The Growing Importance of Eastern and Central European Wine Regions

Somlo Hungary
Somló, Hungary. Photo: Jason Lowe, Saveur Magazine

When each month feels like uncharted and often terrifying water selling wines from the Balkans, Central Europe, and now as far as the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains, it’s refreshing to look back at the progress made. Having just done so, it turns out things suddenly looks slightly less terrifying. We’ve continued to grow as a company, as a portfolio, and continued our proud tradition of steep learning curves. Perhaps most importantly, we’ve seen the market for these wines grow. We owe this growth to your support. As one form of proof, our slice of the wine world has garnered some promising press we’d like to share. All of that hand selling hasn’t gone to waste…

The New York Times (Tokaji Aszu Wines Are a Taste of Hungarian Sweetness) and PUNCH (An Uncertain Future for the World’s Most Iconic Sweet Wines) recently covered Tokaj and Samuel Tinon in particular. Imbibe Magazine (East Goes West: Wines from Central and Eastern Europe are turning American heads) (PDF) did a wonderful focus on Central Eastern European wine featuring Fekete Béla, Kabaj, Vylyan, Piquentum, Štoka and Orgo. Vogue even singled out both Štoka (Champagne’s Cooler Cousin: 5 Pét-Nat Sparkling Wines to Try Now) and Kabaj (Forget Red, White, and Rosé—Orange Wine Is What You Should Be Sipping This Fall) for their sparkling and skin contact wines as well. Kabaj, for the second time, was also one of Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries for 2015.

8 Wines to Try
From Imbibe Magazine: 8 Wines to Try with 20th Century Cafe owner Michelle Polzine

What’s increasingly reassuring about these kinds of accolades and the visibility you afford us, is that many of our regions are now being recognized not as fringe, esoteric or nerdy, but simply as established and historically relevant. We also see that Jancis Robinson’s newly updated The Oxford Companion to Wine and Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible both have major updates and completely new entries for our regions. Although specific producers, grapes and benchmark terroirs are still unknown to most, the stories about these people and places are universally engaging. As such, we are happy to report that year after the year, the farming is getting better, the winemaking is getting better, and we see and feel this drive and momentum each time we visit. It’s truly exciting to see quality improving in lock step with increased consumer and professional awareness.

Case in point is the current issue of Saveur Magazine (Jan/Feb 2016) focusing on the volcanic Hungarian appellations of Somló and Tokaj (Hungary’s Forgotten Wine Region is Finally Getting the Respect it Deserves). Samuel Tinon, Fekete Béla, Bott, and Spiegelberg were all focal points. This is exactly the kind of coverage that inspires, reaffirms, and has a real nowness to it. Refreshingly, it’s also not just a recap of a glorious past, but a rallying cry for the future.

Saveur Magazine Hungary
From Saveur Magazine: Exploring the Misty Foothills of Hungary’s Next Great Wine Region

It’s on this note that I’d like to thank you for being part of the critical mass that is making this all happen. There’s also that rallying cry I’d like to reiterate… We’ve got a slew of brand new producers from Hungary (Eger, Somló, Tokaj, Sopron, Balaton), and new wines from Croatia, Slovenia, Herzegovina, Austria, and even something from Serbia coming soon. Our first all Georgian container also just arrived a few weeks ago with five new producers that I’ve barely taken out yet. See you in January.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #7: Coronica Gran Teran 2011

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A review of Coronica’s Gran Teran 2011 by Croatian wine writer, Nenad Trifunović:

Finally a brilliant teran! This vintage exhibits even greater aging potential than the glorified 2000 harvest. The flavors are of reminiscent of the terra rossa soils the grapes grow in and of iron enriched, wild forest fruit. With a hint of tobacco, a touch of vanilla, and a whisper of a caramel, you know there is some oak influence.

Moreno Coronica tending his vines.
Moreno Coronica tending his vines. Check out that terra rossa soil!

Gran Teran is an example of carefully restrained teran with preserved personality. There is a stony, iron minerality which can remind you of the taste of blood.

For sure, the wine is yet too young. Nevertheless, its balance evokes marvel. Serious elevage in a great artisan’s cellar has prepared it for decades to come. Coronica demonstrates what teran is capable of with such a perfectly tailored wine that also respects the variety and terroir.

Teran has an intense and concentrated color and flavor
Teran has an intense and concentrated color and flavor

Although this vintage resulted in very hign alcohols (14,5%) for teran, the wine is balanced by characteristic high acids and tannins, firm body, smoothness, softness, and richness without being flabby. The weight is pleasant and supports the bright acid backbone, with earthy tannin and a fruity spiciness.

See the original post here.

Also try the 2009 vintage.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #6: Miloš Plavac Mali

Frano Miloš in the vineyard near Croatia's Pelješac Peninsula
Frano Miloš in the vineyard near Croatia’s Pelješac Peninsula

Now that the holiday season is drawing to a close, we can take a moment to pause and catch our breaths. Our wallets are a little slimmer, and our waistlines a little larger after all the delicious holiday cooking and lack of exercise to which we’ve treated ourselves. Of course, as we assess our goals for 2016, we will try and reassign those adjectives, move those pounds from our paunch, convert them to dollars, and load up our bank accounts. Each year, I like to look back and see just how much I’ve accomplished, instead of constantly focusing on how far I still have to go. One major highlight of 2015 was a rather spontaneous “Cannonball Run” road trip through the Balkans over Easter, beginning in Austria and running the circuit down to Thessaloniki in Greece. This afforded me an opportunity to view a region of the world that is remarkably under appreciated. Each Slavic country boasts beautiful and picturesque landscapes, as well as a fierce sense of personal identity and pride to distinguish a uniqueness in each place. During the trip (and thanks to the linguistic acumen of my friend Danny and his fluent Serbian), we interacted with locals on a deeper level, got to hear their thoughts and opinions on a wide range of topics from politics and religion to the best places to get Burek (a delicious slice of flaky filled heaven) and drinking rakia (a high-proof moonshine-esque spirit) at 9:30 in the morning.

Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik, Croatia

One of the most beautiful spots we visited was the Dalmatian coast, culminating with a stop in Dubrovnik, deep in the south on a sliver of a peninsula bordering Bosnia and Montenegro. Directly across from the tiniest piece of Bosnian coastline lies the Pelješac Peninsula, home to winemaker Frano Miloš. Frano Miloš is a no-nonsense eccentric character (the best kind of personality!), unwaveringly passionate about producing high-quality wine, and he voices his opinion in a direct way. And rightly so; he and his wines refuse to compromise.

Plavac Mali is the cornerstone of Dalmatian wine production. Much in the way Cabernet Sauvignon is a hybrid of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, Plavac Mali (meaning “little blue” in Croatian) is a cross between Crljenak Kaštelanski (the grandfather of Zinfandel) and Dobričić, and is the key varietal in other wines from this region, including Postup and Dingač.

Plavac mali pairs with many foods, even fish
Plavac mali pairs with many foods, even fish

The view from this vineyard is idyllic – right up against the Adriatic coast with crystal clear blue waters and warm sea air breezing in from the coast. Our very own Eric Danch refers to this grape as “Nebbiolo by the sea” in terms of acid, grip, and aging. The wine is rich and flavorful, with hints of that salty air and a minerality that is unbelievably crisp. The grippy tannins are perfectly balanced to drink on its own, but enjoy pairing up with traditional pasta and meat dishes from Dalmatia. Other flavors are dark berries, blackberries, licorice, and hints of vanilla and mocha from the aging in Slavonian (northern Croatia) oak barrels. One of my favorite experiences was sitting by the water on a beautiful 75º day in Dubrovnik’s old city, sipping on Plavac and enjoying a meal consisting of both meat and seafood heavy dishes, and each sip takes me back to that warm sunshine and historic cobblestone streets. As you ring in 2016, grab yourself a bottle of Miloš Plavac Mali and add it to your New Year’s Resolution to explore the beautiful Croatian coast.

Idyllic seaside views
Idyllic seaside views

#WineWednesday Spotlight #5: Merry Christmas with the Geyerhof Grüner Veltliner Rosensteig

choucroute with Geyerhof Gruner Veltliner Rosensteig

Sometimes it is tricky to have all your kids at home at the same time. As your kids get older, there’s something you understand very quickly: you need to be flexible with your schedule and that’s why we celebrated Christmas on Saturday December 19th.

On the menu, we had a choucroute garnie, one of my daughter’s favorite dishes and a recipe that comes from my mom’s old pressure cooker cookbook. We’re also lucky to have a fantastic German butcher in the neighborhood where we can buy his own fermented sauerkraut, smoked meat and sausages.

The recipe is really easy. Layer up the sauerkraut with bacon, smoked pork chops, sausages, onions, and carrots. Don’t forget the secret ingredient: a tart apple. Spice it with black peppercorns, cloves, and juniper berries, pour a bottle of Riesling, close the cooker lid, and cook for an hour. Serve with steamed potatoes and frankfurters.

Although the dish calls for Alsatian Riesling, I really like it with the Austrian Geyerhof Grüner Veltliner Rosensteig.

Rosensteig Vineyard
View of the Rosensteig Vineyard

Organically farmed by the Maier family, the Rosensteig vineyard (“rose path” in German) is a terraced slope above the Danube characterized by deep loess soils. For me, the Grüner Veltliner that is produced there seems like a perfect reflection of this terroir.

Ilse and Josef Maier
Ilse Maier and her son Josef

Dry, mineral-rich, with mouth-filling stone fruit aromas, it has the right amount of acidity to balance the sourness of the cabbage and the fat and smokiness of the meats. It is even relatively low in alcohol which was good because after the choucroute, we really needed to save room for the cheese, the salad, the bûche de Noël, and of course the Champagne. Merry Christmas!

buche de Noel
My daughter’s Bûche de Noël

E-Gift Cards Make Gifting Wine Fast and Easy

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We are very excited to announce that we are now selling E-Gift Cards in the webshop! These make the perfect last minute Holiday gifts if you already missed shipping cutoffs. They also eliminate the need to guess which wines your friend or family member will enjoy best, since they will be able to browse our complete online inventory.

How it works:

Indicate an amount of your choosing to put on the card, provide the recipient’s name and email address, then instantly your gift will arrive via email. Or you can elect to postpone delivery to a future date of your choice.

Our E-Gift cards are available in four different celebratory styles, making them suite any occasion!

E-Gift cards can be purchased here.

The Youthful Evolution of Dalmatia

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It was back in 2007 that I set about to write the first edition of my Dalmatian wine guide. Since then, I’ve fully updated it four times to arrive at the current edition. I realize of course that even the most recent edition will need updating again as these wines are constantly in s state of flux, especially when taken in the context of watching this evolution for the last decade.

I was in Dalmatia for the Dalmacija Wine Expo this year. While it was my first time, the event has been going on for the last six years or so, first further south in Makarska and then for the last two years with a couple of additional days spent in Dalmatia’s much easier to reach capital, Split. People naturally told me that the event in Makarska sees more winemakers and is much more of a party. Maybe at some point I’ll find the time to make it there but what I saw and tasted in Split was plenty to re-acquaint myself with wineries I’ve gotten to know well over the years.

The biggest thing to note in Dalmatia wine has been the evolution of most winemakers’ portfolios. For me, the sign of a mature winemaking region is if you can find a line of affordable everyday wines, a more mature aged line, and then a line of top-end singularities. Overall, Dalmatia is closing in on this moment of maturity. At the moment, the catch is that you rarely find all three of these levels in the same cellar.

Young wine or svježe vino (literally “fresh wine”) as the Croats like to call them are much easier to find these days. This is one of the rather positive outcomes of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008/09 in that wine regions all over the world needed to start producing more of these affordable wines. In this moment I saw a sudden burst of good quality wines, usually only aged in stainless steel or a dash of barrel for less than 10€ in-country. This was unheard of in Dalmatia just a few years back.

Whether it was due to wineries feeling that there was no need to make anything but a 35€ wine or that the young wines weren’t bottled and only sold as bulk, I don’t know. I’ve never gotten a particular good answer to this question and other regions of Croatia like Istria who see the sense in it, have always had this level of wine in their portfolio. These are not the glamorous, “money shot” wines but they keep the lights on and work to introduce people to the world of Croatian wines and more importantly, the grapes.

Vuina winery is a touch west of Split in Kaštel Štafilić. This region is better known in recent years for being where they found those few old vines of original Zinfandel, which at the time were called, Crljenak Kaštelanski. I’ve tasted their wines on several occasions in recent years and have found their young offer to be quite solid. While the Crljenak Rosé, Babica, and Plavac are all accessible, at times I do find them a touch rustic. The Pošip 2013 however is a different story and offers up a profile of what I consider to be perfect Pošip with lemon peel and orange pith alongside limestone minerality and medium acidity that lingers wonderfully in the finish.

Prović was a new name to me and as they’re making wines in the Neretva Delta that was also something new. This plain a bit to the north of Dubrovnik was once a hotbed of malaria and foulness that was drained and then turned in to excellent agricultural land. The catch was that it wasn’t really grape-growing land given the highly fertile nature of what was once a river floodplain. As an ironic aside, Mike Grgich of Napa Valley fame is actually from this region originally but makes his wines a stone’s throw away on the Pelješac Peninsula.

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So it’s only natural that Prović would plant not the native varietals that are accustomed to the hard, limestone “soil” of Dalmatia but French varieties that thrive in terrains such as these. While they may produce more wines, what was on offer was their Chardonnay and Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Of the two, the Chardonnay 2013 I found to be the most mature in terms of style. Fully integrated aromatically, it carried excellent acidity and while most definitely no Chablis in terms of profile it didn’t suffer the overblown, hot climate aspects found in California Chardonnay in years past.

A new project that I happened upon was called Marslais. I know very little about them other than they started about five years ago. Unfortunately, as is often the case with Croatian winemakers, their digital presence is non-existent. Despite this, the Plavac Mali 2012 they make from grapes in Pelješac is easily one the of the best price/quality ratio wines to be found in the region today at something like 6.50€. With stony minerality and rose petal aromatics, it offered up a Plavac that was light in body and fresh in finish that was an excellent take on a grape that can get quite weighty if made in more traditional manners, although it still held a very respectable 14.4% alcohol.

Then of course we come to the wines of Bibich. I always find myself coming back to these wines as Alen Bibić is such a welcoming host and has probably done more than any other winemaker in Dalmatia to reach out to the international market. This year, along with 75% of the Taste of Croatia crew, I finally made a visit to his winery after the fair, although that’s an article in and of itself.

BIBICh Vinoteka

Alen now has a dizzying line of 20-odd wines. Given that, he has a little of something for everyone including his sparkling, Bibich Brut. But in terms of young wines, Alen has never been lacking and indeed he was one of the first Dalmatian winemakers to see the point of giving those who don’t know your winery, region, or even your native grapes, a wallet-friendly point of discovery.

The Debit and Riserva R6 have always been solid wines. The 2014 of the Debit is a fine wine to drink as a starter with steely notes and limestone minerality along with this saline tang and brisk acidity although it has a shorter finish than in years past. The Riserva R6 2013 was, as in pretty much every year I’ve tasted it, a solid wine. This is a wonderfully expressive wine with a little bit of stoniness to it, red fruits, wild herbs, and a full, structured body that doesn’t go over the top. A blend of only local grapes, Plavina, Lasina, and Babić, Alen has and continues to show what potential there is in Dalmatia and he does so at a very attractive price.

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Thankfully, we’re at a point where I can say that this is but a sample of many more young wines that one can find in Dalmatia these days. The region at large still has more work cut out for it but there is no longer the desperate need to modernize or catch up like there was in the mid-1990s. Now it’s a matter of refining what they have and building further upon their ancient wine tradition in the context of our modern times.

Miquel Hudin is a wine journalist and Certified Sommelier based in Priorat, Spain. He founded the Vinologue series of wine & travel guides and blogs regularly at Wine on VI.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #4: Shumi Zigu

The experimental vineyard at Shumi is home to about 280 Georgian indigenous grape varieties, and 90 foreign ones
The experimental vineyard at Shumi is home to about 280 Georgian indigenous grape varieties, and 90 foreign ones

Shumi Zigu​ – A Georgian “Port” wine made from more than 300 native grape varieties​

The Shumi Winery sits in the appellation of Tsinandali within Georgia’s largest wine region, Kakheti. The specialty of the appellation is a dry white wine of the same name. We visited Shumi on our first trip to Georgia and were immediately impressed. ​They are a mid-size operation and everyone from CEO and wine maker to the marketing and bottling teams is extremely down to earth​, ​friendly​, and competent.​

Beautiful lunch setting at Shumi
Stunning lunch setting at Shumi

Shumi greeted us with a special tasting of ​​wines and one of the most delicious meals during the trip. We sat in a beautiful garden setting enjoying kebabs grilled over grapevines, the freshest salads you can imagine, exquisite traditional vegetable stews, and heavenly bread, straight from the oven. Of course we were enjoying our tasting of the Shumi wines as well. Then a small bottle was brought out and we were simply told that it was a special wine the winery was trying out. What it turned out to be was “Zigu”, a ​field-blend of grapes picked from the winery’s experimental vineyard. This vineyard contains around 300 grape varieties, mostly Georgian in origin. The grapes are co-harvested and co-fermented, before aging in oak. “Chacha”, ​the Georgian word for grappa, a neutral spirit made from grape must, is added to fortify the wine just before fermentation is complete, providing a slight sweetness. It is dark red in color with aromas of almonds, wild berries, and caramel. Think Georgian-style Port.

Kebabs being grilled over grapevines

​​Zigu is very versatile and you can really be creative in how you use it. During ​our visit we were accompanied by two food and wine professionals, Henry and Josh, from ​renowned restaurant Gjelina in Venice Beach, CA. Both exclaimed that Zigu would be perfect for cocktails after their first sip. They then proceeded to craft one on the spot, using herbs and other ingredients from our lunch. I suggest you try it on it’s own and also mixed into a cocktail to really appreciate the versatility of this one of a kind wine! For instance, Zigu is a great substitute for sweet vermouth in a Manhattan. Its relatively high alcohol (19%) and some residual sugar provide the added benefit of keeping it fresh after opening for an extended period of time. Just stick in the refrigerator and it will last at least one to two weeks.

#WineWednesday Spotlight #3: 2011 Fekete Béla Olaszrizling

Bori and Bela Fekete
Bori and Béla Fekete

I don’t pride myself on wine parlor tricks like blind tasting, but I’d bet my first or second born on picking out a glass of just about anything from Hungary’s Somló appellation. There is such a visceral reaction to the salt, botrytis and weight in these wines. My olfactory memory is rarely this loud and clear. This is particularly the case with the 2011 Fekete Béla Olaszrizling.

It’s also strange that this grape is perhaps one of the most widely planted in Central Europe. In Croatia it’s called Graševina, Welchsriesling in Austria, Riesling Italico in Italy, and Laški Rizling in Slovenia. Why so unique in Somló? Maybe it’s because in 1752, local laws stated that if you were found adding water to wine, expect 25 lashings as the minimum punishment. If you were found to be labeling wine as Somló but using other fruit sources, you would be banned from making wine permanently and might even have your property confiscated. Perhaps this historical legacy, or that Hungarian Kings bought vineyards here, or that insurgent Hungarian troops fighting against the Habsburgs would solute the vineyards as they marched past, but what is certain is the unique community of growers here.

Olaszrizling from barrel
Olaszrizling from barrel

Perhaps one of the best known growers is Béla Fekete. Affectionately known as “Béla Bácsi,” or Uncle Béla, he and his wife Bori are living testaments to the longevity and vitality of this place and its wines. 90 years old with countless vintages squeezed from the same 4 hectares, drinking his wines are a toast to a life of purpose, dedication and making something delicious.

Egészségedre (Egg-e-sheg-e-dre) – To your health!

#WineWednesday Spotlight #2: Samuel Tinon Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos

Samuel Tinon with his wines. Photo: Matt Stinton
Samuel Tinon with his wines. Photo: Matt Stinton

Our featured wine this week just appeared in an article written by acclaimed New York Times wine writer, Eric Asimov. Samuel Tinon produces his wine in Hungary’s oldest and most celebrated wine region: Tokaj. The word “Aszú” refers to the dried hand picked botrytis infected grapes. Puttonyos (literally baskets) refers to the ratio of Aszú berries to base wine. For a 5 Puttonyos, the residual sugar must have a minimum of 120 g/l. These Aszú berries are then mashed into a super sweet thick black paste and macerated in a finished dry wine for a month. Finally the wine spends two long years fermenting in barrel, constantly in contact with oxygen. This balance between building good oxidation into the wine brings out an incredible aromatic profile.

Here is what Eric Asimov had to say about the 2005 Tinon Aszú 5 Puttonyos:

While similar, a 2005 5 puttonyos aszú from Samuel Tinon is also entirely different, as if the botrytis had taken the wine in unexpected directions that year. The peach and apple flavors beckon, as does the great acidity and balance, but the flavors seem wrapped in hazelnut and caramel, beautifully fresh and complex.

Botrytis cinerea mold, the famous noble rot, amplifies sweet flavors in complex and unexpected frequencies. Photo: The New York Times
“Botrytis cinerea mold, the famous noble rot, amplifies sweet flavors in complex and unexpected frequencies.” Photo: The New York Times

Read the entire article from the New York Times, “Tokaji Azsu Wines Are a Taste of Hungarian Sweetness” to learn more about the history of this style of wine and how to enjoy them.

These aszu wines are perhaps my favorite sweet wines, astoundingly fragrant and honeyed, yet fresh, balanced and refreshing. Their complexities unfold in gorgeous waves that echo in the mouth. In every way, they signify the sweetness of life and inspire the joy of the holidays.

Introduction to Georgia: Discussing Producers and Grape Varieties

Lado Uzunashvili and Zura Akhalmosulishvili, winemaking partners at Kindzmarauli Marani
Lado Uzunashvili and Zura Akhalmosulishvili, winemaking partners at Kindzmarauli Marani

Part two of our interview with Stetson focusing on introducing our new Georgian producers and some of the indigenous varietals to become familiar with. Read part one of our interview here.

Let’s talk about the producers. How would you introduce them?

S: I’ll start with Kindzmarauli Marani and Shumi who share a similar story. Both are larger, modern wineries, producing “European-style” wines. This means that instead of qvevri they use stainless steel and/or oak barrels. They are located on either side of the Alazani River, in Kakheti — Georgia’s largest wine region — within two major appellations. Kindzmarauli Marani is on the left bank in the Kindzmarauli appellation, known for semi-sweet reds. Shumi is on the right bank within Tsinandali, an important white wine appellation. Even though both are considered large wineries, there is so much care that goes into the wines. Instead of purchasing fruit, both source from their own estates. Both are also dedicated to Georgia’s viticultural future. You can find experimental vineyards at both estates with hundreds of varietals, both indigenous and international. The goal is to see which grapes are most successful in their conditions. It’s encouraging to see this interest in supporting Georgia’s rich viticultural heritage from large and small producers alike.

Shumi's Wine and Vine museum. The vineyard here contains 294 indigenous Georgian varietals and 92 international ones.
Shumi’s Wine and Vine museum. The vineyard here contains 294 indigenous Georgian varietals and 92 international ones.

The rest of the producers employ more traditional methods, using qvevri for fermentation and aging. If you want a window into the past, drink the wines from Shavnabada Monastery. This Orthodox monastery is located on the outskirts of Tbilisi, where classical wines are made under the strict supervision of the Monks. These Monks have been instrumental in making high quality qvevri wines for many centuries. The monastery is so far off the beaten path that we would not have known about it had it not been for Jean-Michel Morel of Kabaj in Slovenia. He apprenticed at this winery and was the one that introduced us to the wines. Drinking these wines is an almost spiritual or sacred experience.

Wine cellar, or marani, at Shavnabada Monastery
Wine cellar, or marani, at Shavnabada Monastery

Next is Amiran, who makes one wine, Otskhanuri Sapere, in Imereti, Western Georgia. Amiran’s vineyard is the largest contiguous plot of Otskhanuri Sapere anywhere in the world. The vines were in his family for a long time and the fruit was previously sold to other wineries. Formerly a lawyer, Amiran had no plans to become a winemaker. Over the years, as the prices other wineries would pay for the grapes steadily decreased, Amiran decided to make his own wine. Essentially he is a hobbyist with good taste who has quickly learned to produce exceptional wines. This is a testament to the fruit that he grows and that it is the right grape for the place. Naturally, Amiran does everything himself, from pruning to bottling, to make this one singular wine.

Amiran in the vineyard
Amiran in the vineyard

Then there is Beka Gotsadze of Gotsa Winery. While everything is based on traditional methods i.e the use of qvevri, Beka is not afraid to break convention for the sake of quality. The winery is in the hills of the Asureti Valley, in the appellation of Kartli, in Eastern Georgia. Beka chose this location for its cool climate; he is a bit obsessed with maintaining a cool temperature! He is a former architect which is something you can pick up on by observing his many designs and innovations in the winery. From drilling holes in the bottom of the qvevri to allow gravity flow to wrapping the qvevri with silicon tubing for temperature control, Beka is not afraid to try new things in the quest to best express each variety.

Beka and Stetson in Tbilisi

What about the grape varieties? What sort of characteristics should we expect?

S: All of the wines are produced from indigenous, Georgian varieties, which tend to display more savory and herbaceous aromas and flavors. Georgia’s incredible diversity of varieties suggest that it is one of, if not the first place, that wild grape vines were first domesticated.

Otskhanuri Sapere for instance is one of the most distinct wines you will ever encounter. The example from Amiran is black, viscous, powerful, and brimming with character. I like to tell the story of when I saw Amiran open the qvevri and dip the wine thief in to retrieve a sample. When I peered into the qvevri, I saw this shiny black cap resembling onyx. When he dipped the thief in, it disappear, as if going into a void. This wine will change your perspective and have you saying, “Maybe I haven’t had red wine until now.”

Amiran retrieving a taste of his wine
Amiran retrieving a taste of his almost black wine

Chinuri is a local white variety from Kartli, which is why we have one from Gotsa. The variety is prone to quick oxidation so it needs to be handled carefully. When it is, you experience a range of spicy, tea-like flavors.

Saperavi is the red variety to know. It is the most widely grown grape in Georgia and can range from sweet to dry. It’s textured, dense, complex, velvety, chewy, and rich without being alcoholic. Its typical profile is an intense berry flavor accompanied by a strong woodsy/cedar note.

There is still a lot of work to be done to understand the full potential of Rkatsiteli, Georgia’s most-planted white grape. It does have some familiar flavors of apple/pear but the character really varies depending on winemaking. Mtsvane is a bit more structured, robust, and rich without being heavy. There is a certain “green” edge to the grape which sets it apart. Kisi is the most juicy, aromatic, and pleasant of the white varieties.