About Georgian wine
Archaeological excavations in 2013 revealed that wine-making on the eastern coast of the Black Sea goes back to at least 6,000BC. This is the birthplace of wine.
Wild grapes, as well as the vitis vinifera family of cultivated vines – from which almost all of the world’s wine is now made – almost certainly originated here, then spread due to its key position on ancient trading routes from the east.
But for most of the 20th century Georgia was forced to make cheap wine for its Soviet overlords, when state-run wineries ripped up indigenous grapes to replace them with high-yielding international varieties. But most families continued to make wine for their own consumption from their own old vines.
Following independence in 1991, vineyards were returned to their rightful owners and wineries were sold to forward-thinking business owners who introduced better viticulture and wine-making techniques. There was widespread replanting of native grapes so producers could make high-quality, modern wines that appealed to their many growing export markets. These now account for the vast majority of production but there’s also an enthusiastic revival of ancient wine-making methods.
Thousands of years before hipsters got a whiff of orange wine, Georgians were fermenting grapes along with their skins, stems and pips in qvevri – teardrop-shaped clay vessels as tall as a man, lined with beeswax and buried in the ground up to their necks. This method maintains a steady temperature as the wines age, extracting colour, flavour and tannins for extra complexity and an appetising, grippy texture.
When made with white grapes, these are the original orange wines. The most extreme can be challenging – detractors say they taste like rough farmyard cider – but there are plenty of appealing, drinkable wines made in the same style. They’re to be savoured slowly and are usually best served with food, especially Middle Eastern dishes.
Five Georgian wines to buy
Rkatsiteli is the grape in this very approachable qvevri wine with notes of tangerine, quince and savoury spice.
Lovely floral nose, with luscious fruit and a gently nutty, russet apple crunch. Fantastic value, too.
Saperavi is Georgia’s most planted red grape and unusually has both red flesh and skin. Fermented in qvevri, this is bursting with juicy berry fruits, with seductive spices and a hint of chocolate.
A rare rosé made from organic rkatsiteli and saperavi grapes. Scents of strawberries and mango, with liquorice and robust tannic bite.
Made from the mtsvane grape (pronounced mitse-vanee) in stainless steel tanks with no skin contact, this is pure, with perfumed, peachy fruit and a fresh, grassy finish.