Appellations The WineKnitter This Month Vol. 26 No. 05 Wine

Off The Beaten Path

A virtual visit to one of the oldest winemaking countries in the world.

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Georgia is one of the oldest winemaking countries in the world, with archaeological evidence dating back 8000 years, making the tradition of winemaking almost 1,000 years older than previously thought.  According to Wines Of Georgia, “In 2015, in southeast Georgia, archaeologists discovered clay vessels (qvevri) containing the residue of cultivated grape seeds. Using archaeological, archaeobotanical, climatic, and chemical methods, researchers dated these artifacts to 6000 BCE.”

Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Georgia taken in November 2017 shows a 3-inch (8-centimeter) shard of pottery vessels about 8,000 years old, found south of Tbilisi, Georgia.

Fragments of ceramic casks, some decorated with grape motifs, were also found. 

Qvevri 

Wines of Georgia explained what qvevri are. “Qvevri are egg-shaped clay vessels that Georgians have used continuously for 8,000 years. These large tapered vessels, often 1,000 liters or more, are buried underground to keep temperatures constant during fermentation and aging. Using the traditional method, winemakers ferment the juice and skins together. Skin contact turns what would otherwise be white wines into amber wines with tannins. Winemakers use qvevri to ferment red grapes as well as white. Qvevri are still made by hand by Georgia’s master qvevri-making families. With the rising popularity of amber and natural wines, the demand for qvevri is on the rise in Georgia and internationally. In 2013, the United Nations added qvevri winemaking to the UNESCO list documenting humanity’s intangible cultural heritage.”

Below are photos of qvevri stored outside and inside the winery.

Outdoor cellar Photo courtesy of Sun Wine
Traditional indoor cellar

Once part of the Soviet republic, Georgia is located in the Caucasus region of Eurasia that intersects Europe and Asia.  It borders the Great Caucasus Mountains to the north, the Black Sea to the west, and the lesser Caucasus to the south.   It is 27,000 square miles, slightly less than the state of Maine!

There are nine wine regions throughout Georgia with 55,000 hectares of vines and 24 Protected Designations of Origin (PDO).   Kakheti wine region, located in the easternmost part of the country, is the primary winemaking area where approximately three-quarters of Georgia’s vineyards are planted. Climate is diverse throughout the wine regions and can range from subtropical to continental to alpine to near desert-like.  Mineral-rich soil and deposits can be found in all regions, which contribute to the characteristic flavors of the wines.

Georgia has 525 indigenous grape varieties, with approximately 38 varieties used for commercial production; 55% are planted to white and 45% to red.  The two most prominent grape varieties are Rkatsiteli (white) and Saperavi (red). Although most wine shipped to the United States is dry, about 70% of Georgia’s wine production is semi-sweet and sweet.

After Georgia’s five-day war with Russia in 2008, it lost over 90% of its export market.  However, when Russia’s ban on Georgian wine was lifted in 2013, 57% of Georgian wine went to Russia. As of 2019, Georgia exports wine to 53 countries, and the number of bottles shipped is climbing steadily.  Within the ex-Soviet states, Georgia is second after Moldova in the amount of grape production. And it is safe to say that Georgian wine is now on everyone’s radar.

Georgia has over 100,000 family wineries with deep winemaking roots in every family. So there is much to explore and taste. 

Sun Wine is a family winery located in Kvareli in the Kakheti region. The Mzekalashvili family has approximately 90 hectares of vineyards, focusing on combining modern and old means of winemaking passed down from their grandfather, Zurab Mzekalashvili. over 50 years ago.  Today, his grandson, Zurab Mzekalashvili, inspired by his grandfather’s traditions, created Sun Wine in 1978.  He produces wine based on the specific technology developed by the Mzekalashvili family and frequently adds new techniques and designs.

Sun Wine Vineyards

Both of the Sun Wines I tasted were made with indigenous grapes.

Photo credit: Penny Weiss

Sun Wine Tsinandali 2018 Estate Bottled

This white wine is a blend of 80% Rkatsiteli and 20% Mtsvane.  The grapes are sourced from vineyards in the Telavi and Kvareli areas of Kakheti.  

Nose:  Inviting aromas of floral, melon, anise, and white stone fruit. 
Palate:  Green apple, white flowers, apricot, and crisp acidity with a hint of nuttiness lingering on the finish. It is dry and refreshing.  
Alcohol:  12.5%
SRP:  $18
Pairings: Serve with seafood, salads, and cheese. 

Sun Wine Saperavi 2018 Estate Bottled

Grapes are sourced from the Kindzmarauli area of Kakheti for this 100% Saperavi.  Saperavi means “the place of color” and is one of the few red grape varieties in the world with red flesh and red skin.

Nose: This dark purple wine has enticing aromas of dark cherry, floral
and spice.
Palate:  Aromas segue onto the palate with dark berries, pomegranate, dark cocoa, and licorice.  It all blends beautifully with added lively acidity.   
Alcohol:  12%
SRP:  $19
Pairings: Pair with grilled meat, seared tuna, and hearty stews.

These are delightful wines that one can enjoy as an aperitif in addition to food. So, take your palate on an exploration of Georgian wines, and let me know what you think!

Until next time…

Cheers!
Penny

http://www.sada-wine.com

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Penny is a wine, spirits, food, and travel writer. Her sensory examination and evaluation of wine and food are noteworthy. Penny has a popular website called The WineKnitter that takes you with her to discover wine/spirits, travel, food, and culture worldwide. She began her serious foray into the world of wine in the early 1980s, where she was part of three very successful family-owned restaurants in NYC and "cut her teeth,” so to speak, with wines such as Petrus, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut Brion, Cristal, etc. Penny has an extensive presence on many social media sites, and her education is ongoing with wine seminars, wine tastings, and culinary delights from around the world. She studied at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, completed WSET Level 2 Certification with Distinction, and is continuing with Level 3, advanced certification in wine. Penny is a member of The Wine Media Guild.

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