For discoveries in wine, we’ve looked to far-off countries in the New World – South Africa, Chile, New Zealand, etc. We have come to grips with the Old World. We know the soils of St Émilion and have our opinion on the use of barriques in Montalcino.
But in recent years, with import markets changing and new investments, the borders we drew for the Old World have changed. We now have an influx of wine from places we had long overlooked. We’re seeing Balkan wine, from countries like Croatia and Romania, and Eastern European wine, from countries like Georgia. These regions have long and rich histories of winemaking in the Old World but for most people in the UK are brand new. This month at the OWC we are exploring the world of Georgian wine.
It’s now established that Georgia is the world’s oldest wine-producing country. Scientists have found clay winemaking vessels containing grape and grape seed residue that date back 8,000 years. Sitting at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, it’s not surprising that Georgia has a rich history of supplying other countries with wine. In fact, the Western word for wine/vin/vino likely comes from the Georgian word for wine: ghvino or gvino.
Over these 8000 years, Georgian winemaking has been relatively uninterrupted. An incredible heritage of winemaking traditions and knowledge has been passed down through the generations. Two of the most notable Georgian traditions are the use of clay amphoras called Qvevri in the winemaking process and amber-style wines.
The use of Qvevri is a significant stylistic difference from the use of oak or steel in winemaking. For white, amber and red wines the whole winemaking process can take place inside the Qvevri from fermentation through maturation. In 2013, the United Nations added Qvevri winemaking to the UNESCO list as “Humanity’s Intangible Cultural Heritage”.
As for amber wines, these are made by leaving white grape juice to ferment with the skins and even the stems from the grape. This method is done to add flavour complexity and tannins to white wine. The growing global popularity of amber/orange wines has helped Georgian wine sales.
Previously, the Georgian export market was focused on Russia. But with Russia blocking Georgian exports in 2006, the Georgian wine industry has expanded its export horizon. We have seen a huge uptake in interest in Georgian wine at the OWC in the past few years.
With over 500 indigenous grape varieties, there is so much to discover. If you’re new to Georgian wine, the most notable grapes for white and amber wines are Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane and Kisi and for red wines Saperavi and Aladasturi.
All of these grapes come from the Kakheti region – the centre of winemaking in Georgia. Once you’re ready for a deeper dive, you will find 14 sub-appellations within Kakheti that focus on different styles of wine. Tsinandali is the best-known white wine sub-appellation – wines are blends of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane. For Saperavi, look for regions like Mukuzani for oak-aged versions and Kindzmarauli for a semi-sweet style.
Swing by any of our OWC shops if you want to have a chat about Georgian wine!