It’s a tall order to put together a concise sales pitch for the wines of The Republic of Georgia because the food, language, culture, grapes, winemaking, and even geography are all largely unknown to most of us. However, very few places have such a strong national identity tied to wine that is something more than just patriotism, it’s about hospitality, eating and drinking well, and doing so despite a nearly non stop bombardment of their land for centuries. Nestled between the Caspian and Black Seas, it has both subtropical and alpine climates, the tallest mountains in Europe (Caucasus), and yet is smaller than South Carolina.
The biodiversity is insane with roughly 500 indigenous grapes and their Qvevri (Kartuli method) is one the most compelling techniques linking people with wine I can think of. It has even been added to UNESCO’s “List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” It’s a truly special place with hints of Iran, Turkey, Greece, Russia, Armenia and others, but has then melded, edited and created something unique. 8,000 years of unbroken winemaking using the same technique surely warrants giving these wines some attention.
At the very least, please cook up some homemade Khinakli and Khachpuri, invite a ton of friends over, completely cover the table in food, and then drink a meaningful amount of wine out of a horn. If you’re inspired to crank up some polyphonic singing and ride horseback into the woods to hunt wild game, so be it. That means the wines are working.
Keeping this in mind, here is brief look at the people and wines that have just arrived:
GOTSA. Beka Gotsadze of Gotsa wants people to visit his family winery high up in the hills 4200 feet above sea level and 30 minutes south of Tbilisi down a nearly impassible dirt road to break bread, drink wine and sing. Despite not spraying sulfur or copper in the vineyards and using zero additions in the cellar, the unfiltered wines are bright, open, and constantly changing. They push the envelope but are fun and delicious to drink.
SHAVNABADA MONESTARY. These wines defy what I previously understood from my brief time working harvests and seeing wines through to bottling. A small amount of sulfur is burned in the empty Qvevri before vinification, and then no other additions are made. The 2004 Mtsvane spent 6 months on the skins and then 11 years in the Qvevri(!). The 2009 Saperavi spent a mere 6 years in Qvevri. Monk grown, produced and blessed, these wines have the surreal ability to retain freshness and character. They are old without being tired.
AMIRAN. Amiran Vepkhvadze does everything himself from harvesting the pergola trained vines to bottling. These Qvevri wines are incredibly dense, layered and textured without being overbearing. Once you see the color of the Otskhanuri Sapere or the Krakhuna, it’s obvious that you’re in for a bit of a ride. Amazingly, they are both under 12% but they will stain your glass. Bottled unfiltered without added SO2, it’s more like you’re eating the wines rather than drinking them.
DOQI. This is a Blue Danube private label project with winemaker Georgi Dakishvili of Vinoterra and Schuchmann wineries. Working with exclusively Georgian varieties both in the European and traditional Qvevri methods, they are benchmark varietal expressions. For those who may think Georgian Qvevri wines are over oxidized, too tannic and lacking brightness, here is your foil. Rooted in tradition with a modern attention to coaxing out deliciously clean foreign flavors.
SHUMI. The Griffen, or “Phaskunji” on Shumi’s label is the bringer of the vine in Georgian mythology. These are made in the “European” method, meaning native Georgian grapes fermented and aged in stainless steel and oak barrel. These kinds of wines are the gateway drugs before main-lining the Qvevri wines. They also have a beautiful vine museum of 294 unique and 93 foreign varieties aimed at preserving Georgia’s rich genetic pool. Shumi then co-ferments everything from this vineyard, fortifies it with Chacha (grappa), and then adds some mountain herbs. It’s called ‘Zigu,’ a kind of Georgian herbal semi sweet port. There is possibly no wine on Earth with more varieties in it!
KINDZMARAULI. Our current offering is all “European” method wines, but they offer a different look at Georgian flavors and textures than Shumi. For instance, they make an excellent skin macerated white called Kakhetian Royal (Mtsvane, Rkatsiteli, Khikhvi) and a semi-sweet Saperavi “Kindzmarauli” which is the specialty of the estate. Similar to Shumi, they also have 423 unique varieties planted directly in front of the winery that both protect the genetic pool of Georgian varieties and help identify clonal selections for various microclimates across the country. The price to quality ratio affords a great entry for those being introduced to Georgian wines.