Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Georgian wine? You’d be surprised

Western Europe is widely regarded as the centre of the wine universe but none of the nations there are actually its spiritual home. For that, you’d have to travel east to the other side of the Mediterranean, an area few people are likely to associate with wine these days. Georgia, of all places, is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, with evidence of viticulture taking place in the South Caucasus dating back to the time between 9,000 and 7,000 years BC.

Not much Georgian wine has traditionally made its way to the UK shores but this is changing now that merchants are seeking out new discoveries to offer customers who want something a little out of the ordinary. While the options aren’t quite as wide-ranging as those from the big wine markets, there are enough bottles available in the UK to satisfy anyone’s curiosity.

For a true experience of what Georgia has to offer, opting for a wine made from the saperavi grape is a good start. Indigenous to Georgia, this grape’s name translates to “paint dye” in English and produces full-bodied, dark wines with lots of fruit and acidity. Often having plummy flavours, this is a grape that can be made into wines that have a lot of longevity in the cellar. Examples of these wines are limited on the high street but with a little bit of searching on the internet can be found at some major retailers. Another option is to visit the Georgian Wine Society online and buy directly from them. Based in Oxford, the website is dedicated to Georgian wine only, the site lists 13 reds, nine whites and one rosé for those people out there who aren’t afraid to admit they love the pale pink stuff. Wines are sold either by the half or full case.

Wines to try:

Tbilvino Saperavi 2010 (£9.99, Laithwaites or £11.49 at the Georgian Wine Society). This is a wine I recently bought to share with a friend during a time when I wanted to try something completely different and was pleasantly surprised. Showing a deep purple colour, the wine is loaded with dark fruits, blackberries, cherries and plums and, while having medium acidity and tannins on the palate, is not short of fruit either. There is also a spicy edge to the wine in the way a Rhone syrah might.

I wasn’t sure what my friend would make of it, but after one sip he turned to me and said, “Wow, that’s actually very nice.” He liked it so much he broke out the dark chocolate after dinner and ate some with a glass, convinced the abundant dark fruit flavours would match with the bitter chocolate. While many people would shudder at the idea of mixing chocolate and dry red wine, if done so with a bitter dark chocolate and a red with a good fruit palate, the outcome can be successful.

Orovela Saperavi 2004, (£15.19, Waitrose Wine Direct).Another full-bodied wine with blackberries, cherries, tobacco and chocolate aromas, there is some vanilla in here from oak treatment and rounded tannins.

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