Rkatsiteli was popular in the Soviet Union prior to its fall and at one point was responsible for more the 18% of all Soviet wine production. There it was used to make everything from table wine to liqueurs to Sherry-like fortified wine. Prior to President Gorbachev's vine pull scheme, it was possibly the world's most widely planted white wine grape.
In Kakheti it was particularly known for its sweet dessert wines fashioned in the same manner as port wine. There were many attempts to create a sparkling wine from the grape but its naturally high alcohol levels prevented it from being much of a success. It is still preferred in Russia.
The grape is mostly planted in its ancestral home of Georgia though there are still sizable plantings in other Eastern European countries like Russia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Macedonia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine.
It is also planted, in small amounts, in Australia and the eastern United States, mainly in the Finger Lakes region of New York state, New Jersey and in Virginia and North Carolina . There have also been some experimental plantings in California, The Grand Valley AVA of Colorado and China (where the grape is known as Baiyu).
The high acidity of the grape is prone to make the wines excessively tart so winemakers try to pick the grapes as late as possible in order to maximize the sugar balance to offset the acidity. In most regions of Eastern Europe harvest is typically in mid October.
A good example of a well-made 1990 vintage wine from Rkatsiteli grape that has been mentioned recently in the UK wine press is originating from Cricova, Moldova and has been described as 'It has an aged oloroso character, with sweet, raisined fruit following on from nutty caramel aromas.' and 'Sweet white, or rather bronze. Ripe and super preserved fruits. Luscious, with honey and fantastic nuts, caramel and burnt sugar complexity on the finish – it’s like Sauternes versus PX'