09.10.2014. With the traditional wine harvest festival of Rtveli just behind us, this season’s grapes are engaged in their yearly pilgrimage from vine to cellar to bottle to glass, and finally to our blood stream. As the country’s most notable product, as well as an integral part of the culture, cuisine and society as a whole, any visitor, residence holder or native can attest there is a lot of wine making and drinking going on in Georgia.
However, despite the small geographic size of the country, there is an, almost unbelievable number and variety of grapes produced here. From rich dark reds, that appear jet black in a glass (and purple on your lips), to crystal clear whites that could act like a prism for light, and everything in between. Because of this, even seasoned oenophiles may find themselves slightly out of their depth when it comes to the nuances of certain vintages and varieties, as well as delicious food pairing that the wines may accentuate.
While I myself am not a noted wine enthusiast, I took upon my shoulders the atlasian job of relating to you some of the most unique types of Georgian wines available. As you might imagine, this meant I had the duty, the responsibility to imbibe as many different varieties of Georgian wine I could find on a Sunday afternoon, to achieve this end, I enlisted the help of the wine experts at Vinoteca on Leselidze [street name in Tbilisi - HN] who regaled me with their selection and expertise.
Around 80 percent of Georgian red wine is Saperavi, what I am going to focus on, are the wines that barely crack the 1 percent mark. Many of which are grown in only a handful of remote villages far from the Georgian wine heartland of Kakheti.
The first of the rare wines, and the least rare of the wines I will touch on is Khvanchkara, said to be the favorite of Georgia’s most famous son, Stalin. This semi-sweet mixture of the Alexandrouli and Mudzhuretuli grape varieties from Racha region is certainly one of the most well-known varieties available in country because of its very specific growing region, though it is not as widely consumed and circulated as say a Kindzmarauli.
Similar to Khvanchkara is Tetra, known as the White Khvanchkara, it is naturally sweet like its darker sibling, but most often used in the production of sparkling wines.
Otskhanuri Sapere, from Imereti is one of the oldest grape varieties grown in the country and produced in traditional qvevri style. It is a full-bodied dry red that pairs perfectly with a hearty meal of meat and veggies.
Shavkapito, grown in Kvemo Kartli region, not a region particularly known for wine, was once a preferred variety of Georgian nobility before the soviets. Today it is only produced in very small vintages by a couple vineyards, the best known and most accessible being the one produced by the Pheasants Tears winery.
Tavkveri, not the most rare, but certainly not a widely known variety, is a dark red grape on the vine, but the final product is more of a rose and comes as a dry or semi-dry, it is grown in a number of other countries, but is native to Georgia and pairs best with meats and fruity sauces.
Another rose wine, Chkhaveri, is grown predominately in Adjara, but also in Guria and Imereti and is also used to produce sparkling wine. Already not the most common, the variety faced a less than stellar previous harvest due to heavy frost contributing to a potential difficulty in finding this variety.
The final, and possibly most well known of the super rare vintages is Usakhelouri. A semi-sweet red grown in the Lechkhumi district of Racha, the name literally translates to “without a name”, but “beyond words” is more accurate due its rarity and taste. Because of its rarity, counterfeit bottles are known to circulate, and at over 50 lari a bottle it is one of the most expensive.
Any of these seven wines are certain to impress a guest or host in Georgia and abroad with their uncommon geographic background, unique qualities, varied flavor profiles, and great taste. While all are slightly more expensive than your average bottle of Saperavi, their rarity, as well as taste and accompanying back-stories make them well worth the additional cost.