25.01.2013. In 2010, Georgia's then president Mikhail Saakashvili made a joke thanking Russian leader Vladimir Putin for helping the country improve the quality of its wines by imposing an embargo on them, but there was more than a kernel of truth in the quip.
Four years earlier Russia had banned imports of Georgian wines, claiming that most did not meet its sanitary standards, and that heavy metals and pesticides had been detected in some samples. The ban came at a time of worsening political relations between the neighbours and Georgia denied the claims.
Before the ban, Georgia produced a large volume of low quality wine and sold 80 per cent of it to Russia. Its wine producers realised they would need to improve quality dramatically if they hoped to export wine to other countries.
And so they did. Georgia now exports to 30 countries. Last year the country's wines won 28 medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards.
Georgia has an 8,000-year history of wine production and even stakes a claim as its birthplace. A unique feature of the winemaking is the use of the kvevri (a clay vessel lined with beeswax) used for the fermentation and storage of wines. Kvevries were buried to keep the wines cool. They are still in use today.
Georgia has more than 500 grape varieties. Wine expert Jancis Robinson praises saperavi for making "fiery, potentially long-lived reds". The wines are characterised by their intense dark colour, crisp acidity and firm tannins. The most prevalent white variety is rkatsiteli, which is known for its high acidity. International varieties such as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are gaining popularity. The high acidity of Georgian wines makes them a perfect accompaniment with food. Writer Fiona Beckett recommends matching barbecued pork with saperavi. Wine lovers with a sense of adventure and an interest in traditional winemaking must try Georgian wines.
Samshvenisi Qveri Teliani Valley 2010
This wine is made from rkatsiteli, using the kvevri method. This process ferments the must with skins and stems for several months, giving the wine a deeper colour and firm tannic structure. Teliani Valley wines have won multiple awards, including at the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition.
Deep golden in colour. Honeyed, floral notes. Full-bodied with balanced acidity, and a slightly bitter finish. It can be drunk as an aperitif and has the body to go with dishes from crab to braised meat dishes. HK$180
Badagoni Kakheti Noble Red 2007
The Badagoni winery, founded in 2002 and equipped with modern technology, is located in Kakheti, a region east of Tbilisi, the capital, which is responsible for 70 per cent of the country's wine production. The Kakheti Noble Red, made from the saperavi grape, is a blend of traditional and modern winemaking. The wine is fermented in kvevries for 20 days, and matured in French oak barriques for 24 months.
Dark cherries, raspberries, savoury notes. Full-bodied, high fruit intensity with high acid and firm tannins. This will go well with meat dishes. HK$390
Vinoterra Saperavi 2009
Vinoterra is owned by the German investor Burkhard Schuchmann. The boutique winery aims to make high-quality wines targeting the European market.
Dark black fruit with spicy notes. Medium-bodied with cherry notes. Well structured with firm tannins, well integrated oak and an elegant finish. HK$380