17.07.2014. After a very tense and dangerous bus ride winding down very narrow and curvy streets during Tbilisi rush hour traffic, our group was forced eventually to walk the last 100 meters of the way to our destination which was further down on a one way side street. Our first official visit was less than two miles from the hotel, to the only wine bar in Tbilisi [correction: there are currently two wine bars - HN] called ‘Vino Underground’. And as it name suggest, this is an underground cellar that was converted into not only a wine bar, but also a small and delightful wine shop that brings to Tbilisi some of the best natural wines of Georgia.
Owned and operated by seven small Georgian wineries, here one can find a wide variety of natural, organic and biodynamic wines representing all of the different wine regions of Georgia. Since wine making in Georgia is over eight centuries old, the vast majority of wineries of Georgia are very small. However today, there is a movement for some of these wineries to work together to improve wine quality and awareness. At Vino Underground they have 70 different small wineries that they represent making them the largest wine shop of Georgian wines in Tbilisi.
Our host, John Wurderman and a few of his fellow Georgian wine makers gave us a most well rounded introduction with a very well prepared tasting of Georgian wines in the Western regions of Imereti, Kakheti and Racha-Lechkhumi … There are other regions to be discovered all in due time during the International Wine Tourism Conference held in the capital city, Tbilisi.
Although I and many of my colleagues struggled with many of the indigenous grapes names, there were a few of the over five hundred grapes used for making Georgian wines which were easier to pronounce such as Kakhuri Mtsvane, Saperavi and Tavkveri. This tasting was an excellent way to start the upcoming events.
To help us overcome our awkwardness in pronouncing the names of the different grape varietals, Terry & Kathy Sullivan wrote a book on Georgian wine and have graciously prepared for the group a sort of cheat chart that listed the grapes names, their color and the regions were they are grown. This was very precious and immensely helpful aid throughout the duration of our Georgian wine experience. Thank you Kathy and Terry!
John Wurderman was very good at laying a foundation of enthusiasm and sparking our curiosity to discovering Georgian wines. He also explain how he and his fellow colleagues of small came together to entice an awareness of Georgian wines, not only in Tbilisi but other cities and to bring smaller family wineries into a more modern way of getting their wines to the consumer. The Wine shop acts as a sort of cooperative where the smaller wineries can find new customers for theirs wines. As a fine spokesman, John Wurderman gave us an in depth explanation on the traditional way wines are produced using the qvevris, or ancient style amphorae.
Contrary to oak barrels that need to be topped up, with the qvevri there is no need to fill the container completely. But the Amphorae should be open so that the wine can have an exchange of oxygen. Gravity is used for filtering and clarifying so the wines are cleaned naturally. The qvevri is used for primary, secondary fermentation, and final maturation of wines.
Normally we don’t say that a white wine is tannic, however, the white wines of Georgia are quite unusual, because they are tannic. The first wine we tasted was called Tsitska 2013 white wine coming from the Imereti region. This wine was a nice tart citrusy white wine with a hint of minerality. Although this wine was made in a qvevri, it is lighter, meaning not so tannic as Georgian white wine are known to be.
John also makes wines under the label of Pheasant’s Tears coming from the Kakheti region. During our one week stay, we eventually got to not only taste his wines, but also drink them with a traditional Georgian meal.
We got to taste several wines, but that stood out for me was a wine from Ramaz Nikoladze's Solokori 2012, which profited from two months of skin contact. This wine is coming from a sub region called terojola of the village of Nokshivile in the region of Imereti.
While most of Georgian wine are fermented and matured in the famous qvevris, our last wine of the tasting was fermented in stainless steel and very western in style and will please a large number of wine lovers wanting to acclimate slowly their palates to the Georgian wine experience. Nice dark red color, expressive nose of dark fruits, plums, violets, raspberries and a bit of bees wax. On the palate the tannins are firm and concentrated. The wine is full of flavor and fairly long finish. This was a nice ending to an interesting and educational tasting.