It was a big find in the world of archaeology – proof that Georgian wine was the first; that Georgia is where winemaking has its origins.
Until very recently, those in the know thought the origin of wine hailed from Iran and even China. But science had other ideas and in 2017, a team of archaeologists emerged with evidence of winemaking in Georgia dating back to 6000BC. This was at a time when prehistoric humans were reliant on stone and bone tools. Clearly, they had exceptional taste too.
Based on finds from the 2017 excavation, we know that early Georgians would bury their wine underground – usually throughout the winter, and sometimes for as long as 50 years. Their favourite tipple was aged in qvevri, egg-shaped terracotta vessels, designed in different shapes and sizes with a high level of craftsmanship.
Qvevri were then sealed with molten beeswax and clay and buried – a process that UNESCO has since declared an Intangible Heritage. Today, the Georgians still use them in winemaking, although only less than 5% of the time.
Interestingly, because of their compounds and porous qualities, qvevri actually aid fermentation. This means that Georgian wines do not need any added chemicals, which makes them healthier than many other wines.
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Georgian wine in the 21st century
In the Soviet Union era, while Ukraine was known as the breadbasket of Russia, Georgia was known as its wine cellar. Georgia once exported a staggering 80% of its production to Russia.
At the time, Georgia was home to over 1400 indigenous grape varieties, although the Soviet Union destroyed over three-quarters in an effort to reduce alcohol consumption in the USSR.
With Russia imposing an embargo on Georgian wine, Georgia looked to the west for new markets. In response, local winemakers adapted their production techniques to suit the palates of their new markets. Happily, traditional winemaking techniques endured. Today, wine lovers will delight in the knowledge that there are still many farmers who have stuck to the Georgian wine techniques of old.
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The cradle of winemaking
With over 500 varieties of grapes in Georgia, there’s no shortage of varietals to sample when you visit the cradle of wine. You could literally spend your life drinking Georgian wine without ever trying anything else.
You won’t need to either. Would you believe that Georgia has the world’s largest amount of grapevine per hectare? The Kakheti region produces over 70% of Georgian wine, but no visit would be complete without dipping into everything the country has to offer – Kindzmarauli, Racha, Kartli, Imereti, Samegrelo, Guria, Samtskhe-Javakheti and Adjara.
Before we guide your taste buds, remember the single truth to imbibing in Georgia: Never let anyone drink alone! Georgians love a little libation. So much so, that one of their favourite customs is to ensure that there’s a toastmaster, a Tamada, at every celebration.
These Tamadas are tasked, very importantly, to ensure that a wine glass is never left empty. Tradition also dictates that nobody is allowed to drink between toasts because each glass is meant to be drunk with purpose.
Georgian wine to sample
Your oenophile visit to Georgia would be incomplete without tasting the peculiar local orange wine. Its unusual hue is the result of a process where winemakers retain the skin of the white grape for a while before removing it. Apparently, the longer the skin contact, the darker the wine.
Using the vine’s stems gives the wine a bold and slightly smoky aroma. But Georgian orange wine is also sharp, medium to full-bodied. Wine lovers will delight in its notes of exotic dried fruits, nuts and caramel.
A white wine drinker? Taste a glass or two of Rkatsiteli and Chinuri during your visit. We also recommend Kakhuri-Mtsvivani simply because it’s a qvevri-style wine.
More fond of red? Sample something made with Separavi, a local grape which is dominant in Georgia. Also be sure add Kartli, Usakehlouri and Tavkveri to your to-taste list.
And for those with a bit of a sweet tooth: Khvanchkara, Tvishi, Akhasheni and Usakhelauri varietals are a must. When it comes to sinfully sweet, however, it is the famous Kindzmarauli wine that really takes centre stage.
Take your front-row seat and savour the fruit and berry tones of Kindzmarauli wine paired with a laden platter of fruit and soft cheese. We couldn’t think of a better way to spend a wine-fuelled afternoon, than in the Kindzmarauli wine-growing region of Georgia.
Georgian wine-tasting hotspots
All that’s left now is to drink and be merry the Georgian way at these favourite wine-tasting hotspots, which are guaranteed to deliver good spirits and an astounding array of local variety:
- Chateau Mukhrani is a white castle with beautiful gardens and incredible wine.
- Chateau Mere offers wine tasting tours and has an on-site hotel if you wish to spend a night or three.
- Pheasant’s Tears Winery is home to one of the best natural wines made using the qvevri process.
- Chateau Schuchmann offers five different wine-tasting packages, every single one worth sampling.
- Alexander Chavchavadze Palace offers guests an opportunity to see the palace of one of the most influential figures in Georgian history and drink wine at the same time.
- Telavi Wine Cellar offers insights into the process of winemaking, fermentation and an opportunity to see their barrel ageing rooms.
Whether you dabble or consider yourself a serious wine connoisseur, you’ll want to add Georgia to your list of heavenly wine destinations to visit.
Do you have a favourite Georgian wine you’d like to recommend to your fellow travellers? Ever sampled Kindzmarauli? We’d love to hear about your experience in our comments below…