Georgia has one of the oldest winemaking traditions in the world; DNA evidence shows that wine was made here over 7,000 years ago. The Middle Ages was a golden period for winemaking in Georgia. As in Burgundy, local monks and farmers studied the terroir and plant the best grapes in the best areas.
Recent history has not been so kind. For the last two hundred years, phylloxera, revolutions, Communist rule and Russian embargoes effectively crippled Georgia’s wine market. Over the last decade, however, the wine quality has improved and wineries have reached out to international markets, where Georgian wine has slowly but steadily gained a reputation with adventurous sommeliers and consumers.
This small country, bordered by Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Black Sea, contains climates ranging from temperate to sub-tropical. Grapevines are grown in almost every region of the country. There are 18 individual viticultural areas, with Kakheti being the most important. Well-drained soils, temperate climate, and centuries of terroir study make Kakheti the best region for growing and making wine, and it produces 70 percent of wine made in Georgia.
Over 500 grape varieties grow in Georgia, but the most common and most successful are saperavi, which makes dark, savory reds, and rkatsiteli, a white grape that yields amber wines full of spice. A few producers are also introducing international grape varieties, such as chardonnay, into their portfolios. Perhaps the most defining characteristic of Georgian wine is the qvevri, a huge clay pot lined with beeswax and sunk into the ground, in which the entire winemaking process, from fermentation to aging, takes place. This ancient winemaking technique gives complexity and stability to a wine.
Georgia is, or will soon be, on the tip of every hip somm’s tongue. Wine writer Alice Feiring is already a dedicated fan. If you are inclined to join this precocious crowd, a few of the producers to look for are Alaverdi Monastery, Pheasant’s Tears and Telavi.