I have been travelling in the Middle East for a couple months now, and recently my boyfriend and I decided on a bit of a whim to travel to Georgia. We’d heard a lot about of excellent things from friends who had been, one such thing being about the plethora of amazing food and wine. Our friends were right, as it turns out. There is a LOT of alcohol in Georgia, and some amazing food to go with it.
There are a couple very important things a wine drinker needs to know when visiting Georgia. First of all, Georgians claim not only to have invented wine, but to have been drinking it the longest. According to certain archeological digs, they can trace wine production here back 7000 years. Second of all, almost everyone crafts their own variety at home – usually from grapes they grow in the front yard. Lastly, there is allegedly a “tradition” to finish the first glass in one go after a toast, and there are a LOT of toasts in one sitting.
The adventure for us really began in the Eastern region known as Kakheti. This is where the majority of wine is produced, and boasts dozens of varieties indigenous to and grown only in Georgia. Our first stop was in a town called ‘Sagrejo’, where we immediately sought out a local winery. Lucky for us, a very sweet woman led us to the local marani (as it is known in Georgian) where they certainly don’t usually receive tourists. They let us in, gave us some samples straight out of the tanks, and even filled up a plastic bottle for us of our favourite; Saperavi.
With our water bottle of wine stuffed into the backpack, we headed on to the next town; Sighnaghi. This is really the wine capital of the region, and sure enough it boasts an excellent winery producing organic, unfiltered Georgian wines all made according to tradition. They cook up 7 varieties all fermented in clay vessels underground. Each vessel is lined with beeswax every 5 years, making each vintage totally unique.
We did a tasting of 2 whites and 2 reds. The whites are actually known as “amber” because when produced they sit in the clay vessels for 4-6 months with stems and skins included,which of course produces a bit of an odd colour. The ‘Rkatsiteli’ variety is allegedly the oldest, and also the one you’ll find most people making at home. It’s got a very distinct honey taste, and is dangerously easy to drink.
The reds I found most impressive – specifically the ‘Saperavi’ and the ‘Shavkapito’. The ‘Saperavi’ aka ‘black wine’ is the most common red in Georgia (and our favourite!), and is a very beautiful blend of smoky flavour and blackberries. The ‘Shavkapito’ is known as the wine that royals drank, and is apparently made in hugely limited quantities since the grape is only found in one small area of Georgia. The winery we were at makes something like 1500 bottles a year, and I really had to work to get them to let me taste it. It is a beautiful wine with notes of tobacco and leather, and a finish of plum and cherry.
We had a lovely tasting at the winery – but it was highly uneccesary to pay for a taste when just about every Georgian you meet will invite you in for wine (or a wine drinking contest more like it). If you’re in to wine, and would like to find yourself literally surrounded by it, then Georgia is the place for you. One very importany piece of advice, though – be very careful when drinking with these people. They can drink more than you, and they WILL try to get you to match them.
If you want more information about the winery I visited, it’s called Pheasant’s tears, located in Sighnaghi, Georgia and run entirely by traditional standards.