By Amy Ruis
Longtime annexation by Russia didn’t fare well for your knowledge of anything about Georgia, one of the original wine-growing countries. Georgia (not to be confused with Georgia, the Peach State) is sandwiched between Russia and Turkey. With its perfect wine-growing weather and winemaking dating back to about 6000 B.C., this place is ripe for a resurgence.
Instead of aging in today’s typical steel, oak or concrete, Georgia’s wines are fermented and aged in qvevri. These are monstrous 2,000-liter, lemon-shaped terra cotta containers much like an amphora but without handles. They also always remain underground for stability and to provide a natural cellar under the earth. Most fascinating is that this ancient method continues today.
Once qvevri are filled with juice, grape skin and seeds, the wines are left to age for six months. Because of the makeup of the qvevri, the wines are considered natural, intriguingly fruity and savory. White wines often will throw an orange hue and have a very slightly oxidative quality. Red wines are rather typical in style with a decent amount of tannin.
As for the region, its climate is temperate with warm summer days and cool nights, its winters relatively mild. The Black Sea is positioned with breezes that envelop the valleys, and natural mountain streams provide water for good growth.
What grapes do they grow there, you ask? Crazy names to our ears but really fun to say, here are a few you might find on your favorite wine store’s shelves:
Mtsvane, “young and green” in Georgian, is a fragrant wine, not sweet but wafts with honey and peach with Meyer lemon overtones. It’s often blended with its best vine friend, rkatsiteli. Sometimes described as having “bruised-fruit flavor,” think a slightly dented, starting to brown but not bad apricot or peach having been aged in clay, stirred with its skins and seeds until they sink. It’s a hardy, rich grape with good acidity, more chardonnay-esque.
Going back to the clay qvevri, when aged this way, these white wines are often referred to as “orange wine.” An orange wine is left to macerate on skins (in new world white winemaking, we typically separate the juice from skins right away) leaving structure, a little tannin and minerals sometimes like saltiness.
Inky dark, saperavi translates to “dye” in English and is a grape that is dark purple inside and out. True to its color, it’s really full bodied and rich. Unfiltered, it reminds me of syrah with its undertones of black licorice, dark chocolate, slightly smoky and slightly tannic nature.
As for pairings, think about kebobs — chicken and pork with the white selections and beef or lamb with the saperavi. Finish with sides that you might think about in Greek or Middle Eastern cooking, and I think you’ll be in for a huge treat.
Time to try something new!
— Amy Ruis, owner of Art of the Table and Aperitivo, is a wine enthusiast who is working on her Level II Sommelier certification.