Qvevri winemaking – variety, tradition and innovation

Although qvevri winemaking does indeed have an 8,000 year continuous history in Georgia, it is important to realise that it has not remained unchanged throughout that period, and that practice varies from region to region, even within regions. It is not a single concept that should be frozen in time and fetishised. It is so much more exciting: qvevri winemaking has many forms, and they should be encouraged to continue to live and evolve.

The appeal to tradition on the labels of the Alaverdi Monastery

The aspect of qvevri winemaking practice that has most impact on the finished product is the degree of skin contact. In Georgia’s largest winemaking region of Kakheti, grapes of all colours are traditionally fermented on their skins, and the skins remain for a period of post-fermentation maceration. This results in red or orange wines, that can often be fiercely astringent. In contrast, the more Westerly regions of Georgia typically use much more limited skin contact. Here, for white wine production grape skins would be removed immediately after crushing, following the normal practice in the rest of the world. And for all wines, if there is skin maceration at all it would be for a shorter period of time. But not all winemakers follow their regional stereotypes: some may prefer one style or the other, while others might like to make both.

Other variations in practice include how the qvevri are made less porous, kept clean, the material used for lids, and how the lids are sealed post-fermentation. These factors might not affect the style of the wine, but could influence the quality if, for example, an animal fat is used instead of beeswax to reduce the porosity, or if the cleaning is inadequate. I doubt very much if animal fat is used in qvevri for commercial wine production today, but it was employed, and maybe still is to a very limited extent. Another regional difference is that in Kakheti the qvevri for winemaking are located indoors, as you might expect, while in Western Georgia the tradition is to have them just outside buildings.

Basketware filter to fit on the end of a pump hose for qvevri

Now let’s take a look at how to how things have changed over the last 8,000 years. The first thing to note is that the qvevri vessels themselves have changed a lot. Prior to the 3rd century BC, a relatively recent date in the context of eight millennia, qvevri were less than 1.5m high, had a flat bottoms, and were either free-standing or only partly buried.

Another important development is in how the wine is presented to the consumer. The  qvevri wines we foreign consumers see will be bottled, while more traditionally it would be kept in qvevri until drinking. Bottling has obvious economic advantages in making the wine available to more distant and lucrative markets, and also frees up qvevri at an earlier stage for making subsequent vintages. It allows the consumer to experiment with cellar-aging the wine in bottle, but wine will almost certainly have a different development trajectories in qvevri and bottle.

Then there are a couple of more recent developments that are regarded as a Bad Thing by some: practices that would not usually be thought of as natural winemaking, and the use of wooden barrels to age wine after the qvevri fermentation.

Qvevri lids with bubbler airlocks at Okro’s Wines

Relatively minor changes in recent years have been the use by some of pumps to get wine out of the qvevri, high pressure jet washers for cleaning, stainless steel or glass lids with bubbler airlocks, and tubes suspended in the qvevri for temperature control. My personal suggestion for radical improvement would be the addition of drainage holes at the bottom of the qvevri. Yes, I realise it would be tricky, not least because the qvevri are buried, but in the 21st century surely it is not beyond the wit of man? There are also ways of reproducing some of the claimed advantages of qvevri by using stainless steel vessels, but they of course would represent a huge departure from tradition – and totally destroy the magic.

If you believe qvevri winemaking evolved over thousands of years to become perfect, nothing could ever be a substitute for the real thing. But could it actually have arrived on the scene as an accident of history, and stuck around merely because it was good enough for the job? Is it really so crass to suggest that? Maybe. But it is in my opinion equally crass to imply that the vast majority of the world of wine has got it wrong. Regardless, live and let live I say. Vive la difference and all that. It would be horrible if qvevri winemaking were to die out.

(In addition to information gained personally, my main sources are Making Wine in Qvevri and a webpage entitled The History of Georgian Wine.)

Qvevri – manufacture, use, and rise to fame

Qvevri – a large clay vessel of distinctive shape, used for winemaking.

The Georgian word ქვევრი apparently means that which is buried, and gets transliterated into the Latin alphabet as qvevri or kvevri. Those two spellings exist because, while the official transliteration of the first letter is k, many Georgians use q because it has the correct sound and takes the same position in their keyboard as ქ. Most winemakers have now agreed to adopt the spelling qvevri, and it was also used by UNESCO (in the English version of the document, but not the French) when they gave it Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity status. Intangible? I don’t think you would agree if one dropped on your foot. No, actually it is the method of winemaking that was recognised by UNESCO, not the vessel itself. They also have other names in different parts of Georgia, but from here on I shall simply call them qvevri, and drop the italics.

The size of qvevri can vary widely, from a few litres to the largest in current use, which is seven or eight thousand litres, but for winemaking a typical range seems to be several hundred to around three thousand. As 1,000 litres of water weighs a metric tonne, people also talk about qvevri capacity in terms of tons, which has nothing to do with the weight of the qvevri itself. We asked a qvevri maker, Zaza Kbilashvili in the Kakheti village of Vardisubani, how much an empty one weighed. He didn’t know, but it took 8 men to move one of his larger qvevri, and that was the important measure as far as he was concerned.

A potter’s wheel can be used to help shape the pointed qvevri base – a wheel slowly turned by hand, rather than the high-speed wheel used in modern craft pottery.  Then the rest is made as a coil pot, built up with sausages of clay. No tools or measuring instruments are used, everything being done by hand and eye, with the necessary skills being passed down from father to son. Zaza builds his qvevri in the basement of his house, which would hold around a dozen large ones, and I think he said the maximum size he could make was 2 tons. It takes him around three months to build up a batch of large qvevri, the progress each day depending on the weather – progress being faster on hot dry days, when the clay dries quicker to give a firm base for the next layer. The qvevri are then allowed to dry completely before they are lugged out to the arch-shaped brick kiln in the garden. Here wood is stacked around the qvevri to give correctly distributed heating for the firing, which takes seven days and has to be monitored continually. The final step is to give the insides of the qvevri a treatment of beeswax while they are still warm. This is to make the clay walls less porous to liquids while still allowing air to pass. The wax should soak into the larger pores, and not form a coating that prevents the wine from making contact with the clay.

After manufacture, the qvevri are shipped to the winemaker, who traditionally would be in the same region of Georgia, but now could be anywhere in the world. They are buried alongside each other, with only their openings exposed, to create a marani, or wine cellar. The image shows the small marani in the Pheasant’s Tears restaurant building, which contains just a few qvevri of different sizes. These are used by the restaurant staff, but do not form part of Pheasants Tears’ main production.

In terms of the number of steps involved, natural qvevri winemaking is very simple: at its most basic, you crush the grapes, put them in the qvevri, wait, and take the wine out. However it is also vital to make sure all the leftover gunk is properly removed afterwards, and that the qvevri are  scrupulously cleaned. There are traditional tools for this purpose, but these days cleaning with a high-pressure water jet is common. With larger qvevri, someone climbs down into the vessel to perform the cleaning operations, very large qvevri needing a small ladder for this purpose.

The final step in the life cycle of the qvevri is usually not destruction. In Georgia, the tradition is to respect old qvevri that have been disinterred by leaving them out on display. The ones shown here are at Alaverdi monastery.

The history of winemaking and the qvevri goes back in Georgia to at least the 6th millennium BC, as from that time qvevri fragments have been found with traces of wine tartrates and surrounded by grape pips. Since then, Georgia has seen 8,000 years of continuous winemaking in qvevri.

The so-called European style of winemaking, using barrels, was introduced into Georgia in the 19th century. For a period European and qvevri methods were both used in Georgia, but I have not seen any analysis of how wine production was structured in terms of method and producer size. However, the Soviet period from 1921 is still within living memory and much more widely discussed. Production was centralised in large state-run wineries, and vineyards were taken into collective ownership. The large wineries, or wine factories as Georgians called them, worked with a very limited number of grape varieties, principally Rkatsiteli and Saperavi, and were geared up to maximise volume at the expense of quality, most of this volume being targeted at the Russian market. Meanwhile, very small-scale qvevri winemaking quietly continued in people’s homes, using grapes taken from their gardens.

In post-independence Georgia, the large state-owned companies were privatised, other  wine-producing companies emerged, and quality improved with an eye on new export markets. Some of these companies even adopted qvevri production for their higher-end wines.

But there is another post-Soviet winemaking story to tell – a lot less important in sheer economic terms, but big in terms of prestige and future potential. Georgian individuals were each given a small plot of ex-collective vineyard, providing small-scale qvevri winemaking with a better supply of grapes, and forming the basis for the vibrant, though still small in percentage terms, natural qvevri wine movement of the 21st century. For some, winemaking ceased to be merely an activity that kept family and friends supplied, and more viable small businesses were created. Even then it seems it was usually necessary to have another source of income, perhaps by working as a professional in Tbilisi, or by running a restaurant or guesthouse alongside the winery. Larger vineyard areas were created by combining the allocations given to family and friends, or perhaps by renting neighbouring plots. And derelict cellars were restored, and new ones built.

However, perhaps the key difference between this new breed of small winemaker and their predecessors is not so much production volume; it is that the wines were being bottled. Thus, rather than being restricted to the limited market of their own village, they could be sold for more money in the shops and wine bars of Tbilisi – notably ღvino Underground – and get international exposure. When you are producing a few thousand bottles per annum, you neither want nor get the attention of supermarket buyers. But with the current cult interest in natural qvevri wines, to catch the eye of a sommelier from a restaurant of international renown is a distinct possibility.

(Follow these links for information on qvevri and the history of Georgian wine. And for stories of small qvevri winemakers, I would recommend Tasting Georgia by Carla Capalbo. In addition to material personally gleaned, those are the main sources for this post.)

 

Online information about Georgian wine

As Georgian wine gets more popular, there is an increasing number of easily digestible online summary articles, and if you want to seek those out I shall leave you in the capable hands of Google. But more surprising for me is the large amount detailed and authoritative information out there. In English too. Here I point out some of the best of these pages, images and documents.

Wine maps

Vinoge.com has arguably the best overview wine map of Georgia, showing the locations of many wine producers, and the main viticultural regions. It is displayed in a rather annoying way in the top right of all pages of the website, but by right-clicking you can open the entire map at high resolution, as seen here.

The same site also has a good set of more detailed maps for individual regions, which can all be accessed from this page. You may need to scroll down a bit to find the first one, then keep clicking on the map you are interested in until you eventually you get the map as a high-resolution image.

From hvino.com, you may also find this map of interest. The information given is a mixed bag, with various items of interest for Georgian wine tourists. Personally I don’t think it works well as an overview, but is perhaps more useful if you are after something in particular.

Appellations of Origin

There is an official document available as PDF that describes the Georgian Appellations of Origin in English. Each delimited region is shown on its own detailed map, but you will need a more general map to understand where those regions are within Georgia. I found searching for village names on Google maps was a good way to get that context. (Update 16/07/20: A number of new appellations have been announced since this document was published, and significant changes to at least one existing appellation. See this more recent post for up-to-date information.)

The soils and climate of each zone are described in mind-numbing detail, but the requirements on grape varieties are only very vaguely expressed. The varieties are listed and described, but then you are usually left to assume that it is those grapes that are allowed in some proportion or other, and others are prohibited. (Update 16/07/20: The regulations regarding grape varieties are now much clearer.)

Georgian producers do not seem to be using these AOC names as enthusiastically as they might, but you do occasionally see them on labels so it can be good to know what they mean. Indeed it is good merely to know which AOC names exist, so you do not confuse them for grape varieties.

Grape varieties

When you have the Georgian AOCs under your belt, you might want to download the 456 page PDF tome Georgian Ampelography for further reading material. There are over 500 Georgian grapes mentioned in the list at the end of this book, but it focusses on the detailed ampelography of only 59, including 4 from France, the remainder all being native to Georgia. In the 1960 edition the main entries were restricted to 57 varieties – a nod to Heinz perhaps? – including 5 French ones.

Sadly for wine drinkers, the ampelographic descriptions include little comment on the style and quality of the wine produced by the various varieties. But if you need to grow or identify vines in a Georgian vineyard – or are a card-holding wine geek – this is definitely a book for you. Somehow, even if I am unlikely to read more than a small fraction of it, I feel my life is enhanced by this scholarly work.

Qvevri

Finally, for information about qvevri, including regional variations in usage, it is hard to beat the short PDF book Making Wine in Qvevri – a Unique Georgian Tradition.

Telavi Wine Cellar, and their Marani and Satrapezo wines

This place is big. Huge. It’s quite possibly the largest wine-producing outfit I have ever visited, and seems only the larger for the contrast with most of the other Georgian producers on this trip. I cannot find volume production figures, but using Google maps I would estimate its buildings, car park and outside storage tanks cover around 1 ha. That would be more like the vineyard area of some producers we visited, the wine production area being a small room containing several qvevri. The company is Telavi Wine Cellar, and they are located just outside the Georgian city of Telavi, the administrative capital of Kakheti. But you will not see the company name on labels unless you look carefully. The main brand they sell under is Marani, which translates as wine cellar, while their top-end qvevri wines are branded as Satrapezo, which is what Georgian call the small quantities of particularly good quality wine that would be used for liturgical purposes.Perhaps these images also give some idea of the size of the place. I believe they show practically all their barrels and qvevri, but there is a lot more stainless steel, and two large rooms each with a bottling line. The company was founded in 1915, and was under state ownership for a lot of its history, but is now a private company. Again unlike most of the places we visited, there was no mention of organic viticulture or, with only one exception, any natural wine credentials, the exception being that the Satrapezo wines are fermented by natural yeasts. However, after a period in qvevri these wines are also aged in oak barrels, to the disapprobation of traditionalists. But putting wine-making philosophy aside, a possible sacrilege in itself I realise, how much does this matter? What does the wine taste like?

I was not particularly keen on any of the red wines. I am not sure why exactly but they just did not appeal. For any producer I generally preferred the white and orange wines to the red, so that was probably a big factor, and nothing to do with Telavi Wine Cellar in particular. As far as the whites were concerned, I thought they were all enjoyable, and the wine quality definitely increased as we moved upwards through the nominal quality levels. The Marani Kakheti Mtsvane 2016 was a good basic aromatic wine that I would be happy to drink, but was in an international style and not particularly distinctive. The Marani Tsinandali 2014 was a step up – dry, good acidity, and with citrus and apple aromas. Note that Tsinandali is a delimited subzone of Kakheti, around Televi where the winery is, and any wine so-labelled must be at least 85% Rkatsiteli, the remainder being Mtsvane. Then there was another step up with the Marani Kondoli Vineyards Rkatsiteli 2014, also from Kakheti, and from the Kondoli vineyards which are within the Tsinandali area. This too had good acidity and was dry, but the ripeness of the fruit gave a slightly sweet impression and I was reminded of the petrol notes one can get in Riesling – a very good thing a far as I am concerned. All three of those wines were made with no skin contact, while the final wine is a skin-contact orange wine, and does not use the Marani brand: Satrapezo 10 Kvevri Rkatsiteli 2013. It has an annual production of 14,000 bottles, or about 10 qvevris, which might sound very little, but it amounts to roughly to the total output of some places we visited. After 20-25 days of skin maceration in qvevri, the wine is transferred to small oak barrels for 10 months. This too was a lovely wine with sharp fresh apricot notes, and having moderate to low tannins this was one of the more delicate orange wines.

I would happily have bought one bottle of each of the last three wines to bring back with me from the winery, but it did not yet have the facility for retail sales. However, I found them in the Tbilisi airport duty-free shop, and took the opportunity to use my remaining Georgian Lari to buy them. It turned out that I could also have got them in the UK, and for about the same price.

(Update 19/07/17: See comments on this post if you are interested in production volumes.)

Iago Bitarishvili and Iago’s Wine

As we left our minibus for lunch at Iago’s place, two things became apparent. One was the beauty of his horticultural garden, the other being the surprisingly large size of his restaurant. Iago only uses 2 ha of vineyard, but people certainly have an appetite to see what he is doing with it. Perhaps his proximity to Tbilisi, less than an hour by car to the village of Chardakhi, encourages wine tourism. That and the quality of the food and wine of course, and the fact that Iago was one of the pioneers of bottling natural qvevri wine, making it available to a much wider audience.

Before getting to the restaurant we were diverted into the cellar building on the left, where Iago gave a very clear presentation of qvevri winemaking. Have you ever wondered how wine is removed from the qvevri after fermentation and ageing? Well, the traditional method is to lower into the qvevri a gourd tied to the end of a stick. These devices are quite often found leaning in the corner of qvevri cellars, more for decoration than practical reasons these days one suspects, along with long sticks used for punching down and stirring. In this image, you can see such a gourd to the left, placed on top of a qvevri lid for display purposes. The basket thingy to the right is a totally separate device, and part of Iago’s modern solution to the problem of how to get the wine out. While a gourd may be all well and good for getting wine to supply yourself and guests for an evening, you can appreciate that if you want to empty a qvevri of, say, 2,500 li for modern-day bottling, then a gourd on a stick is not very effective. Indeed, considering the average per capita wine consumption at a Georgian wedding is supposed to be 3 li, you do wonder about how practical a gourd ever was. Anyway, Iago now uses a pump, and the basket slips around the end of the hose to filter out all the gunk – grape skins, stalks etc – that collects at the bottom of the qvervi, preventing it from getting sucked up along with the wine. So, the next time you are told that natural wines are unfiltered, that might not be strictly speaking true!

The food was very good, and seemingly bathed in the beauty radiating from the adjacent garden. It arrived in the traditional order I was now used to: cold veggie dishes followed by hot, then meat, in this case dumplings, quails and barbequed pork. I sat next to our coach driver and, judging by the way he tucked into the dumplings, they in particular got a big thumbs-up from him. He looked concerned as I ate one, and then demonstrated that I should be adding black pepper. While good without, the addition of pepper did improve them. With all this was served Iago’s skin-contact Chinuri 2015, and a Saperavi 2014 from decanter. I understand Iago is a Chinuri specialist, his wines being mainly of that variety, with and without skin contact, and a Pet Nat. The Saperavi was a bit of an oddity: a mere 1,500 bottles are made, and it is only available directly from Iago. To take back with me, I purchased some of the Chinuri we were drinking and a bottle of the Saperavi. On getting home I noticed that, despite the Saperavi label looking very much like the Chinuri one, it did not proclaim itself as Iago’s Wine – so maybe the Saperavi came from the qvevri of a friend in the village and was just bottled by Iago?

The mere fact that these wines were selected to join the select few bottles on my return flight meant I liked them a lot. As with Okro’s Wines, these too were quite light on tannic structure. For what it is worth, aromatically I would characterise the Chinuri as pear, orange and apricot, while the Saperavi had rich but tangy dark fruit. I have already cracked open a Chinuri back home. It did not seem to be as good as I remembered it, but that could well be because I was drinking it with a British roast chicken dinner rather than its native food. I’ll find something more adventurous for the next bottle.

Two wines from Georgia

In preparation for a Georgia wine trip planned for next year, I spent quite a bit of time on the Georgia tables at the Autumn SITT tasting, and now feel I have much better idea of what to expect. For example, I now have expectations about the main red and white grape varieties, Saperavi and Rkatsiteli, and the qualities imparted by qvevri maceration. Some misapprehensions doubtless, but expectations nevertheless.

At the tasting, two producer representatives were kind enough to let me take away bottles of the wines I liked best. Please don’t read too much into my selection – I am always hesitant to judge on a quick sniff and swirl, but for the same reason I was very glad to have the opportunity to re-taste at home, and drink the wines with food. As far as I know, neither producer is represented in the UK, so I do not know for sure what the prices would be here. However, the Maranuli is at the top end of the producer’s range, and the Askaneli towards the bottom. Comparing with the price range for Georgian wines in the UK that could imply retail prices of around £25 and £12.
georgia-sitt
Maranuli
, Rkatsiteli Qvevri, 2014, 13.0%
According to the label, the grapes were grown in Kakheti, which is Georgia’s main wine region, in the East of the country. At SITT, this wine stood out for me as being particularly full, rich and aromatic – a particularly attractive and serious wine. Immediately opening at home I thought it did not live up to what I experienced at SITT, but throughout the meal, and the following evening, it grew on me more and more. It was not complex in the sense that I got different impressions within a few minutes of each other, but it seemed to change over longer periods, becoming more and more intriguing. Medium deep amber in colour. It is what we would call an orange wine, as it was fermented and matured on its skins. On the nose the initial impression was intense, phenolic, and with hint of rose I think, an aroma I now associate with the Rkatsiteli grape variety. Medium acidity. Dry. Medium low astringency when you look for it. Smooth, viscous and full bodied. Notes of incense, with orange blossom and zest. More phenolic on the finish, giving a dry and bitter finish. Decent length. The aromatic profile developed. Later in the evening, aniseed and licorice; and the following day, Seville orange and ginger. The experience of the wine was very temperature dependent. At fridge temperature the rose aromatics were very noticeable, as was the astringency.  Towards room temperature it was more Sherry-like. The tasting notes above were probably made around 14°C, which I thought showed the wine to its best advantage, while the recommendation on the bottle was for a few degrees warmer. Absolutely no idea if this would improve with age, but it is good to drink now *****

Askaneli Brothers, Saperavi, 13.0%
There is no indication of geographic origin or vintage on the bottle, but the website says Kakheti, and the SITT catalogue 2013. There is something that looks like a bottling date on the label: 01.07.2016. It that really consistent with a 2013 vintage? Medium pale purple ruby. Intense nose, with a quality I find difficult to describe. There was definitely cherry fruit, but also a green character – perhaps raw broad beans, melon, peppermint, or even cream – difficult to describe, and something that I found a lot more pleasant than my attempted description might imply. I found it on a few of the Saperavi wines at SITT, and think I shall probably call it sappy in future tasting notes, by way of alliteration. Medium acidity, and an impression of sweetness, which I presume really came from the ripeness of the fruit. Medium low tannin. Excellent length. Drink now I guess. I tasted this very lightly chilled ****

Not all wines on the Georgian table were as good as these two, but that of course would hold true for wines from any country, and on the whole they were attractive and offered a lot of interest for my West European palate. The only wines I could not contemplate drinking were the medium sweet reds, which I was told are now produced mainly for export to ex-Soviet countries, the Georgians themselves preferring dry wines. I doubt very much they would sell well here but, for those that do like that style, Georgia pretty much has the market to itself.

Looking forward to my trip!

Georgian kvevri wines of Pheasant’s Tears, Iago and Lagvini

A kvevri is a large (800-3,500 litre) earthenware vessel, and often also transliterated as qvevri – the Georgian word is ქვევრი.  Sometimes you see them described as amphoras in English texts, but strictly speaking those are smaller vessels with handles, and were used for transportation.

They are lined with beeswax and used in Georgia to ferment and age wine, usually buried underground with only the neck visible.  Traditionally, these wines are fermented on their skins irrespective of the colour of the grape, and little or no sulphur dioxide is used as the natural tannins are reckoned to be sufficient for protection against oxygen.

Back in 2006, when the wines of this country were even less well known than they are now, Tom Cannavan travelled to Georgia to judge a wine competition.  Referring largely to kvevri wines I think, he wrote

It soon became clear that calibration was needed not only of palates, but of expectations and cultural sensitivities. Each judge spoke in turn about wine one. Our eastern European judges all award the wine 18 or 19 points; a gold medal. The western judges scored it 12, 12 and 10, noting winemaking faults.

Reading that was the first time I became aware of the importance of cultural norms in defining wine quality, and it made quite a big impact on how I regard wine.  Eight years on, and Georgia is still making these wines.  I would say they are still weird to Western European taste, though the recent rise in popularity of so-called natural wines has perhaps made us more accepting, and they are more readily available in the UK.

I rate wines by personal enjoyment, so I don’t need to worry too much about cultural norms, but I still found these wine challenging to assess.  It is surprisingly difficult to decide how much you like something when the experience is so different to what you normally encounter.  Whether I do or do not finish up drinking a lot of kvevri wines in the future, I am sure of one thing:  the world of wine would be poorer without this style, and I am pleased it exists.  If you have not done so already I suggest you try at least one white and one red – Pheasant’s Tears is probably the most widely brand available in the UK, and seems to be well-regarded by those who judge such things.

Anyway, here are the wines, bought from different shops so the prices are not directly comparable. In addition to the tasting notes, there is brief information largely taken from the back label.

Iago’s Wine, Chardakhi, Chinuri, White dry, Without skin contact,  2010, 11.4%, £13.50

There was no “contains sulphites” text on the label which, if legal, means the sulphite level was very low. Chinuri is the grape variety, and Chardakhi the village.  The vines are over 50 years old.  This wine was “foot pressed” in wooden containers, and underwent fermentation and initial aging in kvevri.

Pale amber gold.  Intense pear. Medium high acidity.  Has a sour note – as in sour milk but not unpleasant. Dry. Decent length.  Pleasant and interesting, but rather simple.  Can’t remember ever having had a wine like this. The following day it was a tad oxidised ***

Lagvini, Rkatsiteli, Vineyards of the Caucasus, Kakheti, 2011, 12.5%, £22.50

This is an orange wine, fermented and aged in kvevri. Organic and natural.  Lagvini is the producer, Rkatsiteli the grape variety, and Kakheti the region.

Medium amber. Intense. Fresh. Phenolic – a little like carbolic soap. And aromas I would normally associate with light red wines, like raspberry I think, and Beaujolais-like notes. Ripe apple, but not the over-ripe apple you associate with oxidation. Difficult to describe. Medium acid. Fresh, pleasant and interesting. A bit flat on the finish. Medium high tannin. Drink now I guess. Score includes a little for interest factor. But it is short, and somehow did not get drunk much with the middle-eastern meal  ****

Pheasant’s Tears, Unfiltered, Saperavi, Living Black Wine, Kakheti Region, 2007, 12.5%, £18.00

Pheasant’s Tears is the producer, and Saperavi the grape variety. This was hand-pressed into bees wax lined amphoras (sic – that’s what the label said). Macerated for several days. Semi-filtered and lightly sulphured, so drink soon after opening.

Medium garnet. Intense. Smokey wood. High-toned.  Medium high acidity. Dry. Medium tannin. Intense, sharp juicy dark fruit. Mouth-watering. Excellent length. On the palate, less of the smokey character that is on the nose, but it is still there. Drink now probably. Interesting, and I like it. Not sure how often I would want to drink it though ****

Pheasant’s Tears, Saperavi, Dry unfiltered red wine, Kakheti , 2011, 12.5%, £13.00

This is really the same as the previous wine, but a different vintage, and with a revamped label and back-label information.   The vines come from the Tinaani sub-region of Kakheti.  The grapes were pressed into bees wax lined amphoras (sic), where they underwent normal and malolactic fermentation with natural yeasts. Long skin maceration.

Medium inky purple ruby. Intense dark fruit. Volatile and bretty.  High acidity. Medium high tannin. Excellent length. As nose. Band-aid brett noticeable in the mouth, in addition to the farmyard brett on the nose. Overall a cough-mixture effect.  Wierd stuff. Hmmm, let’s see… ****

Pheasant’s Tears, Mtsvane, Dry unfiltered amber wine, Kakheti, 2011, 12.5%, £15.00

The grape is Mtsvane, and the vines are from the Kartilian estate.  Production details are as for the Pheasant’s Tears 2011 Saperavi.

Medium greeny amber gold. Intense smoke, and some rose. Some sharp honey-like notes too I think. Intriguing and exotic. Medium low acidity. Dry, but with the sweet aromas of ripe fruit. Highly astringent. Seems more acidic on the finish, which is refreshing. On the palate, more sharp honey and less rose than on the nose.  Intriguing. No idea how this would age. Would it keep the aromas, but soften? Not easy to score ****

Pheasant’s Tears, Shavkapito, Dry unfiltered red wine, Kakheti, 2011, 12.5%, £15.00

Shavkapito is the grape variety, and this came from the Tinaani sub-region of Kakheti. Production details are as for the Pheasant’s Tears 2011 Saperavi.

Medium ruby with some violet. Vague berry perhaps. Little reductive maybe. Not giving much on the nose. Medium low acidity. Dry. Hard edges. Highly astringent. Some soft berry aroms hidden behind the tannin somewhere – maybe – I think. Needs a decade or so ***

Pheasant’s Tears, Rkatsiteli, Dry unfiltered amber wine, Kakheti ,2011, 12.5%, £14.70

Rkatsiteli is the grape variety, and this comes from Bodbiskevi village, East Alazani Valley. Production details are as for the Pheasant’s Tears 2011 Saperavi.

Medium pale greenish amber gold.  Intense, fresh, slightly medicinal. Could be brett, but I think this is typical of skin-contact white wines. Medicinal note is irritating to my nose. Dried apricots maybe. Medium high acidity. Tannin obvious. High astringency. Excellent length. As nose. Astringent finish.  No idea how this will age. Including the interest factor, I give this… ***