Georgian Wine Tasting and Seminar: 2018 NYC

What does the image of Georgia conjure up in the American psyche? Other than peaches… wait, wrong Georgia… Perhaps mountains? I know my students may think of Medea, the strong, stubborn, lovesick princess of Colchis, daughter of the haughty Aeetes. Aeetes did have an eternal set of springs at his palace that poured forth honey, milk and wine… Thus, there is at least that connection (though Georgian wine history goes much further). I, on the other hand, along with everyone who grew up in the Soviet Union always think of…Pushkin (Pushkin is always the answer - no matter the question.) 

“На холмах Грузии лежит ночная мгла, / Шумит Арагва предо мною. / Мне грустно и легко; печаль моя светла; / Печаль моя полна тобою…” (The hills of Georgia, covered by the Night, / The mighty Aragva roaring below / My mind is both gloomy and light / My heartache is full of You…) 

I visited Georgia as a child, and I distinctly remember the impression it made: fresh, bright and vibrant. Yes, perhaps to an outsider, the Soviet period Georgia would not have made that impression, but for an urban child from a dull industrial city, this was a different world. Fresh lamb, fresh water, bright voices, fresh - and full of life - faces! And that water, flowing out of seeming every rock, sweet, mineral-laden and, surely, the cure for every disease. But wine? I was only eight… 

Georgian wine was THE wine of the Soviet world. Sure - there were some imports from Hungary and Bulgaria, and a few weak wines from Moldova, but Georgia made the wine everyone wanted and no celebratory occasion was complete without. When my family immigrated to the United States in the 90’s, Georgian wine was another link to the “old country”, a nostalgic pleasure. But the immigrant community drank (and drinks) wine that reminded them of the Soviet period, often sweet, overripe and medicinal - hardly a wine geek dream. They lacked…everything. But the culture of wine-making was not gone. With the passing of the Soviet period, the fledgling artisanal industry is on the rise in Georgia, a renewal that looks both to the past and toward the future. That is why I was excited to attend today’s tasting - to taste both the past and the future. 


And to learn, because speaking Russian does not make one an immediate expert on all things within the Soviet sphere. And surely - not the ancient tradition of Qvevri. Luckily I was able to get a seat for the seminar on these earthenware vessels and the traditions of Georgian wine-making, lead by Lisa Granik, MW. The complexity and the sheer level of intricacy was shocking. In my naivete, I never imagined how many choices and possibilities these vessels allowed. Starting from the clay itself and the firing method, to the cooling constructs and the soil the vessel is to be buried in. The qvevri themselves require amazing attention - the giant vessels require six days in a kiln, where they must be heated to over 1000°. And then, the process begins: what size does the winemaker choose? what lining (wax on the inside or perhaps a cement outside?) Stems or no stems, or some stems? And after six months - the wines are transferred to another vessel and the maturation process begins. Ms. Granik laid out the advantages and disadvantages of these and gave us a peek at the choices facing the modern winemaker. And then came the wines - bursting with personality and brightness.

Lisa Granik, MW

Bagrationi 1882 Classic Brut and  Rosé Brut: The Classic showed apple cider, green apple and peach on the nose, with some sweetness in the mid as well as a bright note of candied ginger. The Rosé was more floral, with strawberry and citrus dominating. 

Chateau Mukhrani Rkatsiteli and Saperavi: Bright, mineral and chalk Rkatsiteli, showing light herb over citrus in the middle. Refreshing wine. The Saperavi with more in the Bordeaux style, with oak adding a plush background to the mineral notes and the bright black fruit.

Vaziani Tsinandali and Mukuzani: Both wines showed a bright acidity, with the Tsinandali leaning toward citrus and candied grapefruit and the Mukuzani toward sweet herb, red fruit and mineral notes. 

Qvevruli Tetri really impressed me with its combination of modern and traditional approaches. Made in qvevri from a combination of three grapes, Kisi, Mtsvane and Rkatsiteli (thus the name), but aged in oak. Rich citrus notes combine with tannic, herbal and tangy citrus notes in the middle and back. Quite intriguing already. 

Marani Satrapezo Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane: I enjoyed both of these, with the Rkatsiteli showing more ripe citrus notes and the Mtsvane as a lighter and brighter sibling. Both wines combine the textural uniqueness of the qvevri method with the polish of the oak aging. Hard to choose one, but if I had to, the Mtsvane, with it bright citrus, won me over.

Marani Kvareli 2009:  This was one of my favorite wines from the tasting, showing a hint of age which added to the complexity of the wine. Ripe black and red fruit, warm spices over a berry middle, leaning toward blackberry, hint of tobacco leaf. Long ripe finish with great structure and a pleasant tannic grip. This really screams for a grilled lamb.  QPR alert as well.

Do-Re-Mi Kakhiri Mtsvane: Tannic, bright, intense orange from the skin contact, ripe citrus dominating. Intriguing! 

Kakhuri Gvinis Marani  Rkatsiteli (Qvevri): Orange color, ripe floral nose, tannic and bring in the middle with citrus and mineral dominating. Chalky, stony and bright - excellent wine begging for a summer dinner with a grilled fish or poultry on the menu. 

Artevani Saperavi 2015: With only 12471 bottles made - this was my favorite wine of the tasting. In fact - if this was the only wine i had today - it would have been worthwhile. Rich black fruit on the nose, changing by the minute, showing more spice one moment and more red the next. middle is ripe, plush and comfortable, like an old library armchair: grab a glass, sit down and… stay. While this wine would clearly benefit from some aging, it showed a finesse and concentration that was hard to match. The sweet fruit were backed by both structure and acidity, keeping the wine fresh and me reaching for another glass. 

Konstantin Khizder of Interbalt Products

Orgo Mtsvane Blanc de Blanc 2015: The surprises continued. Apple, bright citrus, hind of bread, bright mineral and apple in the mid, tart and fresh finish. A great sparkling wine!

Baia’s Wine Tsolikouri Qvevri 2016: Wow. This was my second favorite wine of the day. Intense red berry on the nose, high acid wine with citrus and green herbs, bright and stony, the wine dances on the palate, never stopping, always showing another facet. Fascinating wine from a young winemaker with a bright future.  

Naotari Saperavi 2015: Very light for a big wine, red fruit leaning toward cranberry, bright middle with minerality coming to the fore. refreshing and delicious.

Lukasi Saperavi: The other side of the grape, richer, darker black and red fruit, plusher and more serious. And yet, the wine remains fresh, with a long tart finish. 

I want to thank JoLynn Howe of Silver Lining for the invitation and the event - it was quite an eyeopening experience. I must say, I came away with a deeper appreciation for the region and its artisans, and, thanks to Lisa Granik’s seminar, a better understanding of the fascinating tradition of the Qvevri. The future of Georgian wine is clearly bright - but why wait? The present is already delicious!

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