At the beginning of the growing season, we went on a tour and tasting at Standing Stone, where we first became aware (clearly a case of not paying attention) that they produce a varietal Saperavi, which is also part of the Black Russian blend at McGregor. Two months ago we received an invitation to attend a vertical tasting of this grape, and this was a terrific opportunity for more education and enjoyment.
The tasting was conducted by co-owner Marti Macinski, who began by tracing the history of the site and the winery (which started in 1991) back to the days of Great Western and the Taylor Wine Company. As part of the process of seeing what would work for Finger Lakes red, Standing Stone connected with the nursery at Dr. Konstantin Frank, and decided to try Saperavi. This was one of the Georgian grapes introduced by Dr. Frank, and it seems to have been used mostly in blends or as a teinturier, meaning a grape used to lend color to a wine.
In fact, Standing Stone’s first use of Saperavi was to darken Pinot Noir (the picture above will give you an idea of the effect), which people were thinking would do well in the Finger Lakes due to the cooler climate. The problem was that Finger Lakes Pinot was and is light in color, and this caused a customer acceptance problem for those expecting a more violet color in the glass. While the introduction of Saperavi solved the color problem, it unfortunately added a flavor that even in small amounts that did not at all play well with Pinot Noir. Experiment #2 was blending the Saperavi in with Cabernet Franc, and this didn’t work well either. In the meantime, Standing Stone continued to experiment and finally hit upon using Saperavi as a varietal.
As Standing Stone achieved success with the wine, their next challenge was to be able to sell it commercially, and this required petitioning the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to get Saperavi accepted as a label. As a former attorney, Micki took this on as a personal challenge, and TTB approval was granted on December 31, 2013.
During the tasting, Marti presented two flights, the first of which consisted of 2005, 2007, a 2010 labeled “The Dark Red” (before TTB approval), and 2012. While the 2010 and 2012 were quite purple, the two older wines had lightened up to a beautiful violet. Both exhibited great bouquet, with the 2005 more subtle and the 2007 more intense. I preferred the 2005 nose, but although it tasted and finished well, its age may have been starting to show. The 2007, on the other hand, was a powerhouse and was actually quite reminiscent of the 2007 McGregor Black Russian we tasted at the vertical there. If McGregor and Standing Stone were able to arrange it, and side-by-side comparison would be fascinating, in part to compare the varietal to the more or less 50-50 Saperavi and Sereksiya blend.
The 2010 and 2012 were more fruity and less polished, but another variable had been introduced. Whereas the old wines were from the original vines, the newer wines were largely from young vines that Standing Stone added to increase capacity. Of the two, the 2012 seemed to have more potential, and time, of course, will tell.
The second flight consisted of two 2013 wines and a 2014 tank sample. Of the 2013s, one was from the new vines, while the other was from the old vines and will probably be released as a reserve wine or limited release of some other fanciful name. The 2014 was completely fermented and was racked, but it had not yet undergone malolactic fermentation. That, along with oak aging, was where it was headed next. However, it was quite luscious and did not exhibit any of the rough edges one might have expected. Tasting the 2013s side by side was a great way to see the difference vine age makes, the the new vines producing a wine that was more fruit forward and less complex.
Aside from experimenting with new and old vines, Standing Stone is also trying different oak treatments and generally doing everything they can to make this a signature grape. From the results they have achieved thus far, they are definitely onto something, and customers will be benefiting from their work for many vintages to come.