The unique wine culture of Georgia

You’d think that as a “knife in the sock” kind of person myself, I’d be less surprised by the dagger-wielding characters I came across last night, but I can’t say it was any easier.

Happily for me, no daggers were drawn, and apparently the dozen or so men dressed in impressive grey jackets, with what appeared to be a cross between shotgun ammo belts and cigar holders sewn on, and long daggers in their belts, were actually there to sing not as bodyguards for the Georgian Ambassador.

(Photo by Levan Kipiani)

The event, which took place in Little Georgia, a restaurant dedicated to the food, wine and culture of the Republic of Georgia, was to promote a tourism project.¬†Fortunately for me, it included a tasting of seven Georgian wines selected by Georgia’s number 1 wine cheerleader, Isabelle Legeron MW.

Isabelle is the self-styled “kvevri girl”, … one of the many reasons she is known as “That Crazy French Woman.”

Kvevri, otherwise referred to as Amphorae, are clay pots that usually only turn up in museums of ancient mediterranean trade. In Georgia, however, (and a very few other places) they are still in use as unusual and idiosyncratic vessels for fermenting and ageing wine.…

Now, this is important because the unique wines on show would probably be referred to as “Natural Wines” and be associated with a very recent, modern movement. That would be wrong, because in fact they represent hundreds of years of traditional winemaking in one of the very oldest winemaking areas of the world. Georgia.


Other writers more knowledgable about the country than me can better describe the reasons for this but here are my notes and my thoughts that hopefully will encourage you to click on some of the linke at the bottom of this post.

Sometimes you just want Disney, but other times you NEED Salvador Dali.

So, why bother with ‘kvevri’, Georgia and all these unpronounceable grapes anyway?

Because the world does NOT need another producer of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are already SEAS of this stuff that recognised countries and producers struggle to sell, why add to it?

Georgia seems to be offering something unique. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but that’s great. It has its own voice and says something different about the person drinking it.

Sometimes you just want Disney, but other times you NEED Salvador Dali.

The unique methods and characters of these wines says something about Georgia and nowhere else. The grape varieties emerged here pretty much before anywhere else, and certainly before the did in “classic” regions in France and Italy, etc.

The production is about historic traditions, Georgian cultural beliefs including nature and religion, and very contemporary interests in sustainability and respect for nature. At the same time, these are young wineries not used to the concept of creating products to export around the world, so they are treading new ground as brave adventurers in need of support and patience because we have no idea what new wonders they may discover on their way.

So here are my notes; follow the links for the background information where it is available. As a brief overview, it is fair to say that the whites were a lot more impressive than the reds:

1. Chardakhi 2009
produced by Iago in Kartli,
Note: Honeyed notes on nose with wild flower. Reminds me of a good Chenin. More honey complexity in the mouth with green tea. Lots of great acidity, but surprising tannin also – an unusual combo, but fitting for the tea. Clean finish .. with tannin.
(Tasted on November 8, 2011)

2. Antadze Winery Mtsvane 2009
produced by Nika Antadze in Kakheti,
Note: Golden, amber colour, definitely oxidative. Orange peel on the nose, slightly nutty but not spirity. Mouth is drying from obvious tannins, with a not unpleasant woody, funky orange and hazlenut character. A complex wine, but pleasant as well as unusual
(Tasted on November 8, 2011)

3. Aleksi Tsikhelashvili Rkatsiteli 2010
produced by Aleksi Tsikhelashvili in Kakheti,
Note: Literally brown, oxidised in colour. The nose is like sniffing the contents of a Christmas mince pie – sweet, rich, raisiny, spicy, spirity and inviting. The taste is surprisingly crunchy. Amazing tannin levels, but in the context not so odd. A very unusual wine, but inviting and rewarding.
(Tasted on November 8, 2011)


4. Our Wine, Rkatsiteli 2006
produced by Our Wine in Kakheti,
Note: Golden brown colour, oxidative. Wet clay on the nose, along with saw dust, and something almost rubbery. If I have not put you off, READ ON! Quite bright acidity, a decent amount of alcohol which rounds out the taste which is warm, rich, nutty, with dusty tannins but yet still fresh and bright on the finish (but with a shovelful of tannins). TRY THIS!
(Tasted on November 8, 2011)

5. Pheasant’s Tears, Shavkapito 2010
produced by Pheasant’sTears in Kartli,
Note: Bright garnet colour. Nose is slightly green with some stalky, inky notes. Reminds me of Cot. Light fruit palate, chalky tannins, but an unbalance. There’s a hole in the palate where the fruit should be, and tannins and acidity rather overwhelm this wine. Not convinced
(Tasted on November 8, 2011)

6. Nika Bakhia, Saperavi 2009
produced by Nika Bakhia in Kakheti,
Note: Dark, intense purple colour. Funky nose. Is it red meat? Something smoky! Also slightly reductive. Reminds me of Rondo (#nothelpful) as a cool climate red that goes for colour over fruit. The delicate purple fruit is accompanied by some inky, young and tannic characters of an under-ripe grape. The tannins leave a sort of lime-mix coating in the mouth. Need more ripeness I think.
(Tasted on November 8, 2011)

7. Lagvinari, Saperavi 2009
produced by Lagvinari in Kakheti,
Note: Massively over-ripe fruit on the nose. Porty notes without the spirit; oxidised marachino cherry. Warning. Totally OTT in the mouth from alcohol and acidity. This is like a very weird Ruby Port, with unbalanced tannins and lack of spirit freshness. Overripe fruit ruined this. Not pleasant.
(Tasted on November 8, 2011)


For more information:

A great post from Alice Feiring

A recent trip by Dianne Letulle and Luiz Alberto

Some older notes from Jamie Goode

A (not very recent) visit by Tom Cannavan

(need to get more up to date information, obviously)

  • George, wine merchant
    November 9, 2011

    Found the same in that whites are better than the reds, but the gap is slowly diminishing.

  • gracethomas
    November 28, 2011

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