Saturday, February 1, 2014

Georgian wines in Paris (again)

01.02.2014. The wines of Georgia are having their show again in Paris, first here in Chateaubriand, the wine-wise restaurant on Avenue Parmentier in the 11th, then in several other wine events including in the ones popping up around the Loire Wines Fair in Angers, namely Les Pénitentes in Angers and La Dive Bouteille in Saumur. That's why Angers is a good wine destination at this time of the year, because in addition to the wines of the Loire region, you can taste the wines from many other regions and meet these winemakers who share the passion for real wines.

This event was organized by Thierry Puzelat and the owners of Chateaubriand, Thierry Puzelat playing an important role in the awakening of the European public to these wines of Georgia and to their antique winemaking techniques. This free tasting event took place on a monday like most professional tasting events, it lasted from 10am to 6pm and featured the wines of 10 winegrowers from Georgia, many of them being present in person :

Ramaz Nikoladze, John Wurdeman, Lago Bitarishvili, Nika Bakhia, Kakhaber Berishvili, Zurab Topuridze,Nikoloz Antadze, Malkhaz Jakeli, Jani Okruashvili and temuri Dakishvili. I managed to get there after work like last year and taste a few wines before they packed up at about 6:40.

At one point at the end of the event, Béatrice of Chateaubriand and John Wurdeman (of Pheasant's Tears) cross-drinked Georgian wine using drinking horns like people used to do in Georgia in the past.

I first tasted the whites of Pheasant's Tears, the most weel-known winery of the Georgian renewal which if I'm right initiated the interest for Georgian wines in the West, thanks to associates John Wurdeman (who landed in Georgia years ago after a couple years spent painting in Russia), Erik Andermo (a Swede who took shares to export the wines to Scandinavia) and  Gela Patalishvili, a winemaker and grower with deep roots in this wine country.

__ Tsolikauri 2012, a white from Western Georgia (Baghdati, close to the Black Sea), zero sulfur, 12,5 % alcohol. Vinified in amphorae, but not on skin contact. Very turbid, vibrant yellow color though. Impressive wine, I Feel something like tannins although there is no skin contact here, these wines are really different from what we're used to, almost like the Jura wines also stand out among other French whites. Asked about why no skin contact here, John Wurdeman says that historically West-Georgian grapes usually either no skin contact or very little skin contact, that's because the weather in West Georgia is very humid, it's close to the sea and it's difficult for the stems to ripen and so if there's a maceration it's only a very light one.

__ Chinuri 2013, another white variety, no skin contact either. The nose here is more acidulous, with a clor still in the vibrant yellow shades. Very interesting wine, very different again from our references. Still a bit of residual sugar, this is an amphorae sample, the wine is not bottled yet (will be in march or april). These two whites would cost about 21 € in a shop if imported here. They make 3000 bottles of the Chinuri without skin contact but also 2500/3000 bottles with skin contact, in a separate cuvée.

__ Tavkveri 2012, a red, but actually closer to a rosé when you see the wine in the glass. Dry unfiltered red wine (reads on the label). Skin contact for 2 days, that's why this color. I must say something about the color, it's a marvelous and magic color between onion peel and rosé, the whole being highlighted but a beautiful turbidity, it really shines in the glass. Very impressive wine to swallow, there are rose flowers notes and other things, John says sage and rosemary, savory aromas like these.

__ Rkatsiteli 2011, dry unfiltered white, but crystal clear, bright gold. Filtered by time and gravity, says John. It stayed a year and a half in amphorae, including two winters. The mouth feel is very pure, more austere, very nice wine too. Aromas of rose flower, wilted flower, peony, very delicate.

__ Rkatsiteli 2012, same variety, also unfiltered white. This one went through 6 months of skin maceration and a total élevage time of 2 years.  1georgia_in_paris_tibaani_2012_400_varietiesI like less this particular wine compared to the first ones, a bit too round, too light or too short.

John Wurdeman says that he works with lots of small properties for the sourcing of the grapes, the bulk of the volume coming from 2 properties they know well and have been working with for 5 years. They buy sometimes 1georgia_in_paris_tasting_tablesvery small amounts like the equivalent of 2000 bottles. They own 17 hectares at Pheasant's Tears, the rest is purchased grapes. they make 35 000 to 40 000 bottles with 12 different kinds of wines, some cuvées making a mere 1000 bottles and they sell to 20 different countries.

__ Alaverdi Monastery Cellar 2010, a white, Rkatsiteli. 6-month skin contact. Golden color, almost rosé too. Nice astringency on the palate, intense but refined. Unexpected feel from a white, very nice.

__ Alaverdi Monastery Cellar Kisi 2011. White again (with long skin contact I presume) The nose is deep and exciting. Also a nice chew with the tannins on the side of the mouth, nice bitterness, very nice wine too. I ask about the price, and John hails Thierry Puzelat a couple of tables away, Thierry tells me that these two wines cost 17 € and 20 € wholesale respectively, meaning they'd cost twice that in a wine shop in Paris (and 3 times in a restaurant).

__ Tibaani, Kakheti 2012, dry unfiltered amber wine. A red wine made from 400 varieties, both whites and reds. 1000 bottles in total. 10 days skin maceration and after alcohol fermentation it gets its malolactic separated from the skins, also in an amphorae. John says that they know all the varieties are there because they planted this particular parcel. The idea here is that the terroir is in the foreground (it's all on the same 1/2-hectare parcel) and that the varietals stay in the background.

__ Pheasant's Tears Shavkapito Kartli 2013, dry unfiltered wine, 12,5 % alcohol. Another red that John says has an incredible expression of the varietal, in spite of still-chewy tannins.

The next domaine I tasted the wines of of was Nika Bakhia's, who makes wine in Anaga, east of Tblissi. It's the first time Nika comes to Paris to show his wines, and I'm lucky to have stumbled on them. He speaks good French and we can exchange easily.

__ Tarieluna, Rkatsiteli, Kveri [ancient amphorae fermentation method] unfiltered dry natural wine, organic, from the Akhoebi terroir. There is also 3% of Mtsvane and 3 % Khikhvi blended with a majority of Rkatsiteli. The skin contact lasted 7 months and the total élevage time was 2 years.

The wine has  been carafed to open itself. Be ready for a surprise here, this wine is again, like these Georgian whites can be, out of the mold, this zero-added-sulfites has an incredible salty side with at the same time a non-salted edge. Amazing mouth feel. No sugar left, or less than 2gr. Asked about the price, we look for Thierry again. Wholesale price : 12 €, or 25 € in wine shops. Not to miss.

Nika says that he made 900 bottles of this, not a big volume. The maceration took place in a 1200-liter amphorae then he racked the wine into a 700-liter amphorae (after separating the skins I guess) where it stayed 2 years.

__ Nika Bakhia, Saperavi 2011 Amore (I came back to this table after I began tasting the reds). The nose is a bit toasted, with nice spices. Nika says that 2011 is a vintage with lots of minerality, and that 2010 made thicker wines. In the mouth, the wine has a beautiful intensity, it's both powerful and refined, can't leave you indifferent. Certainly THE red of the tasting event, not to miss if you come across. Makes 12,5 % in alcohol. The vinification is 40-day maceration in amphorae and afterwards the wine stays two years in an amphorae (after taking away the skins, stems and seeds I guess). Unfiltered. No added sulfur. Very, very nice wine. Nika made 12015 bottles of this Saperavi wine. Thierry Puzelat tells me that the wholesale price for this wine is 14,5 €, which will make it at 30 € in wine shops. Asked where he sells outside Georgia, Nika says that he shipped to Japan, Germany, Italy and Singapore, and now France. He sells also in Georgia, some people being interested in his wines for the quality even if the prices are way above the ordinary Georgian wines.

I remember Iago, he was here last year and his wine (winery : Iago's Wine) took my attention then.

__ Iago's Wine Chinuri 2012. White wine. Skin contact for 6 months, meaning the whole grape with the seeds, the stems, everything, the Georgian way. There's been a bit of SO2 added here.

Very bright and clear wine, the turbity goes away by itself just with time and with the winter cold.

Exceptional wine, superb, one of its kind. You need to try that to go beyond what word can tell.

There's a concentration quality in the mouth, a balance, and the whole thing radiates on the palate, this is not a wine you come across every day.

Wholesale price is 13 € and 24 € in wine shops in France.

Iago's vineyard makes only 2 hectares in total and he produces only 3000 bottles a year. Asked if he'll grow a bit, for example by purchasing grapes around his place, he says that it's not easy because he's making natural wine only, and he can't find the organic grapes which are the basic requirement for a natural winemaking. Iago says that natural winemaking and "business" are two different things.

__ ManDili, Mtsvane 2012, white dry. 6-month skin contact. 800 bottles in all. I'll taste a novelty for Georgia : Iago's wife made this wine, a first in Georgia. You must know that in Georgia women are "barred" from entering the wine facilities. I heard the same thing in Russia while visiting the talented winemaker Yanis Karakezidi who also considered women non-grata in his cask cellar. This traditional thinking lies in the idea that when menstruating, women can have a bad influence on fermentation and winemaking stages. Asked what people think of this novelty in Georgia, Iago says that opinions are diverse, which may hint at a good number of dissenting voices....

The grapes come from friends, not Iago's vineyard. More powerful in alcohol, at least in the feel. Still quite good for a first wine...

A 4th producer (the others were packing, this was the end of the tasting) : Malkhaz Jakeli from Jakeli wines who is based in Khashmi, east of Tbilissi. I think he came here in Paris for the first time to show his wines, he speaks good English and is accompanied by a woman who lives in France. He brought 2 vintages, 2010 and 2011, from the same vineyard. He doesn't use any SO2 until after cold stabilization when he racks the wine after the malolactic into stainless-steel vats. There will be no more SO2 added after that, even when the bottling occurs after 2 years. The wines are unfiltered. They are kept in bottles for another 2 years after bottling.

__ Saperavi 2010. Dark red. 14,2 % acohol but doesn't feel that strong. There's a clear indication on the back label on the bottling time : may 5 2012. Because of its unfiltered nature, the wine beeds a long élevage, he says. Last year he had wine at 15,9% and it was not because of a particularly hot summer, but they kept checking the grapes and at one ponit when the grapes reached 22° brix he decided of the harvest date, but 5 days later the brix figures had gone up out of control for some reason, that's why they ended up with a wine at 15,9 % alcohol last year. He says that the harvest team is about 25 strong, and some friends and families are helping. His vineyard surface is about 5 hectares. Every year he makes between 5000 and 7000 bottles. But they've been planting vines recently in western Georgia near the Black Sea, in Shroma (near Ureki) using a variety which is a local one, they just planted 500 vines actually, for a try. The weather there is more subtropical, more humid. They use high poles to keep the vines away from the ground in this region, for a better ventilation.

Jakeli is organic, certified by a German company.

I also chatted a bit with Pheasant's Tears Swedish associate Erik Andermo, who at a time worked at the embassy of Sweden in Moscow and devised the export and partnership side of the project. Erik's wife is from Georgia and he lives between Sweden and Georgia.

Read this page about the history of Pheasant's Tears, it sort of all started in Russia one way or another, and took root in Georgia.

Speaking of Russia and Georgia, the long-strained relations have eased and the exports from Georgia to Russia resumed a few months ago, beginning with an inaugural shipment of 21 600 bottles of Georgian brandy. Wine and other agriculture products were to follow.


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