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01 March 2015

Georgia on My Mind: Wines of Georgia from the Kakheti Region (Part 3)


Georgian wines are starting to invade the wine shelves from different nooks of the world. I saw the first few bottles in Italy a few months ago, and having seen and experienced the unique wine making in that beautiful country, I couldn't help getting excited myself. It has been almost a year since I went to the Republic of Georgia and had an unforgettable experience of trying their unique food, wine and culture. I shared some of them in two posts namely: Georgia on My Mind: A Tour of Georgia's Capital, Tbilisi (Part 1) and Georgia on My Mind: Hotels & Sights at the Kakheti Region (Part 2). This is the third part and perhaps the most important one because I put together the different wineries in the Kakheti region that we visited.


The vineyards that we visited are located in the Kakheti region of the country, about a couple of hours drive from the capital, Tbilisi. Wine in the different regions of the country bear diverse characteristics but Kakheti has the concentration of most of the vineyards. 

Historically, Georgia has the oldest method of wine making, thus, it is dubbed as the Cradle of Wine. It has a history of 8,000 years of wine making in qvevris, the clay vessels resembling amphorae then buried in the ground for months where they ferment and this unique method has recently been added by UNESCO to its Intangible Cultural Heritage List. And for that Georgian wines have unique properties and tastes.

The fermentation takes about 6 months under the ground inside the qvevris including the grape skin and stalks. The long skin contact yields full-bodied and tannic wines. After about 6 months, the wine is then moved to another qvevri for another 2 years. From this method, another alcoholic drink called chacha is produced from the pomace of the squeezed grapes. It is quite strong and has a resemblance to the Italian grappa. 

Georgia has more than 500 indigenous grape varieties that grow in its diverse landscape and climate conditions. The main grape types among the whites are: Rkatsiteli, Tsitska, Tsolikouri, Khikhvi, Krakhuna, Chinuri, Goruli Mtsvane, Mtsvane Kakhuri, Kapistoni Tetri and Tsulukidzis Tetra. The red varieties instead are: Saperavi, Usakhelouri, Kachichi, Chkhaveri, Ojaleshi, Tavkveri and Otskhanuri Sapere.
 

Alaverdi Monastery (Since 1011)

Alaverdi is a Georgian Eastern Orthodox monastery founded in the 6th century by the Assyrian monk Joseph Alaverdeli. With the backdrop of the Caucasus mountains, the green land where it is standing on and the blue sky, the monastery makes an incredible sight. But Alaverdi is not just about that. It is one of the oldest wine producers in Georgia from the year 1011 (thus the wine label) using the qvevri method. They produce both qvevri wines and wines in oak barrels.


Father Gerasim made us try two kinds of wine namely the red Saperavi 2011 which had a dark purple color and hints of cherry; and the dry unfiltered amber wine Khikhvi 2011 with its characteristic aroma. And of course chacha, which is a must in concluding every wine tasting in Georgia.






Shumi Winery

Shumi Winery was established in 2001 in the Tsinandali Village in the region of Kakheti. Its name has an important ancient meaning of genuine, pure and undiluted wine. It owns vineyards in unique microzones in different areas of Georgia both in the eastern and western sides. It currently has 294 Georgian grape varieties, some of which can hardly be found in Georgia today and about 92 foreign grapes varieties from all over the world. In the premises of the winery is also the Vine and Wine Museum which is dedicated to viticulture and winemaking. 


Among their selection of wine products, we were given five of their wines for the wine tasting. The semi-sweet red Kindzmarauli 2013 is made of Saperavi grapes, has a deep purple color, taste of ripe fruits and velvety structure. The dry white Tsinandali 2012, a blend of 85% Rkatsiteli and 15% Mtsvane, produced in oak barrels, has a light straw color and hints of citrus. The dry red Mukuzani 2012, also made with Saperavi grapes has a deep purple color and hints of cherry with roasted tobacco. There was also Saperavi 2008 with its deep purple color and strong hints of berries. The last was a tasty dessert wine called Zigu with a blend of different grape varieties. They were accompanied with the traditional Georgian barbecue of  skewered meat, churchkhelas (threaded nuts dipped in thickened grape juice until dried up), shoti bread, local cheese, gherkins and chacha which pairs perfectly well with the latter.






Twins Wine Cellar

Twins Wine Cellar which is located in Napareuli got its name because the owners are twin brothers Gia and Gela Gamtkitsulashvili. It is a place that every wine tourist would want to go to because it has a lot to offer including an interactive Qvevri Museum which is a first of its kind that shows the whole process of qvevri wine making. In the vineyard itself, there are also 12 suites for lodging, a restaurant serving authentic Georgian food and also the possibility to experience in the activities in the vineyard. There is an ancient qvevri wine cellar that is still in use and a modern one in the adjacent building. At the moment, there are 107 operational qvevris, most of which are between 3.5 to 4.5 tons in capacity.


The vineyard grows Rkatsiteli, Kakhetian Green and Saperavi grape varieties that are grown in Napareuli. We tried three kinds of qvevri wines namely: Saperavi 2012 which has a ruby red color with blackberry note; gold-colored Rkatsiteli 2012 with citrus hints. The third one, Rkatsiteli, was quite special because it was made by members of our group, Terry and Kathy Sullivan of Wine Trail Traveler and authors of the book Georgia, Sakartvelo: The Birthplace of Wine and Tamta Kvelaidze of the National Wine Agency of Georgia. Months prior to that day, they worked on their qvevri wine from harvesting of the grapes, pressing and sealing in the qvevri. That day after 6 months, we witnessed how a qvevri was opened and emptied. And the best part was tasting it. It had a very pleasant fresh taste with fruity hints.








While we were tasting the wine straight from the qvevri, beside it was a tone (old Georgian brick oven) where we were treated with freshly-baked tonis puri, a kind of Georgian bread.

Schuchmann Winery (Vinoterra)

Schuchmann Winery is owned by German Burkhard Schuchmann that produces wines using qvevri and European-style methods in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. The qvevri wines are under the wine label Vinoterra. The winemaker in Schuchmann is George Dakishvili who comes from three generations of Georgian winemakers.


Accompanying our winetasting in Schuchmann was a delicious spread of different kinds of Georgian dishes for lunch at their restaurant with a large window facing the Caucasus mountains. Along with the restaurant, they also have a hotel. It's a very tranquil kid-friendly place (I spotted a playground in the premises) with great views, good food and wine. 


The selection of six wines we had for our winetasting were: dry white Rkatsiteli 2013 produced using the European-method with a light floral hint; qvevri-made dry white Vinoterra Rkasteli 2011 had a darker color; dry red Saperavi 2011 produced using the European method with fruity hints; Vinoterra Saperavi 2009, qvevri-made unfiltered dry red that aged a year in oak after the qvevri with hints of dark berries. The last two were sparkling wines Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc Brut 2008 with hints of apricots and pears and Rosè Brut 2011 made with 70% Merlot and 30% Malbec.










Kindzmarauli Marani

Kindzmarauli Marani has more than 400 grape varieties growing in their 435-hectare vineyards. They produce wines using both European-method in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels and the traditional qvevri method.


The wines in our winetasting in Kindzmarauni were: qvevri-made Kakhetian Royal 2005, dry white wine, a blend of Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane and Khikhvi grapes, has an interesting deep dark straw color with fruity tones; Rkatsiteli Mtsvane 2005, dry white wine with light straw color; Kakhetian Royal 2007, dry red wine, a blend of Saperavi and Budeshuri grapes with a dark ruby color with hints of cherry and cloves; Saperavi Barrel Select 2009 with dark red color and strong hints of fruits; Kindzmarauli Original 2012 semi-sweet red wine made of Saperavi varieties, deep red color and with intense berry flavors.






Winery Khareba

This is the largest winery we visited that is situated in vast grounds, gardens and a large restaurant situated on top of a hill, which after the winetasting and rounds of chacha, gave added weight in ascending. However, the walk was very nice with a lot of trees surrounding the road. Winery Khareba is one of the biggest wine producer in Georgia, which makes more than 30 kinds of wines produced both in European-method and in qvevris. The company owns over 1,000 hectares of vineyards in the regions of Kakheti, Imereti and Racha-Lechkhumi.



For our winetasting, we walked through a long tunnel called Gvirabi that is 7 kilometers long (no, we didn't walk that much) that was dug in 1962 into the bedrock of the Greater Caucasus mountains. Its all year round constant temperature of 10-11 degrees C makes it perfect for wine aging in oak barrels and for keeping bottled wines for long periods.


Their wines produced in qvevris in the monastery cellar carry the label Monastery Wines. One of the Monastery wines we tried during dinner was Mtsvane dry white wine which had a dark straw color. Another wine we tried was Chateau Makro Saperavi 2010, dry red wine with dark red ruby color with hints of red berries. There was also Khikhvi 2011, dry white wine with citrus flavors. Our chacha tasting was accompanied with gherkins in another part of the winery. In every vineyard, we were always treated with tonis puri (Georgian bread) and in Khareba, we were given a demonstration in making them and putting them ourselves in the the old Georgian brick oven called torne








Winiveria (Chateau Mere)

George Piradashvili is the warm and accommodating owner behind Chateau Mere, the name of which was derived from the nearby village called Mere. In Chateau Mere, he maintains a hotel, restaurant and winery under the label Winiveria. The winery was established in 2005 where he produces about 200,000 bottles of wine using both European method and Khaketi method in qvevris.

 

For our winetasting, we tried unfiltered qvevri-made Saperavi 2010 with purple color and hints of dark fruits. For the white Khikhvi 2011 was crisp with fruity hints. Lunch was, as always a marvelous Georgian-style spread of amazing food. Before heading off, we had the Gianiani chacha which he also gave us bottles each to take home with us.





Pheasant's Tears

Behind Pheasant's Tears Winery is American John Wurdeman, a man who fell in love with Georgian culture and qvevri winemaking, moved to the country and started a life in Sinaghi, a beautiful little hilltop town in Kakheti region (the prettiest I've seen) overlooking the Caucasus mountains and Alazani valley. The interesting name of his winery came about from a local tale in which the hero claims that only wine beyond measure could make a pheasant cry with tears of joy. 


Being our last night together in Georgia, we had a special dinner called Supra where John Wurdeman acted as the Tamada (toastmaster) in his restaurant. As the Tamada, he introduces each toast during the feast. This was our second Supra, the first of which was on our first dinner together in Tbilisi. The feast was also accompanied with the traditional Georgian polyphonic singing and beautiful traditional dancing.


Throughout the long Supra, we were served innumerable dishes including platters of rare artisan local cheeses of great quality that went along with the pouring of wines. The chef of Pheasant's Tears, Gia Rokashvili was very nice enough to provide me with the full dinner menu. It was hard to keep track of all of them! 


The wines served in Pheasant's Tears: Tsolikauri 2013 made with grapes from Vani in Imereti, light gold in color with citrus hints; Tsiska 2013, dry white made with grapes from Terjola in Imereti with fruity hints; Rosè Tavkveri 2012 and 2013 from Kartli in Mukhrani with berry tones, Kisi 2012 from Tibaani in Kakheti, dry white with peach and citurs notes; Kakhuri Mtsvane 2011 from Manavi in Kakheti, pale gold; Rkatsiteli 2011 from Tibaani in Kakheti, dry with floral hints; Shavkapito 2011, the royal red once enjoyed by Georgian kings, dark ruby in color has hints of cherry and licorice.


The unlabeled one was made by Alex Rodzianko on his first trial in making his own wine, a blend of Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane and Chinuri 2013, made in the qvevri, with floral tones.


After more than a week of tasting the wines of Georgia, we were served a couple of European wines. D & P Belluard Cepage Gringet from Savoie, France, light gold in color, fresh and strong peach and citrus hints. The other one was Dario Princic Jacot 2010 made with Tocai Friulano grapes from Venezia Giulia, Italy with hints of citrus fruits.


The platter of rare artisan local cheese are namely: Sulguni aged in honey, Sulguni aged in Saperavi wine, Sulguni cheese rolls with smoked bacon, cow cheese with different herbs, Sqibu (Sulguni with mint) and Muchly cheese. These were accompanied with dried bread with sunflower seed oil which I absolutely love!


Following the cheese were different kinds of delicious Georgian dishes: Fresh Tone Red Doli’s Bread; Strained Buffalo Yogurt with Burnt Chili and Roasted Sunflower Seed Oil; Warm Olives with Citrus Rind and Shaved Walnuts; Hummus with Rocket and Pickles; Radishes with Pickles,  Dill  and Curd; Roasted Vegetable Salad with Cracked Pepper and Wine Vinaigrette; Cheese Profiteroles; Veal Kidney with Walnuts, Blue Fenugreek & Marigold; Meskhetian Potatoes Dumplings with Caramelized Onions; Wine Roasted Pork with Red Onions and Pomegranate; Roasted Potatoes with Garlic and Wild Plum Sauce; Kidney Beans with Wild Thyme; Khinkali dumplings and for the dessert, Stewed Seasonal Fruit in Saperavi with Clotted Cream. 

And did I get to eat all? Yes I did, every single one of them. It was a marvelous Georgian spread that's quite hard to forget.




The whole trip lasted for more than a week where we sampled endless bottles of wines and local food. Georgia had put a stamp on me and my love for this country will always remain within me. It's hard not to with the incredible passion of the winemakers in making unique qvevri wines, amazing food and hospitable and warm people. It's a country waiting to be discovered and praised for the dedication to their work and the quality of wines.