Taste the unknown: Lukasi – Usakhelauri 2015
The most typical roadblock encountered when it comes to Georgian wines is that the language is simply not easy which means that the local grape names aren’t easy. This is definitely not a new or unique problem and has always been an unfortunate, but understandable issue in terms of the marketability of any specific wine grape.
After all, few have really warmed to Croatian names such as Crljenak Kaštelanski or Tribidrag and the more typical, Zinfandel stays with us despite those two being the actual, “native” names. But then we (and by we, I mean English speakers) have a soft spot for the “très sexy” of French given that Monastrell or Mataró (the Catalan/Valencian names) are much easier than the French, Mourvèdre yet it’s this which is the official name of the grape. We use it despite the fact I’ve actually heard it pronounced, “Moo-vee-der”–clearly the official wine of dairy farmers… everywhere. But I feel it’s part of the reason why it’s just the wines of Bandol where this grape finds traction of then as a “GSM” (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre) blend from Australia.
But Georgia, well, it offers up whole slew of tongue twisters for those not of the country such as Chkhaveri or Khikhvi which are both lovely grapes but have found themselves less sought after than say, Kisi or Saperavi. And then we arrive to the grape, Usakhelauri which, if you can muster saying, “oo-sa-HEH-low-ree” you’ll be somewhere in the ballpark although I’m sure I don’t even say it correctly. Apparently it actually means, “nameless” in Georgian so if you feel frustrated by it, there’s some justification.
This is a pity however as this grape deserves much more visibility. Great fruit, depth, driving acidity, and yet a solid backbone of alcohol that doesn’t overwhelm but lends plenty of body. This is why the grape was historically made into those damnable semi-sweet wines from Soviet times that are still churned out. Very few have taken the plunge to make a fully dry wine out it. The reasons being that it’s not found in great quantities and what there is, is way way out in the western mountain regions of Georgia around Lechkhumi.
I’ve read various sources that state it’s only found in one small patch of land up in the mountains and only 1,000 bottles are made each year. Given that I’ve seen it pop up in small quantities from a couple of producers now, this doesn’t seem to sit with reality but there is definitely very little of it and the vines produce only around 1kg per plant.
Thankfully, Lukasi have found a source and are producing a dry, non-kvevri, 12-month barrel-aged wine from the grape and the result is excellent, begging the question as to why there aren’t more hectares of this grape?
This is one of Lukasi’s hallmarks in that they’re a rather new winery which started in 2011, using cellar premises in Kakheti (the Usakhelauri grapes are trucked over from the west) and they are adamant about not making kvevri wines and in having talked with the owners, I understand their reasoning. I’ve also talked about their wines previously.
For those in love with the concept of Georgian wines and that they must be produced in the 8,000 year-old manner via kvevri, this may sound like heresy. But, it’s very much the case that the Lukasi wines are not just competently and cleanly made but also show some of the most true varietal characteristics of nearly any Georgian wines I can think of.
You see that here with the Usakhelauri. For those who may have tasted the semi-sweet version which Teliani Valley produces, who would have known that what lies underneath all that sugar was a grape capable of producing a wine to rival the Cabernet Francs from Chinon in their best years with a light, exotic pinch thrown in for fun? If that sounds like your cup of tea, I recommend taking a hot, tingly sip–if you can find it of course.
Lukasi Usakhelauri 2015
Dark cherry, light bit of stewed tomato, ripe red plum, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, chopped spices, minor touch of tar, red jammy streak, bell pepper skin and pyrazines. Medium plus tannins, medium alcohol, high acidity, light in the mid palate lengthy finish of ripe red fruits. Very well integrated overall but could age for a bit longer given the driving acidity and meaty palate.
100% Usakhelauri 14% 20€