Qvevri – a Qvery Good Idea.

An important proportion of the most unique Georgian wines, 10-15%, are made in qvevri. The rest are made in a classical European style, using stainless steel, oak and large wooden barrels – things we’re particularly used to in the UK.

Qvevri are part of a winemaking tradition that survived in peoples’ homes during the Soviet era when modern technology and maximum efficiency was favoured. We are now enjoying a renaissance of boutique, quality-driven production, featuring qvevri.

Huge earthenware vessels, they differ from amphorae in scale. They are enormous, and while amphorae are portable, qvevri are not: they are fixed in the ground, often in “marani”.

Now, the reason why we wine geeks love qvevri so much is this: they are incredible examples of ancient engineering that can still produce beautiful wines today. Georgian winemaking dates its history back 8,000 years and qvevri are a testament to the skill of early winemakers. Before electricity and temperature control, qvevri could influence the dynamics of fermentation and determine temperature, speed and level of extraction, depending on their size. Their egg shape promotes good convection currents, seeds collect at the bottom (keeping wine away from bitter seed phenolics), and they promote a culture of ambient yeast, the action of which creates a more complex mouthfeel. Lined with beeswax or similar, qvevri are also a reductive environment, and therefore protect the wine from oxidation which can change colour, flavour and aroma in a negative way.

Fermentation on the skins in qvevri fermentation imparts colour, tannin and flavour to the wine. The added colour and tannin structure is particularly noticeable in white wines, so much so that they become known, instead, as “orange” or “amber” wines. Orange wines, that have been made in qvevri, have intense aromatics and notes of nuts, spice and dried fruit.

Wineries around the world are now experimenting with eggs, amphorae and qvevri, inspired by the characterful reds and whites of Georgia. We all know who to thank for the originals, though…