Last week we had the pleasure of being introduced to these wines and meeting George (yes…) from Georgia, a country nestled in the Caucasian Mountains between Turkey and Russia on the Black Sea. It has formed a bridge between Europe and Asia for centuries, withstanding numerous invasions from both continents.
Throughout it’s turbulent history though, one thing has remained constant: the making of wine in it’s traditional form, that is to say the making of wines in clay pots or “qvevri”.
Traditional winemaking in Georgia has always been a home endeavor, infused with history, religion and mythology, and references dating to the fourth century. Legend tells how soldiers wove a piece of grapevine into the chain mail protecting their chests, so when they died in battle, a vine sprouted not just from their bodies, but their hearts.
During the Soviet era, the qvevris and Georgia’s more than 500 grape varieties were nearly wiped out. The resilience of the local farmers after the collapse of the Soviet empire led to a renewed optimism that resulted in wineries re-opening and new ones starting up. Wine is embedded into the history of this country and is visible everywhere - at every meal, in every home, village market, gas station, and every roadside stall, usually in recycled plastic water bottles, label-less, made by this or that neighbor, as common as water and as necessary.
Visiting a Georgian winery is different from anywhere in the world. It looks like a large room with circular holes in the floor as these clay pots (qvevri are buried up to their necks in the ground. The hand crafted clay pots range in size between 200 to 10,000 litres and are carefully cleaned and coated with beeswax before juice is added. While the wines are complex, the winemaking is quite simple - Grapes—their skins, pulp, seeds, and stems—go into the qvevri. The qvevri are then sealed, the natural yeasts on the skins of the grapes do their work, and between three and six months later, the qvevri are opened. Skins, stems, and seeds are ladled out, and the wine is moved to another qvevri to age until it’s ready. The pots maintain a steady cool temperature while buried in the ground allowing the wine to ferment naturally. It is reputed that winemakers must be skinny in order to be able to clean the pots properly!
UNESCO recognized Georgian winemaking culture as a distinct and cultural heritage in 2013 essential to humankind.
While Georgia boasts nearly one sixth of the world’s grape varieties (including endangered vines found no where else on earth) about 50 varieties are cultivated commercially. Two of the most important ones – Saperavi and Rkatsiteli and a few other interesting varieties are now available here.
Here are some wines we tasted that are recommended for you to try:
Vazibusani Estate from Kakheti region of Eastern Georgia, Saperavi Qvevri – Red Dry Wine 2017 $24.00
This is the leading red varietal in Georgia, displaying pronounced aromas of ripe cherry and elder fruit. Soft, mature tannins with long finish on the palate. Aromaas of dark berries licorice, grilled meat, tobacco chocolate and spices.
From the same estate, Georgian Sun Saperavi 2017 $15.00 is made slightly differently as it’s seen short oak aging in barrel. Characterized with pomegranate and violet tones, black mulberry and sweet cherry merge to form a mid-weight wine with soft, velvety tannins. Well balanced acidity gives it a unique elegance.
We also enjoyed this delightful Semi Sweet Red Wine from Georgian Sun Alazani valley Semi Sweet Red Wine 2017 $15.00 A blend of Saperavi and Rkatsiteli grapes, Dark ruby in colour, it’s saturated with blackberry and cherry tones. It’s full, velvety and soft with pleasing rich tannins and a sweet, impressive ending.
From Royal Khvanchkara the 2017 Aleksandrouli Dry Red Wine $29.99 (blue label) Made from 100% Alexandrouli grapes which are low in tannin, very soft and aromas of raspberry and black cherries. It’s a low yielding grape and requires a longer growing season as it ripens later in the season. This elegant red wine is perfect with red meat and game and mature cheeses.
It’s Semi- Sweet sister (red label) 2015 $45.00 is a blend of 60% Aleksandrouli grapes and 40% Mujuretuli grapes. These grapes can be made into a classic dry red, as well as a naturally semi-sweet wine from Racha, the smallest wine region in Western Georgia near the Black Sea. The semi sweet wine style is known as Khvanchkara. With strawberry and raspberry flavours, soft and velvety tannins enhanced with full, soft structure, an exuberant mid palate and long lingering after taste. Perfect with cheeses and stewed or fried meats.
We also tried a couple of unusual White wines.
Rkatsiteli 2017 $23.00 , an Amber Dry Wine, was rich in fine tannins, notes of dried fruits with crisp green apple, hints of quince and white peach. It is late harvested to bring down it’s high acidity levels, but this makes it idea for long macerations in the Qvevri. The pale skinned Rkatsiteli grape has DNA evidence tracing it back 5000 years as on e of the earliest cultivated wine varieties.
Tvishi, White Naturally Semi Sweet Wine $36.00 100% Tsolikouri grapes from a 15 square kilometre zone around Tvishi village in north western Georiga. High in acidity, it’s balanced with alcohol and has a high potential for aging. It ripens late and yields full bodied light coloured fruit. The wine is golden coloured saturated with green tones. Rich with apricot and and tropical fruits. It is a pleasant balance of sweetness and acidity and an unforgettable character. Wonderful with different cheeses, fruits, chocolate and even ice cream.
If you are interested in ordering any of these wines, please contact us. As they are specialized products they may not appear regularly on our shelves.