Black(ish) Wine

We’ve known for a while that wines can have trending moments. There was the cute label trend, the organic wine trend, the Spanish wine trend…. Now comes the black wine trend.

No, this isn’t a new category of wine and you’re not going to have to ponder questions like which meats pair best with a hearty black. Black wines are very dark reds, which is obvious when you’re pouring some into a glass. Once in the glass though, the wine takes on an opaque, almost inky look, hence the trending description of black wine.

Black wines are actually quite old but their sudden popularity has led to a rise in sales and new vines in the ground. Black wines are primarily made from one of two grapes, Malbec and Saperavi. There are no additives here – no food dyes, no strange chemicals, no charcoal. These grapes naturally produce a densely colored wine and fans of these wines have been enjoying some seriously heavy flavors before being black was a cool thing in the wine universe.

Most people probably recognize the Malbec name. It’s most commonly associated with Argentina and Chile, where the Malbec grape has found a loving home. Introduced in the 1850’s, Malbec quickly became the backbone of the Argentinian wine industry. Argentinian vintners are very new world in their approach and there are two distinct styles. The first style emphasizes the dark fruit flavors of the grape, very Napa in its approach. The second style adds time in an oak barrel, which softens the fruit and adds a layer of vanilla and a bit of tannin.

Malbec, however, began its life in France, in the Cahors region. Being French, you’ll never find the word Malbec on the label. It’s Cahors – the type of grape should be obvious, right? Cahors wine is very traditional with the emphasis on complex layers and a striking balance between fruit, tannins, and old world elegance. In fact, the Cahors wine was first billed as “black wine” as far back as the Middle Ages, so this is a serious old time wine-making area. It’s had its rough patches, but with the rising popularity of Malbec and a willingness to adapt, Cahors wines have seen a vast improvement in both process and final product.

The lesser known black wine is the Saperavi. Most wines of this grape that are sold in the U.S. are from Georgia (the country, not the state) but the grape is grown throughout the Caucasus region. Unlike Malbec, which thrives in hotter regions, Saperavi prefers cooler regions and a long season. Saperavi grapes tend to stay on the vine longer than Malbec, which contributes to its flavor density.

Traditionally, Saperavi was used as a blending grape, an easy way to add color and acidity to lower quality grapes. It’s life as a primary grape has only come about in more recent years. Saperavi wines have darker, drier fruits, more pomegranate than blackberry. The flavor palette tends more towards earthy or even smoky. These are wines that practically beg to be aged in a nice, cool spot for a few years. In the end, you’ll find a wine that’s layered, heavy, and full of  dark secrets.

So no need to fear the black wine trend. You’ve probably already partaken without even realizing how trendy you were.

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