkatsiteli is a pale skinned white grape that is mostly planted throughout Georgia and surrounding Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, and even Russia. In fact, at one point, this grape comprised 18% of all Soviet wine. There are small plantings in the New World regions in Australia and in the eastern United States regions of the Finger Lakes in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia, and North Carolina. Dr. Konstantin Frank was the first to plant Rkatsiteli in the Finger Lakes region of New York in the 1950s and 1960s during his experimentation with the vines. There have even been experimental plantings in California and Colorado. Across the world in China, the grape is known as “Baiyu.”
Because the Rkatsiteli grapes maintain high acidity throughout the growing season, they are known to do quite well even in the most humid summers when other grapes may fall “flat” in structure. Many producers will choose to pick the grapes later in the season to ensure that sugar levels have risen enough to balance the grape’s naturally high acidity. Rkatsiteli vines grow well in clay and loamy soils but have also been found in volcanic ash and limestone. It is a hardy vine that can withstand cold winters and also has some fungal resistance and protection against phylloxera.
Rkatsiteli Tasting Notes
This grape can be used in a variety of styles of wine from dry single varietal whites to fortified Sherry-style wines, sweet dessert wines, and even sparkling wines. In the glass, Rkatsiteli wines are known to have spicy and flora aromas, with flavors of lime, fennel, tropical fruits, and honey. It is a wine with high acidity and oftentimes higher alcohol.
When it comes to food pairings, the wine can be quite versatile depending on which style of Rkatsiteli you are drinking. The dry wines can be considered good “picnic wines” and pair well with foods from the regions where it grows in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Think in terms of Lebanese, Turkish, Iranian, and even Indian spiced meats and lentils. These wines also pair nicely with fish, poultry, and oysters. More off-dry styles of the wine will go well with spicier foods such as Thai or other spicy Asian dishes.
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Written By Jacqueline Coleman
Jacqueline Coleman is a professional wine + travel writer, wine judge, columnist, and consultant based in Miami, FL.