The rich Georgian winemaking tradition dates back thousands of years. Its wines are unique and diverse, produced using traditional methods and showcasing the country’s numerous native grape varieties.
In fact, Georgia is considered the birthplace of wine, with recent findings from the Hulaveri valley of grape seeds and clay vessels used for its production dating back 8000 years.
From its ancient origins to its modern revival, Georgia has established itself as a producer of high-quality and unique wines.
It is a symbol of the country’s long history and unique traditions, and it is something that is deeply ingrained in the Georgian way of life.
Whether enjoyed at a traditional supra or paired with a meal, Georgian wine is worth seeking out and experiencing for oneself.
The hospitality and generosity of the Georgian people are legendary, and a visit to one of the many vineyards will give you an opportunity to experience their warmth and friendliness. With a wide range of flavors and styles, there is a Georgian wine to suit every palate.
Table of Contents
How is Georgian wine traditionally made?
Georgian wine is traditionally made in Qvevri, clay vessels buried underground in which the wine is fermented and aged.
First, the grapes are hand-picked and transported to the winery where they are sorted and cleaned. Then, the grapes are crushed in a winepress called satsnakheli, and the juice is poured into the Qvevri along with the skins, seeds, and stems.
The wine is then left to ferment for several weeks or months, depending on the variety and style of wine being made.
During the fermentation process, the grape skins and seeds are left in contact with the juice for an extended period of time, in a step called maceration, which gives the wine its color and imparts tannins, flavor, and phenolic compounds to the wine.
After fermentation, the wine is left to age in the hermetically closed Qvevri for several months or even years. The clay vessels, which can vary in size from 50 liters to various tons, help to regulate the temperature and humidity, and they also impart a unique taste and character to the wine. Once the wine is ready, it is then bottled, and ready to be enjoyed.
The Qvevri method is not only unique but also traditional and it gives Georgian wines a distinct taste experience that is hard to find anywhere else in the world.
This Georgian traditional wine technology has no analogy in the world.
Bits of culture
Wine production is so important to the local families that, in some areas, the construction of a house starts from the burial of the Qvevri underground. Time is wine in Georgia.
Why is Georgian wine special?
Georgian wine is special for many intertwined reasons.
The over 500 indigenous grape varieties, many of which are still used throughout the country today, yield a wine that’s distinct in taste and character from more common grape varieties used in other regions of the world, especially when the traditional Qvevri technique is used.
The most noticeable and valuable difference that Georgian wine has from every other wine stays in the method of production.
Inside the Qvevri isn’t only put the grape juice, but the crushed grape skins and seeds as well. The Qvevri technique permits a natural fermentation, allowing the wines to express the character of the grapes and the terroir.
This method, which is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, imparts a distinct taste and character to Georgian wines.
Georgian winemakers have only started adopting and implementing European-style methods in their production in the past 150 years, and the wines that are being made this way nowadays are still different from those coming from the center of the Old Continent, as the native grapes help maintain the Georgian character in combination with more elegant and defined results.
But it’s not only about the grapes. The soil is another crucial factor that differentiates Georgian wine from other wines.
Each region has a vastly different ecosystem and even though the most prolific and renowned region is Kakheti, the rest are still very much worth checking out, as the differences in production are reflected in the use of different indigenous grapes, different altitudes, different use of the Qvevri technique (such as in Imereti) and more!
Another peculiarity of Georgian wine is the production of amber wine. These wines have a unique amber color and a distinct taste and aroma, which sets them apart from other wines.
All these factors make Georgian wine special, unique, and a valuable cultural heritage.
What is Georgian amber wine? how is it made?
Georgian amber wine is a type of wine that is made using the traditional Georgian winemaking method of qvevri. It is made from white grape varieties such as Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane, and it has a unique amber color and a distinct taste and aroma.
The process of making amber wine is different from traditional, western white wine production, as the grape skins and seeds are left in contact with the juice for an extended period of time, usually weeks or even months. This process is what gives the wine its amber-orange color. The wine is then fermented and aged in the qvevri underground, which imparts a distinct taste and character to the wine.
Amber wines are typically full-bodied, with higher acidity and tannins, and a distinct nutty, earthy, or spicy character. They are also known for their complex aromas and flavors, which can include notes of honey, nuts, dried fruit, and spices.
Due to the extended maceration, Amber wines are typically aged longer than traditional white wines, which gives them a unique aged character, and a complexity on the palate.
They also pair well with a wide variety of foods, such as cheese, charcuterie, and spicy dishes.
Bits of culture
Georgians have always, throughout history, been considered great warriors, resisting millennia of attacks from invaders from all corners of the world. That’s why it shouldn’t surprise you that one of the first stories that Georgians will tell you is about the old tradition that their soldiers used to follow of tying a grapevine into their armor, in the hope that a great vine would one day grow from their hearts.
The History of Winemaking in Georgia
Winemaking in Georgia has a long and unique history, with evidence of grape seeds and clay wine vessels, known as qvevri, dating back to 6000 BC. The ancient Georgians believed that wine was a gift from the gods and it played an important role in their culture and traditions. Wine was used in religious ceremonies, and it was also an integral part of social and economic life.
In the ancient world, Georgia was known for its high-quality wine, and it was widely traded throughout the Mediterranean and the Near East. The Greeks and Romans, who encountered Georgian wine during their conquests, were impressed by its quality and flavor. In fact, the Roman poet Ovid referred to the wine of Colchis (an ancient region in western Georgia) as “the wine of the gods.”
Before the annexation of Georgia to the Soviet Republic, the wine industry in Georgia was thriving. The country had a long history of winemaking, and it was known for its high-quality wines made from indigenous grape varieties. The industry was also a significant contributor to the country’s economy.
The country’s location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia made it an important hub for the distribution of wine throughout the region. Monasteries played a significant role in the production and preservation of wine, and many of them had their own vineyards and wine cellars.
At the start of the 19th century, the Russian Empire annexed Georgia, and the country’s wine industry fell into decline. The Soviet government collectivized agriculture and focused on mass production, which led to a decrease in the quality of Georgian wine. The government also imposed strict regulations on the industry and limited exports, which further hindered the growth of the industry.
During this period, many vineyards were destroyed, and many wineries were forced to shut down. Many of the country’s skilled winemakers were also either forced to leave the country or were suppressed by the Soviet government.
The current state of the industry
Despite the troubled recent history, since the country’s independence in 1991, there has been a revival of traditional winemaking techniques and an emphasis on producing high-quality wines. This has led to the recognition of Georgian wines on the international stage, with many wineries winning awards and accolades at international wine competitions.
The country is becoming an increasingly popular destination for wine tourism, and many wine enthusiasts from around the world are eager to experience the traditional Qvevri method of winemaking and to discover their numerous indigenous grapes.
In recent years, many Georgian wineries have modernized their facilities and are using new technologies to improve the quality of their wines, while still using the indigenous grapes that make their wine so unique. This includes the use of stainless steel tanks for fermentation, temperature control systems, and the use of oak barrels for aging. These new technologies have helped to improve the consistency and quality of Georgian wines.
The industry is also benefiting from the country’s growing reputation as a tourist destination. The country’s unique culture, beautiful landscapes, and delicious cuisine are attracting many visitors, and many of them are interested in experiencing the country’s traditional wine culture.
The current state of the Georgian wine industry is a mixture of tradition and modernization. The traditional method of winemaking using Qvevri is still practiced and is gaining popularity globally as an ancient method of wine production.
Exports of Georgian wine have been on the rise in recent years, with countries like Russia, China, and Ukraine being the main importers. The Georgian wine industry is also expanding to new markets, such as the United States, Canada, and European countries, which is helping to increase the visibility of Georgian wines on a global scale.
In addition to exports, the domestic market for Georgian wine is also growing. The country’s growing tourism industry has led to an increase in demand for Georgian wines, and many wineries are now focusing on developing their wine tourism offerings. This includes offering tours, tastings, and wine-making classes to visitors.
The Georgian government has also been actively promoting the country’s wine industry and implementing measures to improve the quality of the wine and increase exports. This includes funding for research and development, tax incentives for wineries, and the creation of a wine-making research institute.
Role in the culture
Wine plays a very important role in the culture of Georgia, and has done so for thousands of years. The ancient Georgians believed that wine was a gift from the gods, and it played an important role in their religious ceremonies and social and economic life. Wine was considered a symbol of hospitality and a way to honor guests, and it was also an important part of traditional Georgian feasts, known as supra.
The Supra is a traditional Georgian feast that is typically led by the tamada, a toastmaster who proposes and leads toasts throughout the meal. Wine is an essential part of the supra, and in the past, although it can still happen, it was typically served in a large, traditional horn-shaped vessel called a kantsi. The tamada, also known as the toast-master, will propose a toast before each course, and the guests will drink the wine in unison. The supra is a time to come together with friends and family to celebrate, and the wine is seen as a symbol of unity and friendship.
Wine is also an important part of the Georgian economy, and it has been for centuries. In the past, wine was a major export for the country, and it continues to be an important source of income for many Georgian families today. The Georgian wine industry has experienced a resurgence in recent years, with many new wineries opening and traditional winemaking techniques being revived. This has led to an increase in the recognition of Georgian wines on the international stage, with many wineries winning awards and accolades at international wine competitions.
In addition to its economic importance, wine is also an important part of Georgian identity and culture. It is a symbol of the country’s long history and unique traditions, and it is something that is deeply ingrained in the Georgian way of life. Many Georgians take great pride in their wine and are passionate about sharing it with others, and visiting a Georgian vineyard is an opportunity to experience this culture firsthand.
Bits of culture
Georgians say that their unique Kartuli alphabet, born in the 10th century, was inspired by the unpredictable and spontaneous patterns found in vine tendrils.
Georgian Wine Regions and Varieties
Georgia has a diverse range of microclimates and soil types that allow for the cultivation of a wide variety of grapes. The country is divided into several distinct wine regions, each with its own unique terroir and varieties.
Kakheti, located in eastern Georgia, is the largest and most well-known wine region, producing over 70% of the country’s wine.
The bulk of the wine produced in Kakheti comes from the Alazani valley, a 160km long and 30km wide valley located at the heart of the region centered around the homonymous river originating from the scenic mountains of Tusheti.
The soil of the Alazani valley is what’s called cinnamic, which is rich in carbonates and clays, making it ideal for the growth of vines as it facilitates the development of deep roots, able to extract more and more varied nutrients and minerals, necessary to help form the distinctive flavor of these wines.
The region is mostly known for its red wines made from the Saperavi grape and white wines made from the Rkatsiteli grape, but there are many other interesting grape varieties utilized that show us their best version through this region’s soil, such as Kakhuri Mtsvane, Kisi and Khikhvi for white grapes, and Tsiteli Budeshuri, Ikaltos Tsiteli and Kharistvala for the red ones.
The wines from Kakheti are renowned for their rich, full-bodied flavors and high tannins.
River Mtkvari is the source from which all winemaking starts in Kartli, an important wine-producing region located in central Georgia.
The region is known for its sparkling wines, which are made using the traditional method and are considered some of the best in the country, and for the production of European-style wines made from both endogenous and foreign grapes.
It’s also a prosperous producer of white wines such as Chinuri, a variety that is used to make dry, crisp wines, and Gori Mtsvane, and of red wines, using grape varieties of Shavkapito and Tavkveri.
Imereti, located in western Georgia, is a region with a high concentration of diverse landscapes and microclimates, a characteristic also reflected in their wines.
The wines from Imereti are known for their rich, fruity flavors and medium-to-full body.
Imereti also uses the qvevri technique, which they call Churi, but with a considerable difference; the amount of grape must inside the vessel is significantly lower than the grape juice, resulting in a more elegant result with a delicate structure and a stunning yellow color.
The region is also known for its semi-sweet wines made from the Tsitska grape, which have a delicate aroma and a balanced sweetness.
Racha-Lechkhumi, located in northwest Georgia, is a small but significant wine region. The climate is extremely cold in winter and conversely as hot in the summer, resulting in high-quality and unique wines.
The region doesn’t have too much space dedicated to vineyards, so they try to utilize the limited space for the production of different wines coming from rare grapes such as Tsulukidze Tetra, Tsolikouri, Aleksandrouli, and Rachuli Dzelshavi. The wines from Racha-Lechkhumi are known for their mineral notes and high acidity.
Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti, located in northwest Georgia, is a region known for its red wines made from the Alexandrouli grape and white wines made from the Mtsvane grape. The wines from this region are known for their complex aromas and flavors and for having a strong tannic structure.
In addition to these main regions, there are also a number of small, family-run wineries that produce unique and high-quality wines all over Georgia.
Some of the most popular Georgian grape varieties include Saperavi, a red grape used to produce full-bodied red wines with high tannins; Rkatsiteli, a white grape used to make dry white wines; and Mtsvane, a white grape used to produce fresh and aromatic wines.
Visiting Georgia and experiencing the unique and diverse wine offerings it offers is a journey that will take you through the history and culture of one of the oldest wine-producing countries in the world, and it will leave you with a newfound appreciation for the art of winemaking.