From the Caucasus to the Baltic

Ξ December 5th, 2007 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs |

While wandering the aisles of a Lithuanian supermarket recently I noticed the preponderance of Georgian wine on the shelves varying in price from £1 to £15 ($2 to $30). Not having tried anything from this country before, and with limited knowledge of this region of the world, I randomly chose 3 from the range on display, a cheap semi-sweet red and white (£2 each) and a more expensive dry red (£6). Sitting in the hotel room that night I uncorked the cheaper red while I browsed the internet looking for references to Georgian winemaking in general and, more specifically, what I had just purchased. Georgia has a long history of winemaking with 500 or so indigenous grape varieties, most famous being the red Saperavi and white Rkatsiteli. Wine was traditionally fermented in underground clay vessels called kvevri and it is arguable that Georgia is the birthplace of Winemaking, with archaeological evidence pointing at winemaking at least 8000 years ago. In 2006 Russia, Georgia’s northern neighbour and historical overlord from the days of the Tsarist Empire and the Soviet Union, banned all import of Georgian wine, citing health warnings. While political motivation for the embargo is widely cited it is accepted that Georgian wines suffer from a serious counterfeit problem in many of their traditional export markets, something the Georgian government and winemakers are trying to address. As well as reclaiming their reputation Georgia is now looking westwards for an outlet for its quality wines.

Back to the wine. Alazni is the main river running through the Eastern Georgia wine region of Kahketi region and the Georgian Valleys 2005 Alaznis Valley Red, by Tbilvino, is a semi-sweet red blend of approx. 60% Saperavi and 40% Rkatsiteli. This style is traditionally favoured by Eastern European consumers, but is regarded by the new wave of Georgian winemakers as unsophisticated for modern Western markets. The nose was simple but fruity, with a mulled wine aspect in the background. There is a touch of dryness in the mouth but overwhelmingly it is the “almost sweet” aspect which is apparent, however some low level complexity is coming through – a touch of chocolate, a smidgen of cherry. At £2 ($4) this was a pleasant drink and encouraging for the remaining bottles heading back to the UK with me. A quick check of the Tbilvino website shows an international influence in the first half of the decade from Australian winemakers Nick Spencer (now at – Blue Metal Vineyards) and Jeff Aston – (Even Keel Wines). The site has some good background information on Georgian winemaking and has plenty of similarity to the Wikipedia entry on Georgian wines. So, what about the other 2 wines that made it home? The white was also from the Georgian Valleys range by Tbilvino, the semi-sweetAlaznis Valleys 2005 White, a 100% Rkatsiteli. I expect this to make a nice simple weekend drink sometime before the end of the year. The red is a Tamada Mukuzani 2001 Kakheti Dry Red . Mukuzani is 100% Saperavi aged for at least 3 years in oak casks and seems to be in the vanguard of Georgian international award-winning reds. I look forward to when I eventually open this one, but plan on holding onto it well into 2008 or beyond.So how easy is it to get Georgian wines if you aren’t loitering around Eastern Europe? In the U.K. only a limited selection is available, but not surprisingly includes Waitrose, who offer the “Orovela Saperavi 2004, Kakheti” as recommended by Jancis Robinson In the U.S. WLTV offers a good selection under $15, most under $10.



2 Responses to ' From the Caucasus to the Baltic '

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  1. Paul said,

    on December 7th, 2007 at 10:43 am

    I have had a number from the old Eastern Bloc countries but none from Georgia. Most, from what I have read and understand, are on the sweet side and looking at the selection of eastern European wines at WL I believe they follow that trend. I’ll keep looking.

  2. Greybeard said,

    on December 8th, 2007 at 1:20 am

    Hi Paul, yes, most of what Georgia produces does tend towards the sweet side, as was the one I had over in Vilnius. I enjoyed it, but mostly as a curiosity since I prefer my reds dry as a rule. The dry Mukuzani is the one for you then, if you can find the right producer.

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