The country of Georgia, in the Caucasus Mountains, is today in the spotlight of the world’s wine lovers. They’re attracted to the country’s ancient history of winemaking, to its myriad grape varieties and to the new generation of wines that are being produced from them. Georgian wines are successfully being exported internationally and the beautiful country has become a popular destination for wine tourism.
A key part of Georgia’s wine history is the Qvevri, a large terracotta winemaking vessel that has been used in the Caucasus Mountains for more than 8,000 years. Qvevri are handmade by master craftsmen and are buried after firing. During the harvest the Qvevri is filled with grapes that ferment naturally, producing a unique style of wine.
The Qvevri is so distinctive that in 2013, it was awarded the status of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, sending a message to the world that wine is an integral part of ancient Georgian culture. Recent archaeological digs have uncovered evidence of Qvevri winemaking from at least 8,000 years ago. As winemaking originated in this area, so did the grape. Georgia boasts over 525 varieties of native grape varieties, about 70 of which are now currently being vinified. Among the most popular are whites Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane and Tsolikouri and reds Saperavi, Ojaleshi and Otskhanuri Sapere.
While a small number of family producers still hand-make wine in the traditional way, larger wine estates are incorporating new technologies to produce higher volumes of wines for export. International grapes are being successfully blended with native varieties to create exciting new tastes, just as temperature-controlled steel tanks and oak barrels have joined more traditional cellar tools.
In Georgia, wine is never seen as a stand-alone but is part of a feasting culture that includes delicious food, polyphonic music and dancing. Georgian hospitality is legendary. The country’s varied landscapes of sun-baked valleys, Black Sea coasts and breathtaking highlands offer the perfect settings in which to enjoy its distinctive wines.
Seven wines from seven top producers
Founded by the Chkhaidze brothers in 1998, Askaneli has 422ha of vineyards, with winemaking facilities in Kakheti and Tbilisi. Askaneli produces still and sparkling wines. askaneli.ge
Askaneli, Muza (Qvevri) 2019
Golden in colour, this is a blend of four indigenous Georgian white grapes. A perfumed nose of quince, banana skin and preserved yellow fruit; fermented on the skin, aged in Qvevri then oak barrels, it has a refreshing palate of yellow fruits, almond and Christmas spices, leaving a touch of wood tannin on the long finish.
Badagoni, under the guidance of Giorgi Salakaia, works with Georgian grape varieties and an Italian winemaker. Badagoni exports internationally and is currently expanding in China. The winery possesses 400ha of vineyards in every micro zone in Kakheti. badagoni.com
Badagoni, Alaverdi Tradition 2015
Made in the historical 11th-century cellar of Alaverdi Monastery, the Saperavi has a perfumed nose of dark roses and smoked prunes plus a hint of game. Ripe and juicy cassis fruits on the palate with inky minerals, spiced by cedar and black pepper. 8-12 months of ageing in French oak gives the wine a ripe, chalky tannin structure. The 14% alcohol is well-elevated by the varietal acidity, followed by a lingering dark prune finish.
Since 1878, Château Mukhrani has been crafting the finest wines of Georgia. In the region of Kartli, they unite history, a contemporary winery and wine tourism. Château Mukhrani pride themselves on 100% of their grapes coming from their vineyards. They cultivate 102ha with Georgian and international grape varieties and practice organic viticulture, producing six to eight tons of grapes per hectare. The highest efforts are put into getting premium-quality grapes through intense vineyard works: soil works, pruning, green operations, manual canopy management, yield control by pruning, and, if necessary, by green harvest. chateaumukhrani.com
Château Mukhrani, Qvevri 2017
A blend of Saperavi and Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine was fermented in Qvevri then aged in old oak barrels for 18 months. Savoury leather over a dark fruit nose of blueberry and prunes, with a hint of smoke. Juicy and elegant, plenty of cassis and brooding plum are backed by ripe but solid tannins, followed by a long finish of cherry liqueur.
CORPORATION GEORGIAN WINE
Corporation Georgian Wine, founded in 1999, is based in Kakheti. Using ancient winemaking traditions and modern technology, it exports internationally under several brand names. CGW.ge
Corporation Georgian Wine, Tsinandali 2014
A blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane, this wine has a savoury, spiced nose of vanilla seeds, preserved peach and pear. Pineapple, mango and cinnamon sweet spices are balanced by a good level of acidity, followed by a moreish, long finish.
Kartveli Wine and Beverage company is based in Martkopi. As well as wine, it produces Jimsher, the first Georgian whisky. facebook.com/LLCKartveli
Qartvalley, Saperavi Qvevri 2015
Deep purple in colour, the 2015 Saperavi has a pure nose of dark cherry, prunes and dried roses. Juicy dark fruits mingle with inky minerals and spicy black pepper, refreshed by a firm line of acidity and herbal spices. Aged in Qvevri, the wine offers a ripe and velvety tannin structure, with cassis and blackcurrant leaves on the finish.
Marniskari, formed in 2011, has roots in the noble Eniseli-Bagrationi family’s holdings in Kakheti where an historic Qvevri cellar can still be visited. marniskari.ge
Marniskari, Chateau Nekresi – Saperavi Sanavardo 2020
A bouquet of smoked plum, blueberry, damson and sweet spices. Concentrated juicy dark fruits and figs are caressed by extremely ripe and soft-textured tannins. The finish is sweet and raisined but doesn’t lack elegance.
Tbilvino was founded in 1962. Since 1999, the company has been led by the Margvelashvili brothers, the corporation now has 355ha of vineyards producing 7.5 million bottles for the Georgian and international markets. tbilvino.ge
Tbilvino, Qvevris Rkatsiteli 2020
91 points, Silver, Decanter
Sourced from the estate’s single-vineyard ‘Shilda’ and made in the traditional Qvevri, the golden-hued Rkatsiteli features a scented nose of osmanthus blossom, buttered yellow apple and a hint of citrus. Opulent yellow fruits and chalky tannin on the palate, seasoned with white pepper and a decent acidity. The finish is long and warming.