By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 14 August 2021
On a land bridge between Europe and Asia, surrounded by water and dominated by mountains, Georgia is a striking country both in its position in the world, its extreme geography and fascinating 8,000 year wine history.
“Georgia is a country that reveres tradition, history and culture”, says Lisa Granik MW author of ‘The Wines of Georgia’ (£30 Infinite Ideas). This reverence is very much reflected in its rich vibrant wine culture - from songs, legends to architecture.
“A resurgence in Georgian traditional winemaking in the past two decades has converged with a renewed interest in things artisanal…and natural…capturing the attention of many a wine lover within and outside Georgia”, says Granik.
This explosion of interest with a growing number of people in Georgia deciding to make wine ‘as our ancestors did’ has presented Georgia with a challenge – as today it has a wine industry of extremes.
“Out of the wreckage of hulking Soviet wine factories, a sophisticated variety of modern wineries have emerged”, explains Granik. Today there are twenty-two large extremely professional businesses producing over one million bottles annually.
At the other extreme are hundreds of tiny wineries run by weekend winemakers and hobbyists often making no more than 3,000-5,000 bottles. Some small family wineries make good wines, whilst others make wild home-made brews to be enjoyed only in Georgia, unable to withstand the rigours of export. [Currently wineries producing under 3,000 bottles are not actually required to be tasted and evaluated by the Wine Agency, but can still export].
Whilst progress in the post-Soviet era has been dynamic and there are impressive wines to be found, as Granik rightly says: “I firmly believe the best of Georgia wine is yet to come”. For the wine lover exploring Georgia, whilst it is compelling and original, careful selection is crucial.
Size-wise, Georgia is similar to Scotland. Within this small earthquake-prone country are seven different climatic zones and 49 different soil types making Georgia like an ‘open-air museum of soils’ with great potential for diversity.
Wine regions stretch from subtropical Guria in the west up to 1,000 metres at high altitude Mtskheta where ancient vineyard terraces are being restored; from the cool high windy plateau in the aristocratic heartlands of Kartli region, down to warmer sheltered Kakheti, east of capital Tbilisi.
Kakheti is the most intensely planted region with 22,227 hectares, out of Georgia’s current total 55,000. In Soviet times the vineyard area was three times this size.
Native grapes have always been revered here, even during the Soviet era. Over 400 native vitis vinifera grapes make up a fascinating range to explore from white Rkatsiteli, Kisi and Tsolikouri, pink-sheened Chinuri to red Saperavi and Shavkapito. Sadly, there are very few ‘old vines’ – the only patches of old vines today are in Kakheti, Kartli and Immereti.
75% of Georgian wines are white, 25% red. In my experience it is the reds made from Saperavi grape that show tremendous potential, perhaps more so than the whites. Tastewise, the reds often remind me of a cross between Chianti Classico and Bordeaux.
Mention Georgian wine and people immediately think of ‘qvevri’ wines. Wines fermented and matured in vast fired-clay amphora-shaped vessels of 1500 or 2000 litres called ‘qvevri’ (pronounced ‘key-ree’). The pots are buried underground up to their necks in soil in the wineries and are popular for making amber ‘skin contact’ wines.
Despite qvevri being synonymous with Georgian wine, only 10% of wines are made using these traditional ‘qvevri’ (called ‘churi’ in Imereti region in central Georgia), as they are very labour-intensive for winemakers. The vast majority of Georgian wines are early-drinking light styles, with 70% of production in semi-sweet and sweet wines for the Russian and Ukraine markets.
In the UK we now have an impressive array of Georgian wines to enjoy from this fascinating country - from quality crisp fresh dry whites, semi-sweet whites, amber skin-contact wines to rich succulent reds.
Image credit: Miles Willis
RECOMMENDED GEORGIAN WINES TO TRY:
WINE MAN TSINANDALI DRY WHITE 2017 (12%)
£13 Taste of Georgia
Pale gold, light citric, apples and quince flavours, rich intense palate, dry finish from Rkatsateli/Mtsvane grapes.
MATROBELA MTSVANE DRY WHITE 2018 (13%)
£15 Taste of Georgia
Tropical aromas, softer rounded palate with yellow fruit, hint of minerality, crisp dry finish.
TELIANI VALLEY GLEKHURI KISI QVEVRI 2019 (13%)
£20-£22 Drinkmonger; Connollys; Hedonism Wine; North & South Wine
Light apricot notes, fresh vibrant, spicy complex, light tannins with dry finish.
MILDIANI BOUQUET QVEVRI KISI 2014 (13%)
Amontillado-colour with lime, apricot honeyed notes, herby notes, nutty undertones, very elegant.
ORI MARANI QVEVRI MARIAM 2020 (12%)
£26-£29 The Sampler; 266 Wines
Toasty, spicy with moderate tannins, very complex blend made by Frenchman Bastien Warskotte in cooler Kartli region.
DAKISHVILI FAMILY VINEYARDS QVEVRI KISI 2019 (13%)
£24.99 Georgian Wine Society
Pale gold with layers of aromas and flavours with quince, crab apple flavours, long length.
MATROBELA SAPERAVI 2018 (12.5%)
£20 Taste of Georgia
Soft rounded succulent cherry fruits, plummy silky textured with peppery finish.
LUKASI SAPERAVI 2017 (13.5%)
£38 Taste of Georgia
Superb barrique-aged (not qvevri) red with mature developed aroma, blackcurrant leaf notes with velvet smooth texture.
Join Rose’s Discover Georgian Wines virtual tasting on Friday 3 September www.rosemurraybrown.com