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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"Kyiv Weekly": Bottoms up, genatsvale!

The best way to taste Georgian wine is to go on a tour of Georgian vineyards 

by Natalia Talalai

03.09.2012. For the last few years Georgians have been improving their winemaking and reviving ancient winemaking traditions. Many contemporary winemakers returned to their roots and make wine in huge clay jugs or amphorae called kvevri.

Monks in the Alaverdi Monastery can provide the most detailed information about kvevri. The monastery was founded in the 6th century where monks began making wine at the start of the 11th century. The most popular monastery wine is called Since 1011. Do not be surprised that winemaking is very common in monasteries. In the Alaverdi Monastery you can see the ancient cellars, guides will tell you and even show how monks used to make wine and how they make it today. After that you will have a chance to taste wine from kvevri – unfiltered and a bit tart.

Kvevri full of wine are dug into the ground and covered with special lids covered with earth or clay. The whole winemaking cycle – from fermentation to preservation – takes place in such amphorae. The volume of an average kvevri is approximately 500 liters and dry wine can be stored in them for up to 20 years.

Besides the Alaverdi Monastery you can taste wine in small wineries that also make it according to ancient traditions. Wineries where production was renewed by foreigners that came to Georgia fell in love with the country and could not leave it are especially popular.

For example, Burchard Schuchmann’s winery makes wine branded as Schuchmann Wines and exports it to Germany, the U.S., Sweden and Baltic countries. Schuchmann’s production manager Georgi Dakishvili says the company makes wine exclusively from grapes picked in its own vineyards, because quality is much more important than quantity.

Then you can pay a visit to the hospitable American John Wurdeman, who came to Georgia in 1990, studied local winemaking techniques, learned the Georgian and Russian languages and opened a winery called Pheasant’s Tears. The winery Chateau Mukhrani produces 6 sorts of wine, which unfortunately cannot yet be found on the shelves of Ukrainian stores.

While winemakers claim the only drawbacks of wine made in kvevri are its low volume and the production process is quite expensive, connoisseurs will always appreciate its true value. Wurdeman says kvevri fans must support the high status of their wines made in small volumes, though of perfect quality. By the way, Georgians recently suggested that the ancient winemaking procedure be added to the UNESCO world heritage list.

For wine tasting Georgians always serve salty goat cheese, nuts and herbal bread baked in special ovens. Closer to the night time wine tasting can turn into a feast with khachapuri (bread filled with cheese, eggs or some other ingredients), kubdari (flat meat pies) and traditional shashlyk (shishkebabs).

After you have tasted wine made according to the old production technique you can switch to the wines produced using modern technologies and methods. The most popular wines, such as Saperavi, Kindzmarauli, Alazani Valley and Georgian Valleys, known for their rich medium sweet taste, are produced at the Tbilvino winery. Its president Georgi Margveshvili says Ukraine is one of the main importers of Georgian wine. Only Georgians drink more Georgian wine than Ukrainians. Margveshvili believes that «only wines produced in compliance with modern European methods can have commercial success». This is confirmed by the sales volumes: last year Tbilvino delivered approximately half a million bottles to Ukraine. Of course, you can drink Georgian wine in Ukraine, but you can only appreciate it in the unique atmosphere of Georgian feasts.

After you have tasted plain wines for a few days, you should try some sparkling wines, for example, Bagrationi 1882. Before leaving Georgia, you should pay a visit to the museum of Alexander Chavchavadze, a prominent Georgian poet, public benefactor, military figure and father-in-law to the prominent Russian diplomat and playwright Alexander Griboyedov, who married his 16-years old daughter Nino.

More than 70 types of wine are stored in the museum’s wine cellars. They even have wine that Chavchavadze personally made in 1841. Indeed, Georgia is a country of wine that its people love and give their tender loving care to make it the best.

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