Last week Emily Silva and I had the absolute pleasure of presenting six fantastic Georgian wines to a venerable group of 35 OWC patrons. In order to demonstrate the incredible diversity of this category we punted for two reds, two ambers, a white and a sparkling. Most of the wines were produced in the winemaking hub of Kakheti, close to Georgia’s eastern border, but we also threw in a lighter style red from the higher altitudes of Imereti.
A Taste of Georgia
Beginning the tasting in style we went straight for this sparkling expression produced from a blend of Chinebuli and Mtsvane. The production here is a real collision of East meets West with the base wines being fermented in Qvevri before a traditional champenoise second fermentation to add sparkle and pizzazz.
Shumi Winery, founded in 2001, takes its name from an old Georgian word which means ‘authentic, undiluted wine’. The griffin on the label represents a Georgian legend in which the griffin brings the very first bunch of grapes to the people, and from these grapes, people started growing vines and making wine. Shumi is passionate about preserving Georgian wine culture, and at their estate they have a vineyard museum of over 400 indigenous Georgian grape varieties.
Bottled Brut Nature without any dosage the wine still manages to achieve body, complexity of flavour and a round mouthfeel which was beautifully freshened up with some seriously zippy acidity.
A classic, European Style* blend of Kisi (40%), Mtsvane (30%) and Khikhvi (30%), this wine, produced by the Jorjadze family, is fermented in stainless steel in order to capture these grapes’ intense aromatics. The Jorjadze’s have been in charge of the Wine Man estate, a majority female lead winery (founder Alexandre now runs the show with daughters Tina and Keti) since 1998.
The family’s history in winemaking stretches back much further than that with an ancestry of Kakhetian Princes, some of which were among the first Georgians to produce wine commercially.
* Georgians tend to describe wines not made in Qvevri as European in style (as opposed to Georgian).
This wine represents a nose dive into classic Georgian qvevri winemaking. Kisi, a grape indigenous to the Kakheti region, almost became extinct at the end of the 20th Century due to the Soviet preference for the, easier to grow in abundance, rkatsiteli variety. A grape that demands attention in the vineyard, Kisi evokes aromatic floral intensity with orchard fruits, citrus and peach tea aromatics. The influence of qvevri and the use of skins adds depth in texture and notes of apricot, mango and walnut.
Dugladze are one of the more large-scale wineries in Georgia with a presence, not only in Kakheti, where this wine is made, but also in Kartli and Imereti. The winery was founded in 1984 when Georgian wine was still shrouded under the Soviet umbrella. Today however Dugladze have embraced the nation’s winemaking tradition and produce quality wines in classically Georgian styles.
Unlike many Amber style wines produced in the country, this has very little to show in terms of tannin and astringency, making it a great wine for anyone looking to ease into the category.
Rkatsiteli is the flagship grape of the Kakheti region and, evidenced by an Andrew Jefford article in the Financial Times, was, at least at one point, the world’s fifth most planted white grape variety. Native to Georgia, Rkatsiteli is also planted in Moldova, Bulgaria and Ukraine. One indicator as to its popularity is Rkatsiteli’s capability to produce a spectrum of wine styles from white to amber and sparkling to sweet. The grape has thick skins and is resistant to all manner of vineyard threats (humidity, mould etc.).
If left unattended it will produce vigorous yields of rather flavourless grapes, perfect for the bland bulk wines coveted during the Soviet era. When attention is paid however Rkatsiteli is capable of producing complex, full-bodied wines of intense tannic structure.
This wine is produced by the Khutsaidze brothers, Vakho and Giorgo who, as members of a young, progressive group of Kakhetian winemakers, focus on traditional Georgian winemaking practice. Fermented with minimal sulfur dioxide and bottled without fining or filtration, this represents a movement towards the, very much on trend, natural wine movement. The difference being that, while in the west, these techniques are seen as breaking with tradition, in Georgia this style is very much seen as best practice.
Baia and Gvantsa Abuladze are sisters who grew up making wine with their parents and grandparents using traditional Imeretian techniques. Baia created her own label, Baia’s Wine, and Gvantsa followed suit. They won a grant from a local agricultural start up foundation and never looked back.
The winery has a focus on sustainability, particularly in the vineyard where the growing follows organic and even some biodynamic principles. Wines produced are lighter to reflect the region’s overriding style. There’s a focus on fruit forward, aromatic styles with delicate structures. This wine incorporates just 30% of skin maceration for a period of three months.
Aladasturi is a legendary grape variety, native to Imereti, which often appears in Georgian folklore. It’s light bodied, pale in colour and naturally low in alcohol. Gvantsa’s 2020 vintage sits at just 11.5% abv. It’s incredibly fresh and juicy with bucket-loads of raspberry, red currant, pomegranate and cranberry notes.
Our final wine of the night took us back to Kakheti and the Shumi winery for an expression of Georgia’s most popular black grape variety. The name of this grape, Saperavi, translates as the verb “to dye” or “to colour” and, looking into the glass, you can see exactly why this name was chosen. Indeed Saperavi is a rare example of a teinturier variety of grape where the flesh, as well as the skin, is red tinted allowing for even more colour extraction during fermentation.
Saperavi is once again widely planted as a result of its resistance to various vineyard hazards along with its diversity in terms of the styles of wine it produces. It has the potential to create crunchy, light to medium wine styles, deep, brooding, full-bodied reds and even semi-sweet examples.
The wine we sampled was medium bodied with plenty of red fruit notes on display. Rustic tannins helped to add a bit of intrigue and, as I sipped this wine, I couldn’t help but think about all the food I’d love to pair it with (probably duck, but there’s also a ton of mature cheeses I’d like to stand up next to this wine).
You can’t help but be impressed by the sheer amount of wine styles on offer from Georgia. There seriously is something for everyone, often with a wealth of history and intrigue to go with it. How deep you wish to delve down into the rabbit hole, is up to you.