Georgia, Georgian wines, and me

From listening to what other wine lovers say, and from personal experience, there really is something special about the country of Georgia and its wine. But I find it tricky to put my finger on exactly what that something is. Different people may have different ideas, but for me Georgia’s authenticity is very important – somehow the place is very real and true when compared with the artifice, spin and posturing in the world I am more used to. That and the hospitality of the Georgians, which goes along with their love of food and wine, and other ways of having a good time like singing and dancing. And it is also important to me that their love of wine is so closely integrated into their culture. Yeah, yeah, I hear you say, but isn’t that the case with many other wine countries and regions? Well yes, to an extent, but Georgia takes it to a whole new level.

Food, wine and song – in the Tbilisi restaurant Azarphesha

Georgia is not just a country of wine drinkers; it is a country of wine makers. It is estimated that the home-made product accounts for around two-thirds of all wine consumption in Georgia. And it is not regarded as inferior – quite the reverse in fact, as with products like home-made cake and jam in Britain. Of course, not all home-made wine is natural and made in qvevri, but that is certainly considered by many to be the ideal, and from what I have been able to establish a substantial proportion of it is made that way.

Archil Guniava in the family marani

That base of home-made wine, together with very small-scale winemaking for local markets, forms the foundation for the commercial-end of artisanal qvevri wine production in Georgia. Bottling and labelling being the key additional process to enable it to be sold abroad, and alongside its peers in Tbilisi wine bars. This is the trendy stuff that gets most talked-about here, even if it represents only a few percent of commercial wine production in Georgia. To me, it is these cultural roots that make Georgian wines interesting and authentic – they are more than a mere fashion that could disappear as quickly as it arrives on the scene. You may have heard stories about the Soviet Union wiping out traditional Georgian winemaking in Georgia for decades. Well, it didn’t disappear even then – it lived on in people’s homes and on farms, and is now flourishing again.

I am not here saying that all natural qvevri wine production started as I described above; I know it didn’t. Equally, I am not saying that all such wine is superior. I am merely trying to explain what is special about it to me, and any hint of authenticity and rural tradition, however small, certainly adds to my enjoyment of Georgian wines. If that doesn’t impress you, fair enough, but please do not let it lead you to be dismissive about Georgian wines. You may find other things to like – the hundreds of native varieties for example, or the new generation of dynamic winemakers with innovative ideas. Or you might just like the way they taste, which I often do too!

Beyond wine, it starts to get a lot more difficult for me to describe why Georgia is so special, mainly because I have thought about it less. Perhaps it lies in its people getting their priorities straight: relatives, friends, food and drink, more or less in that order. Oh, and patriotism, and God and the Church, are up there in the list too. A lot further down seems to be political correctness and health and safety, also materialism I think. I am not saying I agree with all those priorities, but somehow it is refreshing to see them so clearly visible anyway. Or at least they seem to be clear – maybe I am getting it all wrong, in which case I apologise. I would not be the first tourist to base my liking, or hatred, of another country on a misconception.

Soft greens of the Vardazia Valley

Finally, Georgia makes me feel at home in a strange sort of way. Even if the people and countryside can be very different from their British counterparts, I feel a shared humanity, and even the soft greens of the landscape feel familiar. Somehow I belong.

About Steve Slatcher

Wine enthusiast
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4 Responses to Georgia, Georgian wines, and me

  1. John Dickinson says:

    Lovely sentiment and I do understand what you say, I hope to visit one day 🙂

  2. Cheers, John. I was a bit uncertain about writing it, and I’m pleased you think it comes across well. Georgia also of course has the attraction of fantastic landscapes, and it is steeped in history, so there is no shortage of tourist interest, but to me that is not the main attraction.

  3. Ian Ward says:

    Really wonderful piece, Steve! You persuasively articulated a USP too 😉 …I really need to get over there now! Couple of Qs – Did you use a guide over there or did you just get flights & sort it yourself? Are there any wines we can get in England that come close to those you experienced over there & would, you think, convince doubters of the energy/quality of Georgian wine? Ta again – a lovely read.

  4. Cheers Ian. On our last visit, we booked our own flights, and used a Georgian company called Living Roots for transfers, hotels (7 nights), most of the meals, and a guide/driver who took us on a private tour around the country and to the winemakers (6 days). It was a lot more reasonable than you might think – £940 pp for two people for the Living Roots part. If you just want to visit Kakheti – the main wine region – there are a lot more operators who will take you there from Tbilisi, but we wanted to see South and West Georgia this time. On our previous visit, we booked a complete package with Arblaster and Clarke. Actually Living Roots were contracted to do the Georgia end of that too. Both were good experiences, but very different. Search for “Georgia” on my blog, and you will find posts from both trips, which might give you more of a flavour. There are a few places in the UK where you can get artisanal qvevri wine, but most only have a couple of examples. Caves de Pyrene however imports a good selection. Order from their list, as their “online shop” does not have their full range. They were low on stock a few weeks ago, but are expecting a new consignment soon. Let me know if I can give more detail – probably best to email me steve.slatcher@pobox.com

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