Being stuck at home is the perfect time to try wines from Georgia, writes Peter Ranscombe.
REMEMBER the days when we could just hop on a plane and fly around the world? Or catch a bus or a train? Or just leave the house whenever we fancied?
Lockdown has definitely given me time to reflect fondly on recent trips, including a jaunt to Georgia in September to write an article for The Buyer trade website ahead of last autumn’s Georgian wine festival.
With merchants and sommeliers on the trip as well as journalists, much of the visit’s focus was on wineries wanting to break into the UK market, as you’d expect.
Yet many examples from Georgia are already available on restaurant wine lists and bottle shop shelves, with some supermarkets even stocking them too.
In fact, the UK imported 80,000 bottles of wine from Georgia during the opening nine months of last year, up 65% year-on-year.
To put that in context, the country exports 50 million bottles each year, with 30 million of those going to Russia, which – despite a war, political hostilities and occupying 20% of Georgia’s recognised land – still has a thirst for its cheap, sweet red wines.
At the quality end of the spectrum, Georgia makes wine in two main styles: “European” wines produced in stainless steel tanks and wooden barrels and vats; and traditional wines created in “qvervi”, the giant clay pots in which the grape juice is fermented and aged, usually buried or “planted” beneath ground level.
Seeing qvervi being made was one of the highlights of the trip and reminded me that not all winemaking knowledge stems from France, Italy and Spain.
About 60% of Georgia’s vineyards lie within the Kakheti region, with rkatsiteli the most-planted white and saperavi the dominant red.
Although it may be a relatively-new player on the UK scene, Georgia has been producing wine for around 8,000 years, and tussles with Armenia for the title of the oldest winemaking nation.
With few if any opportunities to browse supermarket shelves for wine, the lockdown presents a great opportunity to explore countries like Georgia from the comfort of our living rooms – and to continue our vinous adventures once the pandemic has passed.
Five of the best Georgian wines to try during the lockdown and beyond
Tbilvino Iveriuli Saperavi 2018 (£10.99, Novel Wines)
A great point from which to start exploring Georgian wine. Intense bramble, blackcurrant jam and dark plum on the nose, with spicy black pepper and cloves joining the dark fruit on the palate. The tannins are chewy, yet well-integrated, with enough substance to take on a rump steak or meaty sausages. This saperavi was used during an online wine tasting earlier this month hosted by Sona Jennings from Princess & The Pinot and Amelia Singer from Amelia’s Wine. You can watch the webinar at https://youtu.be/l54Q6WahspI and if you’re looking for other suggestions from Novel Wines then check out the Kayra Beyaz Kalecik Karasi (£14.99), a delicious rosé that won my heart when I visited Central Turkey back in 2018.
Orgo Saperavi 2018 (£20.50, Clark Foyster)
I could have picked any of the Orgo wines stocked by importer Clark Foyster, which is selling single bottles in mixed cases during the lockdown. I’ve opted for winemaker Gogi Dakishvili’s saperavi, which he makes in traditional clay qvervi. Lots of rich blackberry and black cherry aromas on the nose and then much fresher blackcurrant and redcurrant flavours on the palate, thanks to the qvervi. It’s a classy wine, as is the Rkatsiteli (£20.50) and the white Cuvée (£16.75), which blends rkatsiteli with mtsvane and the wonderfully-named kisi. Both wines are left in contact with their skins, which gives them an amber colour, while the qvervi builds up their texture by exposing them to a controlled amount of oxygen in the air. Tasting Gogi’s wines in the town of Telavi, at the heart of the Kakheti region, was one of the vinous highlights of my trip.
Dakishvili Family Selection Sparkling Rosé 2016 (£24.60, Clark Foyster)
Like father, like son – Gogi Dakishvili’s offspring, Temuri, is also a winemaker and his Vita Vinea wines are also stocked by Clark Foyster under the Dakishvili Family Selection label. Again, they’re all superb and well-worth a look, but I was especially impressed by the pink fizz, which is made using the traditional method – so, like with Champagne, the second fermentation that creates the bubbles takes place inside the bottle instead of a prosecco-like tank – and the juice isn’t left in contact with the grape skins. Rounded aromas of red cherry and red plum give way to much fresher redcurrant and raspberry on the palate, with lots of refreshing acidity. The kisi and saperavi are both awesome too.
Pheasant’s Tears Tsolikouri Qvevri White Wine 2017 (£22.99, VSF Wine Education)
In a cellar bar next to our hotel in Tbilisi, as I waited for 4.15am flight to connect back to Edinburgh, top sommelier and wine consultant Emily Harman and wine writer Jamie Goode introduced me to some of their favourite Georgian wines, including this tsolikouri – which we drank with John Wurdeman, the American artist who made it. It’s made in a qvervi and so has great texture but isn’t left in contact with its skins and so isn’t amber.
Matrobela Rkatsiteli Qvevri 2018 (£14.45, Taste of Georgia)
Another great example of an amber wine, made in qvervi and left in contact with its grape skins. Attractive honeysuckle aromas and tonnes of peach, red apple skins and spun sugar flavours. That qvervi freshness is all present and correct in the acidity. Importer Taste of Georgia has dropped the price from £17, making this a steal and a great way to try a classic Georgian white.
Peter Ranscombe offsets the carbon dioxide emissions from the international flights he takes for his wine trips by paying the Trees For Life charity to plant Scots Pines and other native species near his birthplace in the Highlands – find out more at http://bit.ly/SF_Trees
Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s blog entries about wine, whisky and other drinks on The Grape & The Grain at https://www.scottishfield.co.uk/grapegrain/