It’s the most famous variety you’ve never heard of: Rkatsiteli, an ancient vinifera originating from Eastern Europe, is estimated to be the 16th most widely grown grape worldwide.
It makes beautifully crisp and refreshing wine, but with its relative rarity in the USA, most Americans have yet to try it. But boutique vineyard Davesté, in Iredell County, planted it in 2006, and lovers of dry white wines are able to enjoy homegrown North Carolina Rkatsiteli.
Davesté Vineyards was the first grower of this grape in North Carolina. Founder Dave DeFehr’s grandfather once grew it in Eastern Europe, inspiring him to plant it in North Carolina where it has flourished.
"Even though Georgia is located in Eastern Europe, it has relatively moderate weather throughout the year. While North Carolina may experience extreme temperatures from time to time, it has a relatively moderate climate as well," explains Davesté winemaker. "We are located on a site that is primarily clay, which is more acidic and leans to more acidic wines at times. We've been able to adapt and tend to pick our Rkatsiteli grapes earlier than expected to retain the ideal acidity."
Directly after the grapes are harvested by hand, the fruit is pressed, cold fermented and aged without skins in stainless steel. The result is one of Davesté Vineyard’s most popular and critically acclaimed wines, with a keen following that includes some of the state’s top chefs. "In the past, we focused on fermenting our Rkatsiteli grapes in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation or oak," explains... "This helps promote the natural fruit characteristics and acidity, with heavy emphasis on grapefruit, lemon, and floral notes. With the 2019 vintage, I was able to explore an additional style that produced a wine similar to a buttery Chardonnay. This one is still aging in French oak and undergoing bâtonnage. Be on the lookout for this one by the end of the year.
"For people who are new to this grape, we often compare our Rkatsiteli to a Sauvignon Blanc. What I like most about this varietal is the natural acidity that comes through in the wine. Big time citrus flavors, along with a floral nose and minerality make this stand apart from our other dry white wines. Sometimes you can get hints of spice and herbal notes as well,"says winemaker
Rkatsiteli is very food friendly thanks to the acidic nature of the wine. It pairs well with seafood, poultry, and other savory dishes such as Georgian labda (potato pancakes) as well as a classic chèvre pairs. "And it’s particularly great with pad thai!" adds
The 2018 Davesté Vineyards Rkatsiteli, was highly awarded, including receiving a rare “double gold” award in the North Carolina Fine Wines Competition before quickly selling out. Davesté’s 2019 vintage of Rkatsiteli will be released this June. With an impressive harvest and excellent results in the winery so far, the new vintage looks like it will be another hit. If you’re looking to treat your palette to something new, put this wine on your list to try this summer.