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Black wine guide


4 min read

What is black wine?

Black wine simply refers to incredibly dark-hued, inky purple wines. There are a few dark-skinned grape varieties that are known to create black wines. The most well-known being Saperavi from Georgia and Malbec grown in Cahors, south-west France.

All wine gets its colour from grape skin – the darker the skin, and the more time the juice spends with it during winemaking, the more pigment will end up in the finished product. A very small handful of grapes get an extra colour boost from their flesh. These are known as teinturier grapes and one of these special grape varieties is the Saperavi. 

Saperavi is an indigenous grape variety from Kakheti in Georgia, one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. The name Saperavi, means “to dye or give colour.” It’s synonymous with very full-bodied, high tannin, ageworthy wines. They characteristically match well with rich meat dishes, like roast lamb and ragout, and hearty vegetables, such as oyster mushrooms.

As mentioned, this Georgian grown grape variety is a great example of a teinturier grape. A teinturier grape is red grape that has both dark skins and flesh. Different to a regular red wine grape, which has dark skin, and a clear flesh or juice. Rather fittingly, the word ‘teinturier’ comes from the French “to dye or stain.” In addition to Saperavi, Alicante Bouschet and Chambourcin, are examples of these dark grape varieties. They are a bit special, as you don’t commonly see these at most vineyards.

eto Wine decanter in Brass: satin finish

Moving on to the Malbec from Cahors, which has been dubbed the original Malbec wine. The ancient Romans would refer to it as “the black wine of Cahors.” Achieving its Appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) designation in 1971, producers in Cahors have continually looked to improve viticulture practices to improve the quality of their wines through longer maturation and better-quality French oak. Malbec from this region tends to have more firm, structure tannins and a lean elegance. It can be rather course when young. With a bit of age, anywhere from five years, it’ll start to bring out beautiful velvety flavours of plum, blackberry, smoke and tobacco. Like the Saperavi, it pairs well with hearty meat dishes and hard cheeses.  

All these grape varieties age really well, particularly Saperavi. So, if you can hold-off on opening, it may be worth it. They also all benefit from decanting. An opportunity to get your eto wine decanter out.

It may be the drama that has fuelled its popularity. The dark, opaque inky hues. But the beauty of black wine is more than meets the eye. You’ll find these grape varieties offer incredibly good value for money, with complex and ageworthy wines available.

Should I try black wine?

Absolutely. If you’re a fan of other robust, fruity and tannic wines then this could well be your new go-to.

Be careful though. These wine are inky black. Watch out for your teeth or that white tablecloth. Don’t tell us we didn’t warn you.

Also, keep an eye on the label, as you’ll find sweet-style Saperavi too.

"Be careful though. These wines are inky black. Watch out for your teeth or that white tablecloth. Don't tell us we didn't warn you."

eto's Pick: Three Saperavi to try

2014 Orovela Saperavi, Georgia

This is the first vintage to be produced in Orovela’s new winery. It offers an accessibly priced way to try the grape variety. This has been matured in oak, to lend vanilla notes, while the grape’s characteristic black fruit and dark berry notes shine through. Try it alongside spiced lamb or stews. Available from Waitrose.

2015 Chateau Svanidze Saperavi, Georgia

The award-winning Château Svanidze estate is located in Georgia’s renowned Kakheti region, where the family has been producing wine for 150 years. The grapes here are farmed organically and hand harvested. Well-balanced, elegantly spicy and packed with dark berry flavours, this would pair perfectly with grilled steak. Available from Hedonism.

2015 The Oddball Saperavi, Hugh Hamilton, Australia

Saperavi’s popularity has spread beyond its native Georgia, with a particular stronghold in Australia. Here, in the famous winemaking region of McLaren Vale, fifth-generation winemaker Hugh Hamilton fell in love with the grape. This, the 13th vintage, is a robust, full bodied and complex wine with layered fruit flavours, tobacco, spice and abundant tannins. Available from Tilleys.

To discover more about orange, or skin-contact-wine read our interview with sommelier and orange wine expert Doreen Winkler. 

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