“Tasting traditionally made wine in Georgia,” he writes, “is like taking a trip back through those eight millennia.” But things have changed significantly since the Soviet era and many traditional winemakers are now bottling and selling their wines in Tbilisi and abroad.
That’s the case of the Shavnabada Monastery just outside Tbilisi where the monks have restored the old wine cellar and are now making and exporting Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane and Saperavi in the traditional qvevri style.
We’re in the cellar at Shavnabada, a Georgian Orthodox monastery originally built in the 12th century and rebuilt in the 17th, shut down again in the Soviet era and reopened after that. Eleven monks live and work here. All around the stone building the boxwoods are in bloom, and the air is filled with their scent. Brother Markus’ cell phone rings—the ringtone is the brrring, brrring of an old-fashioned rotary phone. He glances at it and puts it back in the pocket of his robe. As to why they started making wine again, he says, “Georgia is a country of hospitality. When someone comes to your home, you need to offer them bread and wine.”
A 2004 Mtsvane, a white wine that spent 13 years sealed in qvevri, is the color of burnished wood and tastes of nuts and smoke. A 2007 Saperavi is darkly currant-y, dry, and tart. He comments as I drink it, “We don’t filter our red wine or use any additives—that’s not a respectful thing to do to wine. It’s the blood of Jesus Christ.”
Typically, as a professional, I spit wines that I taste. At the moment that seems wildly inappropriate. Besides, the Saperavi is gorgeous. I drink it. Brother Markus adds, “Our purpose as monks is to make people happy. It’s not to make money. We put our soul and our heart into our wine, and that’s why it’s different. God is always present in this process.”
Not doubt the monks have put their heart and soul into their Saperavi, aged for almost 10 years buried in the cool old cellar. Just take a sip, close your eyes, and you’ll feel transported to another time and place.
Read the whole Food & Wine article here.