Thinking inside the qvevri

Firstly, I’d encourage you to read this article by Daria Kholodilina. It gives a great summary of recent wine trends in Georgia, and was the stimulus for the opinions I am about to share here.

Evidence of ancient winemaking in the Vardzia cave complex

Well, have you read it now? Go on – I promise it won’t take you long.

I agree with Daria that the story of Georgian wine can get repetitive for people familiar with it – 8,000 years of wine history – qvevris and orange wine – importance of wine in Georgian culture – Soviet wine production in Georgia (boo) – etc, etc. But we lovers of Georgian wine should remember that most people are still ignorant of that story.

While boring for some, it is still in my opinion vastly important to communicate that story of tradition, because it is a true unique selling point that differentiates Georgia and its wine from the rest of the world. The recent introduction into Georgia of pet nat wines, free-standing qvevri, and concrete eggs, is also interesting, and may make some producers stand out amongst their fellow Georgians, but in the global context they are not so remarkable. Of course underground qveris are used elsewhere in the world too, but not with all the tradition and experience of Georgia.

If you think traditional qvevri are boring, you should try visiting producers in other countries! I am sure most tourists and importers would much rather see qvevri tops, than yet another array of stainless steel tanks followed by a bottling line. I hasten to add that I personally am sufficiently geeky to find all of the above interesting, so if you have recently shown me your bottling line please don’t be offended 🙂

But to return to the story of Georgian wine, here are some suggestions as to how Georgian producers might seek to differentiate themselves amongst their neighbours within a traditional context:

1) If you use qvevri, talk about the variation in qvevri winemaking throughout the country, and explain how you fit into the national picture, and within your region. I know your wines are not all heavily extracted tannic monsters, but I am not sure how many people understand that yet.

2) Give context to your grape varieties in the same way. Explain how local or widespread they are, and where they are grown. I personally also find it helpful to know how the names translate into English, because they then become more meaningful and easy to remember.

3) I think most people already do this, but tell your backstory. I find the roots of Georgian producers particularly fascinating as they are so diverse – from hobbyist to ex-Soviet wine factory and everything in-between.

4) Finally – terroir. My impression is that this is given very little emphasis in Georgia, but wine people in general seem to love hearing about terroir. So why not do some research on your geology and soils, and your micro- and macro-climates, and explain why they are so important?

I know I cannot speak for everyone, but the above is my opinion as a British drinker of Georgian wine who has so far made a couple of trips to Georgia, and has visited vineyards on both trips. I’d also like to emphasise that I am not against innovation per se -it’s just that it is the Georgian tradition of winemaking that will keep drawing me back to the country and its wine.

Having now completed most of Daria’s bingo card, I shall end with a gaumarjosგაუმარჯოს.

How not to pick a wine

In a nutshell, contrary to the advice and suggestions you might see in some places, do not pick a wine based on how you presume the price is determined. That is how you don’t do it.

Even I have been guilty of offering price-related selection advice to an extent, in that I wrote a version of the common trope that explains how, if you spend a bit more money on your wine, there is a huge increase in the money available for the wine production element of the cost. To be fair to myself, I did add a touch of scepticism that you don’t usually get in those explanations. But these days I would give greater emphasis to the fact that, just because more money is available for wine production, it does not necessarily mean it is spent that way. It could for example go on marketing, to yield more profit, or to subsidise other wines in a producers range. Also, even if more is spent on production, it does not necessarily mean that you are going to like the wine any more. New oak barrels are expensive, but how much do you like oaky wines?

Then there is the idea that people typically go for the second cheapest wine on a restaurant list, to avoid spending too much while not appearing to be a skinflint.  So another piece of advice often given is to avoid the second cheapest wine, because that will be marked up more highly by cunning restaurateurs. That idea was recently debunked a few months ago, and gleefully reported on in the wine press. Apparently, in reality percentage markups are highest on midrange wines. So in these newly enlighted times, presumably those are now the wines to avoid? No, actually not.

All of the above is irrelevant to the consumer. Let people in the wine trade and restaurant business worry about the economics of wine production, mark-ups, and price points. For the wine consumer there are only two relevant considerations: how much the wine costs, and how much pleasure we can derive from it. Of those two factors, cost is a perfectly straightforward, but the concept of pleasure bears more analysis.

It is not just the liquid in the bottle that is important for pleasure, or even the issue of how well it goes with whatever you are eating. For all manner of goods, and wine is no exception, we seem to gain pleasure from all sorts of things. Rarity, for example. How many bottles were produced, and how common is the grape variety? Then some people take pleasure in enjoying expensive items; while others love a bargain. And labels can be as important on wine bottles as on items of clothing. It’s all a question of what works for you, and pleasure is rarely rational. If you are interested in How Pleasure Works, you may like the book with that title, written by Paul Blom – I did.

I admit that it is difficult to know how much pleasure one will get from any particular wine. But at the very least, thinking about pleasure is more pleasurable that fretting about the economics of wine trade.

Botijas – Peruvian winemaking in clay

In an online discussion on “amphoras” in winemaking, wine enthusiast Peter Harvey drew my attention to a vessel I failed to mention in my earlier blog post on the various types of clay pots in winemaking: the botija, as used in Peru. I am very grateful to Peter for the information and photographs, which I use with permission.

He saw botijas in use at three wineries in the Ica Valley – Vinos Intipalka, Bodega Tres Esquinas and Bodega Lazo – and La Reyna de Lunahuaná, in the Lunahuaná valley.

Unlike most clay winemaking vessels, botijas seem to me to be true amphoras. They are the right size for amphoras, and the shape looks correct too. There is a narrow opening at the top, meaning the contents must be poured out rather than scooped. And they have a pointed bottom which, in common with classical common-use amphoras means they can be stuck into the earth to help keep them upright, as shown above at La Reyna de Lunahuaná. They do not have the usual long narrow neck, but are more like the belly amphoras from 640-450 BC, and although the name amphora implies something that can be lifted from both sides using two handles, handles were not always present.

The framed picture above is of the actual press still in use at Bodega Tres Esquinas, and their winemaking process is described by Peter Harvey:

The grapes are trodden Portuguese style, and the juice from the treading floor and the press runs directly into the botija which is carried in a wooden frame and plonked in lines under cover but otherwise in the open, loosely covered by hessian or suchlike. When the fermentation’s over they’re stopped off with a bung and cloth to settle the contents. After use they are simply washed out with water.

He also points out that

The Botijas were mainly used of course to make the base wine to be made into Pisco. Like the Georgians they seem to be “rediscovering” this technique for table wine and I know that the big Ica player Intipalka are sourcing old ones and re-using them.

While the use of botijas in Peru is currently of no direct relevance to UK wine drinkers, botija wines may eventually arrive over here, and in the meantime I feel reassured that the Peruvian winemaking traditions are being maintained.

The Story of Wine – book review

This edition of The Story of Wine by Hugh Johnson, is published by Academie du Vin Library. The headline price is £30 from both Amazon and direct from the publisher, but at the publisher’s you can use this £3 discount code: WINENOUS3. I’ll leave it to you to juggle shipping charges against any possible in-principle objections to Amazon. Mine was a review copy.

If the title of the book sounds familiar, that is because it has been around since 1989, published by Mitchell Beazley. As far as I can tell the text is identical to the Mitchell Beazley edition I have from 1999, so I will start by comparing the 1999 edition with this one.

Firstly, the Academie du Vin Library book has a good quality soft-covered binding, and the paper, rather than being bright and shiny, is a good quality matt. It is 240 x 170 mm, and comprises 496 sides. The text is clear and well laid-out, and with no illustrations the page design is clean and uncluttered. I think one of the major selling points of the Mitchell Beazley edition was the sumptuous quality of the book, with its rich colour illustrations, but personally I can see the attractions of the new edition. Basically, I find this version a lot more inviting to read – it’s considerably lighter to hold, the text is not broken up by illustrations, and it still feels sumptuous (but in a different sort of way). These are not minor points. In the last few years when I got interested in the origins of wine after having visited Georgia, I intended to reread the earlier edition, but somehow it just seemed too much like hard work due to its look and feel. Yet I now feel motivated to try again with this edition. But perhaps that is just me?

Regarding the illustrations, I have just checked a few places in the 1999 edition, and I cannot see any place where they are particularly closely related to the text, let alone essential for understanding it. Admittedly they do sometimes add information, but my overall impression is that Johnson wrote his book with the intention that the text should stand by itself.

It was a while since the last time I read the text and, irrespective of my new-found enthusiasm, I am realistically not going to reread it in the immediate future, so what follows here are a just few observations about the text. I’ll maybe write a follow-up post with more detail.

The first thing to note is the author’s intention to write this book as a story, hence the title of the book. He does not pretend to be a historian, and Hugh Johnson’s classic style of prose is unencumbered by footnotes, though there is a bibliography for each chapter. And as a story, it starts in the mists of time, and ends in the late 20th century, in the decades when Hugh is getting engrossed in the subject of wine. As such, the story is complete, and did not did to be updated since it was first written, he explains in his preface. Hmmm… that sounds like a pretty thin excuse to me, and I immediately spot some details in chapter 2 that could do with updating in the light of more recent archaeology, and I also consider how wine has changed in the last 30 years or so. But I could just about be prepared to treat it as a story on its own terms – a story reflecting its time of writing.

As for the subject matter of the book, I don’t think I could do better than reproduce the contents pages. (Try clicking on the image to make the text legible.)
If illustrations in a book are important to you, try to find an older edition – Google reveals there are still new copies kicking about waiting to be purchased. Otherwise, for sheer reading pleasure, I’d recommend you get this new Academie du Vin Library edition.

Edit: Well, some time after writing this review I did start reading the book again. But I did not get far. I found Johnson’s expansive prose rather annoying, and would have much prepared something terser that concentrated on facts, rather than scene-setting. However, as mentioned above, maybe this is just me. Judge for yourself whether you are like me or not.

Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent! – book review

Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent! by Ben Howkins, is published by Academie du Vin Library. The headline price is £23 from both Amazon and direct from the publisher, but at the publisher’s you can use this £3 discount code: WINENOUS3. I’ll leave it to you to juggle shipping charges against any possible in-principle objections to Amazon. Mine was a review copy.

In a couple of sentences…  It’s an attractive book, both visually and tactually, and if you like an easy-going style of writing I think you’ll enjoy it. It covers a broad range of topics and, irrespective of other factors, will be of particular interest to anyone who wants to know more about the trend towards en rama styles and the new generation of boutique bodegas.

The book is 240 x 170 mm, and comprises 223 sides on a heavy glossy paper, in high-quality soft covers. The pages are nicely bound, so the book will open flat, and comfortably stay open. From a sample so far of two, the quality of the binding, seems to be common to all the Academie du Vin Library publications. These may sound like superficial details, but I am increasingly realising that a book’s touch and feel is important – in the same way perhaps that a wine glass is to the wine it contains.

The book is well-illustrated in colour throughout, the illustrations complementing the text without being too intrusive. But as usual with most wine books, I found the maps lacking – I think there was only one created for the book, and it had little detail. Old maps were also reproduced in places, but were so small as to be impossible to read. On the positive side from a practical point of view, the book did at least have a decent index.

The major topics covered are: history, vineyards, wine styles, and bodegas. Those are followed by a miscellaneous group of smaller chapters on various subjects: Ruiz-Mateos (the man who broke the Sherry bank), the general culture of the region, non-local cultural references to Sherry, tasting and tasting notes, related food and drink, and finally a collection of reflections on Sherry from 50 wine notables.

The author aptly describes his book as “a personal take on the current sherry scene”, seemingly contrasting it with “Julian Jeffs’ classic book Sherry“. I see what he means. Jeffs’ book is indeed excellent in its scholarship and detail, and Howkins is wise not to attempt to emulate it. Nevertheless, in my 2016 review of Jeffs’ book I did note that it failed to communicate the current excitement for Sherry. Also there was no mention by Jeff of the trend towards en rama bottlings, and only slight coverage of the newer boutique bodegas. Howkins’ book certainly addresses well all of those aspects.

But what is implied by what he says is his “personal take”? Well, he has spent a lifetime in the wine trade, including a period working specifically with Sherry, and that gives him rich insights into developments in the region over the last 50 years or so and, through personal contacts, further back into the 20th century. It also gives him a good understanding of attitudes to Sherry in its export markets. However, one thing that struck me, was that this perspective is rather privileged, as there are numerous stories of being entertained by owners and directors of Sherry companies – glasses of Sherry in meetings, late and long lunches, late and long dinners, home visits, flamenco evenings, bullfights.

Don’t get me wrong – the experiences are interesting and entertaining, as Howkins writes well, and it gives a good insight into how Sherry fits in with that kind of lifestyle. But my recent personal experience of Sherry as a tourist in Sanlúcar, was very different. I found that Manzanilla, while important, was viewed by locals as a rather ordinary everyday experience. I was told they used it for cooking, and you could buy it in any bar very cheaply. But each bar and restaurant I came across obtained all its wine from a single bodega and, while delicious, they were all basic level wines, so the vast range of exciting Sherry styles and bodegas mentioned in the book was not readily available to me. I am not complaining, as I had a good holiday, but it was not the wine-geek and cultural nirvana the book might lead one to expect.

When I started reading I was a bit unsure about the book, as I think I am naturally more attuned to Jeffs’ drier formal writing, rather than Howkins’ prose that is more relaxed, wordy and effusive. But as I continued, I got more and more into the style and subject matter, really enjoying the Sherry company chapters, and especially the one on boutique bodegas. I also found it very interesting to learn more about the cream styles of Sherry, which tend to get overlooked in more recent accounts. I was aware of Harvey’s Bristol Cream, and must have drunk a few glasses in my time, but had no idea how important that one brand was to the British wine trade, and to the Sherry region.

After the bodega chapters however, I thought they got more piecemeal, disconnected, and of variable interest. In particular, I really did not understand the need for the final chapter of 50 personal reflections on Sherry. Each piece individually may have been interesting, but after the first 20 or so, many started to sound a bit samey.

Despite its weak finish, the book’s engaging mid-palate literally whetted my appetite for Sherry, and led me to crack open a half-bottle of Manzanilla brought back from Sanlúcar. I think the author would mark that down as a success.

Subjectivity is not to be sniffed at

“Any fool can have a subjective opinion about wine” is one of the arguments I occasionally see in favour of objectivity in winetasting, and that can be followed by “but experts have invested a lot of time in learning to taste objectively”. There are so many assumptions built into that line of argument I hardly know where to start, but my main counter-argument would be that objectivity in winetasting simply does not exist. However, here I would like to focus on debunking the idea that subjective views are necessarily trivial and to be lightly dismissed. We subjectivists do not all take a swig of wine that hardly touches the sides, and immediately pronounce on its quality.

For me, the ideal person to assess a wine is someone who acknowledges the subjectivity of taste, and yet is happy to give an opinion nevertheless. That person would understand the objective properties of wine, i.e. its physical properties and chemical composition, but also know how those elements translate into the perception of flavour, depending on the environment and individual differences. And of course personal preferences.

In its simplest form, a subjective approach might not be too dissimilar to what is thought to be objective tasting, according to the WSET Systematic Approaches to Tasting Wine for example, but without claiming any objectivity in the final quality assessment. The taster might also like to comment on their sensitivity to the different dimensions of the wine, and how factors other than the wine itself might be influencing its perception.  Of course this is not easy – in fact it is very difficult to do well. But that is really my main point here. A serious subjective approach to winetasting is far from trivial. If anything, the problem is that it is too complex if done well. But that is no excuse for us to stick our heads in the sand and pretend the complexities don’t exist.

Finally, I would add that I think it is important for the taster to say how much they actually enjoy drinking the wine. To me, a quality score, perhaps arrived at by totting up the scores for intensity, balance, persistence etc, is pretty meaningless, and I’d much rather know a taster’s finger-in-the-air feeling about a wine. That is how I score wines, and to be honest I sometimes find that subjective assessments can be hard to arrive at. With conventional wines from classic regions it is a lot easier, because you know more what to expect, and you understand your preferences a lot better. But with more weird stuff (natural wines, I am mainly looking at you) I find it can be more difficult to decide. The problem is in being able to understand the good and enjoyable aspects of an unexpected wine, and when one would best drink it. For example which dishes to match it with. Occasionally I find that a wine that seems promising on initial tasting does not work that well with food, and vice-versa, and established wisdom and accumulated experience with more-conventional wines does not always work.

But I usually get there in the end with my subjective opinion – if not before, then when deciding whether or not to buy more of the same wine.

(In the above, by concentrating on the complexity aspect of subjectivity I have ignored other important aspects. For more on subjectivity and wine, my World of Fine Wine article is a good place to start)

Georgian Wine PDOs

Just a quick post to remind you of my Georgian PDO mini-series, and also help you get a better overview of it – something otherwise hampered by the reverse-chronological order on my home page.

My first post aims to give a quick practical guide to the Georgian PDOs you are most likely to come across in the UK – Tsinandali, Mukuzani, Kindzmarauli and Khvanchkara . Arguably, these are also the most important PDOs in general. In outline at least, this covers pretty much everything that most wine drinkers will need to know about Georgian PDOs, while the other two posts in the series are more hardcore.

After the practical guide, I dive into more detail, listing and summarising all the current PDOs, and giving a bit of background. Here I try to stick to the facts.

Finally, I express opinions about the Georgian PDO system and labelling requirements, and offer a few suggestions for improvement.

Georgian wine PDOs – an opinion, with suggestions

I understand absolutely why Georgia feels the need to try to protect names in its own country, and perhaps even more importantly in Russia, which has a bit of a history in wines fraud and is still an important market. I also think, when selling to foreign markets where Georgian wines are less understood, including the UK and the EU, it is a good idea to have a solid PDO system in place before it is absolutely necessary. And it is probably a shrewd move to make that system compatible with the EU’s.

The legal framework for Georgia’s PDO system looks sound to me. I won’t bore you more than necessary, but there is a law that bans the misleading use of PDO names on labels, and in advertising and related documents. It does leave open the question as to what could be construed as misleading, but is otherwise clear.

Additionally, each PDO registration document carries a paragraph that says how, for foreign language labels etc, the PDO name should be spelled using the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets, and that is should be followed by “Protected Designation of Origin” and/or “PDO” (in English) or the Cyrillic alphabet equivalent (presumably in Russian). The main point of these paragraphs seems to be the spelling of the PDO name, rather the circumstances in which it should be followed by “Protected Designation of Origin” and/or “PDO”. The lack of clarity is not helped by the very different ways that this clause is rendered into English in the official translation of each PDO registration document; the Georgian versions of the same documents seem to be much more consistent.

Sadly, I think the lack of clarity on labelling requirements has opened to way to some confusion. Here are a few examples of wine labels, which incidentally are not at all meant as criticism of the particular producers concerned.

On the left we have a Pheasant’s Tears Saperavi wine, with Kakheti at the bottom of its label. Is this just saying that it’s grown and made in Kakheti, or is it claiming the PDO of Kakheti? If it is the former, does that make it misleading? Then the middle label also has Kakheti at the bottom, but this cannot be Kakheti PDO because the wine contains many non-compliant grape varieties. Is that misleading? Finally, the one on the right has Kartli at the bottom of the label, which is not a PDO, so that is fine. But that does suggest the two other labels do not represent PDO claims either.

Moving on to another set of labels, the above Teliani Valley one actually has three PDO names on it: Teliani, Tsinandali and Kakheti. I think most people familiar with Georgian wines would assume that it is Tsinandali PDO. But is that actually correct? And what are other people to think? Teliani Valley is actually a producer’s name but it looks geographical, and Kakheti would be more recognisable for someone who knows Georgian regions but not wine. And for those smarty-pants who thought the Teliani Valley wine was Tsinandali PDO, what about the label on the right. Tsinandali too? Nope, I don’t think so – look more carefully – in smaller letters it says Kakheti AOC. To be fair, I think this is an old label, which is also indicated by the use of AOC rather than PDO, but at the very least this is very confusing.

Actually, it is quite common for Georgian producer names to include the name of a PDO. Apart from Teliani Valley, examples that spring to mind are Tsinandali Estate, Vazisubani Estate and Royal Khvanchkara. OK, it happens in other countries too, but that does not make it any less confusing.

To be constructive, and with all due humility and the perspective of a foreign drinker of Georgian wines, I would suggest a couple of additional PDO labelling regulations:

1) PDO wines should have the PDO name clearly displayed on the label, followed by “Protected Designation of Origin” or “PDO”. This is not unusual for other countries with PDO and PDO-like systems. In some cases  there is also some uncertainty about, or discrepancy between, the name of the PDO and what should appear on the label (Ateni, I am looking at you). Why not make it crystal clear and consistent?

2) Also, any other word on the label that is a PDO, but not the wine’s actual PDO, should have a clearly defined context.  So, for example, a Tsinandali PDO wine may additionally say “Wine of Kakheti”; Kakheti PDO wines may say “Made from grapes harvested near the village of Tsinandali” on the back label (if that is true, of course); and producer names that incorporate a PDO name should usually be preceded by “Produced by”.

Additionally, moving away from the subject of PDOs, it might be worth seeking to protect the use of “qvevri wine” on wine labels, restricting its usage to defined production methods – I would suggest limiting it to methods that are traditional in the region of origin. Also, it would not hurt to standardise on “qvevri” or “kvevri” as the transliteration for wine labels. By all means, avoid the mess that Armenia got into with “karas” and “karasi”.

Is all this really so important? Well, it’s hardly a life or death issue, but I believe clarity is the key to communicate Georgian PDOs to wine-drinkers, especially in markets where the wines are little known. It is effectively a type of branding – one that deserves care and attention over a long period of time.

Georgian wine PDOs – the details

I will explain in this post some of the formal details of what Georgian wines PDOs are all about, and how to get further information about each of them, but firstly here is a summary table of the 24 PDOs currently registered. (The table will probably display better on phones if your screen is horizontal.)

PDO name Region Style Grape varieties
Akhasheni Kakheti Semi-sweet red Saperavi, Saperavi Budeshuri
Akhmeta Kakheti Dry, semi-dry or semi-sweet white; or amber Kakhuri Mtsvane, and (for amber wine only) ≤15% Kisi and Khikhvi
Akhoebi Kakheti Dry red Saperavi, Saperavi Budeshuri
Atenuri Shida Kartli Sparkling or slightly sparkling white; or dry non-sparkling white Chinuri, Goruli Mtsvane, Aligoté
Bolnisi Kvemo Kartli Dry, white, amber, rosé or red Rkatsiteli, Chinuri, Goruli Mtsvane, Saperavi, Tavkveri, Shavkapito, Asuretuli Shavi
Gurjaani Kakheti Dry white Rkatsiteli and ≤15% Kakhuri Mtsvane
Kakheti Kakheti Any sweetness level, and any colour Rkatsiteli, Kakhuri Mtsvane, Kisi, Khikhvi, Mtsvivani Kakhuri, Chitistvala, Saperavi, Saperavi Budeshuri, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rkatsiteli Vardisperi
Kardenakhi Kakheti Dry amber; or medium-dry fortified white Rkatsiteli, and ≤15% Kakhuri Mtsvane and Khikhvi
Khvanchkara Racha Semi-sweet red Aleksandrouli, Mujuretuli
Kindzmarauli Kakheti Semi-sweet red Saperavi, Saperavi Budeshuri
Kotekhi Kakheti Dry red; or dry white Saperavi; or Rkatsiteli
Kvareli Kakheti Dry red Saperavi
Manavi Kakheti Dry White Kakhuri Mtsvane
Mukuzani Kakheti Dry red Saperavi, Saperavi Budeshuri
Napareuli Kakheti Dry red; or dry white Saperavi, Saperavi Budeshuri; or Rkatsiteli and ≤15% Kakhuri Mtsvane
Salkhino Ojaleshi Samegrelo Dry red Ojaleshi
Saperavi Khashmi Kakheti Dry red Saperavi
Sviri Imereti Dry white Tsolikouri, Tsitska, Krakhuna
Teliani Kakheti Dry red Cabernet Sauvignon
Tibaani Kakheti Dry amber Rkatsiteli, and ≤15% Kakhuri Mtsvane and Khikhvi
Tsarapi Kakheti Dry amber Rkatsiteli, and ≤15% Kakhuri Mtsvane and Khikhvi
Tsinandali Kakheti Dry white Rkatsiteli and ≤15% Kakhuri Mtsvane
Tvishi Lechkhumi Semi-sweet white Tsolikouri
Vazisubani Kakheti Dry white Rkatsiteli and ≤15% Kakhuri Mtsvane

The links in the table take you to the official English translations of the Sakpatenti PDO registration documents, which include quite a lot of detail, including maps. I recently printed them to PDF files, because I could find no other way of linking to the individual PDO documents – this means that they will not necessarily be the latest versions, so check the registration and printing dates in the PDF files if in doubt.

There are issues with the Sakpatenti English translations. In particular, note that the Georgian originals consistently say “up to 15%” when specifying a grape variety percentage, but in the English translation this becomes simply “15%”.  More on Sakpatenti and its website later.

Note also that in some places the information in my table differ may differ from other published summaries of the PDO. The obvious example is the entry for Kakheti, for which the PDO rules changed at some point. I do not remember the change being announced, but in 2010 it was a PDO for dry white wines only; now it is a lot broader. I am not sure about the reason for all the discrepancies, but I believe my version to be correct at the time of writing.

Anyway, now for a bit of background, and how to get further information…

While Georgia is not part of the EU, it has an equivalent system to regulate and protect its wines, and has chosen to use EU terminology. So initially, back in 2005, it called the protected categories Appellations of Origin. Now they are Protected Designations of Origin, though you will still see the older term in some official contexts. Incidentally, following usage in the EU, Georgia also has PDOs for goods other than wine. Additionally, there is protection through Geographical Indications for other goods, but currently not for wine.

Sakpatenti, the National Intellectual Property Center of Georgia, is the body responsible for registering PDOs, and applications for new ones must be made to Sakpatenti. Registration of a PDO confers legal protection within Georgia, and Georgia seeks protection by treaty for its PDOs in foreign countries. The Sakpatenti website lists the Georgian GIs (here including PDOs) recognised abroad by treaty, and the foreign ones recognised by Georgia. Apparently, only the first 18 Georgian PDOs are currently recognised by the EU. They are the ones described in this Sakpatenti publication of 2010, and shown on the above map. Note that the PDO descriptions in this book are different to the ones referred to in my table, and are quite vague about aspects like mandated grape varieties.

For the definitive and up-to-date list of Georgian PDOs and GIs, and the registration documents with details about each one, see the State Registry in English or in Georgian. The Georgian documents are the definitive versions, and some of the English translations are dodgy. So if in doubt, I would recommend running the Georgian through Google Translate to get a second opinion. It is not too difficult if you use the registration numbers, and document section numbers, to help you orient yourself in the Georgian space.

So far in this mini-series on Georgian PDOs, I have tried to stick to objective facts. But next time, I shall conclude my series with opinion.

Edit 24/07/20: Due to some confusion on my part I was unfairly scathing about the English translations. Sorry! I have now moderated my criticism.

Georgian wine PDOs – a quick guide

Most Georgian wines are marketed by grape variety and the reputation of the winemaker, so as far as the consumer is concerned the country’s PDOs (the equivalent of French Appellations) are often of little relevance. However, there are a few that you might come across in the UK, and here I briefly describe the four that immediately sprang to mind when I was thinking of compiling a shortlist. Later checking showed that they also happen to be the Georgian PDOs most readily available in the UK. And, as they were all in the first six PDOs to be registered, it seems that they were considered to be amongst the most important in Georgia.

These PDOs come from the regions of Kakheti and Racha, and the maps below show you immediately where those regions are within Georgia, but you need to click a few times to get to hi-res maps that show you the location of the PDOs.  The maps do not show physical geography, but it is worth noting that the Alazani river in Kakheti flows in a wide plain, while the Racha vineyard area is more mountainous.

Tsinandali PDO is named after a village in Kakheti, the region where the majority of Georgian wine comes from. This is a dry white (i.e. not orange) wine from the area around the village, made using the Rkatsiteli grape variety with up to 15% Kakhuri Mtsvane. Rkatsiteli is the most common Georgian grape variety, and Kakhuri Mtsvane is also quite popular, and sometimes simply called Mtsvane. The Tsinandali wines that make it to the UK are often relatively inexpensive, and I find them to be straightforward and refreshing. They could perhaps be compared to Chablis, though I would say Tsinandali is more aromatic. I would most naturally think of serving them with white fish.

Mukuzani PDO is also named after a Kakheti village, but this is a dry red wine, and made solely from Saperavi, the most common Georgian red grape. Saperavi wines are usually very dark, an almost opaque purple, and often have a dark and brooding taste profile to match, with smokey fruit. They can also have a fair whack of tannin. Beyond that though, I cannot say I have noticed anything distinctive specifically about the Saperavi from Mukuzani, though as with Tsinandali I have mainly tried cheaper examples imported into the UK. These are wines that can stand up to strong flavours – spices, and beef.

The final two PDOs in my shortlist are Kindzmarauli and Khvanchkara. Frankly, I think the only thing most UK wine drinkers need to know is that these are unfortified semi-sweet red wines, and thus are vini non grata (excuse my, er, Latin) because they do not conform to modern so-called good taste. But please do not dismiss them out of hand. Served at cellar temperature, I find the ones with good balancing acidity and/or tannins very attractive, and they can work very well with grilled meats. But do be aware that they are not sweet enough to function as pudding wines. Kindzmarauli is another Kakheti Saperavi wine, but from the other side of the Alazani river from Tsinandali and Mukuzani. Its name suggests that it comes from somewhere called Kindzmara, but I cannot find such a place on the map. Khvanchkara is made from two lesser-known varieties, Aleksandrouli and Mujuretuli, and is named after the village of Khvanchkara in Racha. Traditionally, these semi-sweet wines were made from ripe late-harvested grapes, which gave a fermentation that naturally arrested due to cold winter temperatures and high alcohol content. That method is sometimes still employed, but these days stopping the fermentation with artificial refrigeration is a lot more common.

So those are my top 4 Georgian PDOs. In my next post, I intend to take a more formal look at Georgian wine PDOs in general, and briefly mention all 24 of them, with links to their official registration documentation.