Introduction to Georgia: A Brief Discussion of an 8,000 Year History

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The journey down the Danube river continues! As you know, our company is named Blue Danube Wine because the wines we source come from the countries through which the Danube river flows. If you continue to follow the river, it empties into the Black Sea, at the Republic of Georgia. It only makes sense that we expand our selection of Georgian wines. Stetson Robbins, our New York Sales manager, has been to Georgia twice and personally selected the new wines we are excited to introduce. Read our interview with him to learn more about the country, the wines, and why you need to try them! Be sure to read part two for more information on the producers and grape varieties.

Tell us a bit about Georgia as a country?

S: What a special place! I was struck during my visits by the geological, biological, and cultural differences throughout the relatively small country.

Georgia is truly at the crossroads of civilization. The triangle-shaped country is one of Europe’s most diverse landscapes. Situated between a desert, Caucasian peaks, and the Black and Caspian seas, many different climatic influences can be seen. This also contributes to a density of biological diversity. As you move around the country, you begin to notice different aromas which relate to the local food and wine.

Terra cotta clay vessels, aka qvevri, have been used in Georgia for thousands of years.
Terra cotta clay vessels, aka qvevri, have been used in Georgia for thousands of years.

As it relates to wine, archaeological exploration has unearthed a terra cotta vessel decorated with grapevine ornamentation in present day Georgia. Carbon dating has revealed that the vitus vinifera seeds found inside the vessel date back 8,000 years! This is the earliest evidence to date of utilizing grapes for winemaking.

When you visit, it just makes sense that Georgia has been producing wine for so long. It is hard to describe, but that’s a feeling that completely overwhelms you upon arrival.

How should we understand Georgian food and wine culture? What are some typical Georgian foods?

S: The food is simply amazing. After returning from my last visit to Georgia, I didn’t eat for a week because I was spoiled by the freshness and superior quality of the food there. As I mentioned earlier, Georgia’s location puts it at a crossroads between Europe and Asia. While all these different cultures have impacted the cuisine, it is still anomalous, with dishes and preparations not seen elsewhere. One example of this is the tradition of “supra”. The word means tablecloth in Georgian, which is fitting since an elaborate spread of dishes is presented family-style on the dining table. There are a few rules to supra i.e special toasts, required number of guests, but at the basic level, all that is required is good food and wine.

Georgians often drink wine from shallow clay bowls.
Georgians often drink wine from shallow clay bowls.

The Georgian table is extremely diverse. Vegetable dishes and grilled meats are very popular. Skewers cooked over hot grapevines are a common sight. All the dishes are intensely flavored. The best match for all these mixed, strong flavors? Plenty of wine, of course! The traditional white wines fermented in terra cotta vessels, also known as qvevri, are perhaps the best suited. These wines are more savory than fruity with the perfect structure.

Freshness and variety present on the Georgian table
Freshness and variety present on the Georgian table

Why is it important for Blue Danube Wine to expand the Georgian wine portfolio?

S: Georgia displays consistent quality across the board. There are so many great wines to choose from that we could have easily selected more. Also Georgia has made a unique contribution to the world of winemaking. The qvevri is distinctively Georgian, just as barriques are distinctively French.

Our goal is to try to understand Georgia through the wines we have selected. Part of the fun of working as an importer is finding wines/regions that have never been widely discovered. In many more prominent wine regions, this is impossible because it has all been explored by many different people.

The wines we chose represent a range from the three primary appellations: Kakheti, Kartli, and Imereti.

What influence does the qvevri have on the wines?

S: Qvevri tends to accentuate the savory, herbal qualities of the grapes, while the fruit character dominates in the “Euro-style” wines. Qvevri wines compliment foods, almost like a sauce or condiment.

The other influence can be seen more in the white wines, which turn a golden amber color after spending time in the qvevri with skins, stems, and seeds. These are tannic whites that drink more like reds and suit a wide range of foods.

Newly forged qvevris

“Euro-style” vs. Qvevri…which is more important for Georgia?

S: Georgia is experiencing a renaissance at the moment and qvevri wine making is being revived. Honestly, there is a longer unbroken history of producing European-style wines than qvevri wines. Currently only 1% of wine production in the country is qvevri style. There is a serious lack of knowledge with this style of production which leads to inconsistent wines.

In our case, it was the qvevri wines that attracted our interest but it is the “Euro-style” wines that convince us of the market potential for Georgian wines in the United States. It will be interesting to see how the market develops and whether we will see demand shift.

At what temperature should the different styles of wine be served?

S: “Euro-style” wines should be served at the same recommended temperatures for all wines; whites 44-57 degrees and reds 58-65 degrees.

The qvevri wines, regardless of color, should be served at or just above cellar temperature, around 58-60 degrees.

Continue our interview with Discussing Producers and Grape Varieties.

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