Georgia wants to claim its place in the wine world. And rightfully so, given that its the cradle of wine, the first place where humans gathered wild vines for enological purposes. This has been proven by archaeological remains of seeds and various winemaking artifacts found in Chokn, which date from the time period between 7000 and 5000 B.C.
This yielded a by now widely accepted theory that traces the origins of wine to Transcaucasia, a region comprising modern-day Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and western Turkey.
Wine culture then expanded southward, from the Anatolian peninsula to Mesopotamia and Egypt. This fact establishes an irrefutable link between the origins of viticulture and the origins and expansion of the most important civilizations in human history.
Georgia—with its exceptional winegrowing conditions and geostrategic importance as a bridge between Europe and Asia—has not had it easy. Despite more than 200 years of Russian domination, Georgia stoically maintained its identity.
The following story illustrates the complicated regional situation. Georgian wine is so popular in Russia that the production of fake high-end Saperavis (an indigenous red variety) escalated into a huge conflict. The Russian Federation took the radical route and banned imports of Georgian wine in 2003. This inadvertently forced Georgian winemakers to improve their wines, to make them more appealing and personality-driven, so they could compete in new markets like Europe, China and the United States.
Homegrown names: Kakheti and Saperavi
Georgia is home to such vast numbers of indigenous varieties that it never had to plant international grapes to make great wines.
Georgian wines owe their success precisely to this unique character. In a globalized world, they are the products of an introspective approach, which is rooted in and draws on a particular identity to ensure their survival.
This countercultural appeal makes Georgia a country worth paying close attention to if you’re a wine lover seeking authenticity and that special indefinable something in a wine.
- Georgia has three wine-producing regions led by Kakheti, which produces 80% of the country’s wine. The region includes several subzones that make Georgian winegrowing so varied and interesting. Here the flavorful Saperavi grows alongside the crisp Rkatsiteli and the exquisitely elegant white Mtsvane Kakhuri. One of the main attractions in these subzones is Tsinandali, a 19th century chateau that boasts the country’s best white wine. When it comes to sweet Saperavi wines, the competition is fierce between Kvanchkara and Kindzmarauli.
- Imereti lies in western Georgia, where it benefits from the influence of the Black Sea. This region is also home to local varieties, including Tsitiska and Tsolikouri. They give the region its reputation for fun wines, not as complex than those of Kakheti, but easy to drink and cheerful with less pigment and lower tannin.
- Finally, Kartli lies in the lowlands near the capital, Tbilisi. The region is much colder than Kakheti and produces lighter, smoother wines with softer tannins, but magnificent acidity and fragrant aroma.
Saperavi, the flagship variety
Saperavi, a red variety, is the country’s indisputable flagship grape. No small feat in a wine region with such a wealth of indigenous varieties.
Saperavi has an inimitable and pronounced personality. Deep in color, it is characterized by powerful tannins and firm acidity that ensures a fresh palate. In addition, the variety also produces highly regarded sweet wines, particularly in the Imereti region.
It’s worth paying attention to how Georgian winemaking develops in the future. The country’s producers have complete faith in the quality of their wines despite a lack of technical equipment and supplies.
The political situation doesn’t make things easier, but we have no doubts whatsoever about the potential of the country’s wines. Their personality, the climate and the efforts of local winemakers are three assets on which the industry has built its admirable faith and determination, refusing to resign itself to an uncertain present and instead setting its sights on a promising future.
We’ll be watching!