For much of the country, April brings with it a final thawing out from the winter months as we creep bit by bit into springtime. Birds begin chirping, flowers start budding (blooming may still be too much to hope for), and maybe if you’re lucky, bottles of rosé return both to restaurant menus and house party kitchen counters.
For years now, chilled bottles of crisp, millennial pink rosé have reigned supreme as the top wine for nearly any occasion, or no occasion at all beyond just posting a #sundaze photo on Instagram. But a challenger may finally have appeared to take back the crown, returning to prominence from its heyday back in 5,000 B.C.E. That’s right, the trendiest drink of the season is pre-Biblical black wine.
Black wine gets its name from the deep, dark hue of the Saperavi grape first cultivated in what we today call the country of Georgia, where the grape is sometimes affectionately called shavi, or black. Archaeologists have traced the grape back at least 7,000 years to the Kakkheti region on the eastern Georgia-Russia border, making it one of the oldest varietals on the planet. And though Georgia boasts more than 500 individual indigenous grapes, Saperavi has risen through the ranks in recent years to become the country’s most famous alcoholic export.
While most modern wine production uses wooden casks or stainless steel tanks, Saperavi has been made for thousands of years in clay pots that are then buried underground to ferment. Unlike most wines that must be aged to develop the signature characteristics of each varietal, Saperavi is meant to be enjoyed as close to the time of bottling as possible. Even so, it is possible to purchase bottles of black wine that are ten to 20 years old.
Single varietal Saperavi black wine is described as carrying notes of spice and toasted vanilla, along with predictable associations like blackberry, purple beets and other dark fruits. The taste of the Saperavi grape is so unique, it is said that a sommelier is easily able to identify it in a blind test. Because of its somewhat more acidic nature than comparable wines, it pairs well with rich foods like cheeses, red meat and fried foods.
Despite black wine’s surging popularity among millennials, the grapes originally gained modern popularity with baby boomers, and have actually been around in the U.S. for decades. Dr. Konstantin Frank of the eponymous vineyard is credited with first importing and cultivated Saperavi grapes stateside in 1958 in New York.
Saperavi grapes weren’t recognized by the U.S. government as a specific varietal until 2013. With recognition came renewed interest in black wine, conveniently during a period when snapping and sharing a photo of your happy hour libation had officially just become a thing. Black wine had the further good fortune of its buzzy reintroduction to a new generation of wine drinkers being followed by the glass of wine emoji in 2015, and the black heart emoji in 2016.
If all of this sounds silly to you, that’s because it is. But then again, entire clothing lines and endless numbers of fluorescent signs have sprung up around the catchy #roséallday hashtag. We can at least give black wine its fair chance to shine in the social media spotlight.