I recently attended my second annual tasting of Georgian wines in London. As the aspiration for Georgian wines in export market grows, this annual tasting of some great wines is also growing. It was in a small restaurant room last year with perhaps 50-60 wines to taste. This year, it was in the prestigious 67 Pall Mall with more than 110 wines with various styles.
Georgia, a small country, often mistaken for the state with the same name in the United States, has an amazing history of 8000 years of winemaking. “8000 Vintages” is becoming their brand. Rightly so, Georgia is home to a vast variety of wine styles. Next to our usual dry white and red still wines, there is an “Amber white” wine. This style of wine is made with the traditional Qvervi method. Qvervi is clay pot that is static. They are usually a man tall in size. It does not have a flat bottom so they are buried in the ground. For these simple reasons, they are not amphoras. (Amphoras were used to transport wine and hence they were mobile) A natural bee wax is used to seal the inside the qvervi. Both red and white wines can be made in qvervi. After a long skin contact during the fermentation the whites take an amber colour. Voila! The amber white wines of Georgia. This is not a new gimmicky marketing but has been going on for thousands of years.
I tried a line up of many qvervi whites. Although these wines are loved by many people back in Georgia, I am doubtful that they will be successful in export market. I find this style of wine to be very tannic and I usually have a long bitter aftertaste. I thought maybe this is due to the inner coating wax. But I was explained that the wax does not impart any flavours or aromas because it is natural. My favourite white was from Napareuli in Kakheti region. This white made with Rkatsiteli was floral wine as aromatic as a sauvignon blanc. Then I really loved two whites made by Mtsvane (Nelkarisi) and Rkatsiteli (Tbilvino). Both of these wines were 2016 vintage. Lovely structure and great flavour profile. Rkatsiteli is a widely grown Georgian white grape variety. And it is only one of the whopping 500 indigenous from Georgia. Though today there are around 30 of these used commercially.
Then I continued with the reds made with classical wine methods. The star of Georgian red is Saperavi. This is very fruity wine with high tannins and high alcohol. The home of this grape is Kakheti region. This is one of the ten wine regions in Georgia and the most important with the 70% of the wine production coming from this south east region. This region contains the 14 of the 18 appellation system. Georgia adopted a European style control system where the quality is checked with the permitted grape varieties from that particular region. In this line up, the Saperavi Superieur 2015 from Chateau Mukhrani was outstanding for me. Such a gem that will age so well.
While tasting the final wines, I had flash back from my visit to Georgia in 2011, and I remembered the amazing wine I tasted in Salkhino Monastery in Samegrelo wine region. My friends Kristina and Goga drove me there from Kutaisi. After the dwindling roads with many cows and pigs around, we reached this beautiful monastery where the summer residence of the patriarch is located. I was so lucky to visit the cellar. The monks make their own wine from Ojaleshi grapes grown in 30 ha. This grape is considered a top quality and an ancient variety. In a naturally chilled cellar, I was given a clay pot full of this amazing wine. I fell in love with this wine and that was probably the beginning when I had so much passion to learn and immerse myself in wine world.
Georgia and Georgian wines will always have a special place for me. As it is considered the birthplace of wine making, it certainly is the birthplace of my inspiration in wine. I love the reds and I believe the 1% of wines we see from Georgia in export market, has a great potential to meet wine lovers around the world.
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Serhat Narsap is WSET educated professional. Serhat frequently organises tasting events, cooperate events and wine tours. He is also available for consultation for individuals and restaurants. email: firstname.lastname@example.org