Imagine a white wine as rich and complex as any red wine, with an intriguing amber hue. Breathe in and you are at once overwhelmed and delighted by aromas of toasted nuts, herbal tea, warm spices. Now, picture a red wine with intense hues of purple. The smell brings to mind deep earthiness, meatiness, and spicy red fruit. Taste the wine and appreciate the exotic flavors coupled with gripping tannins that beg to be enjoyed at the dinner table. These are the wines of Georgia. More specifically, these experiences are the result of the uniquely Georgian practice of fermenting and aging wines in clay qvevri.
At least 8,000 years ago, Georgians discovered that they could produce a stable wine by fermenting within clay vessels, or qvevri. Georgia is a food and wine lovers paradise with traditions like supra, or feast, where course upon course of stunningly fresh, judiciously prepared food are arranged on a large dining table. The only suitable beverage is copious amounts of qvevri wine!
Qvevri winemaking. Qvevri are used to both ferment and age wines which makes them different than amphorae. The conical shape encourages the seeds, pomace, and other sediment to migrate to the base of the container. The clay also interacts with the wine allowing it to circulate within the qvevri, alleviating pressure and controlling temperatures during fermentation. A marani is the Georgian wine cellar, where the qvevri are buried into the earth which also aids in temperature regulation.
The Saperavi grape
Over 500 native varietals, a diversity of terroirs. There is no other wine drinking culture as rich as the one that exists in Georgia. With over 8,000 vintages, 500 plus native grape varietals, signature natural wine making process, and original root word for wine, it is easy to see how wine is woven into the very fabric of the culture. For more on Georgian history and qvevri winemaking, see our regional profile.
Saperavi and Rkatsiteli are the most popular of the hundreds of native Georgian varietals. Saperavi means “dye” in Georgian and refers to the rich, concentrated purple color of the resultant wines. Rkatsiteli is a combination of two words: rka, meaning “vine shoot”, and tsiteli meaning “red”. The grape is so named because the vine shoot is a striking red color. Some other important white varietals include Tsolikouri, Kisi, and Mtsvane. As for reds, that would be Aleksandreuli, Mujuretuli, and Otskhanuri Sapere.
With 19 identified appellations of origin, Georgia exhibits a diversity of terroir as well as wine styles. Kakheti is one of the major wine-making regions and, as an appellation, is known especially for its dry wines of Rkatsiteli. A few noteworthy sub-appellations:
Tsinandali: a dry white blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane.
Tvishi: a dry to semi-sweet white wine made from Tsolikouri.
Mukuzani: a dry red wine from Saperavi.
Khvanchkara: a semi-sweet red blend of Aleksandreuli and Mujuretuli.