About Georgian Wines
Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. The fertile valleys of the South Caucasus house the source of the world's firstcultivated grapevines and neolithic wine production, from over 8,000 years ago.Due to the many millennia of wine in Georgian history, and its key economical role, the traditions of its viticulture are entwined and inseparable with the country's national identity.
Among the best-known regions of Georgia where wine is produced are Kakheti (further divided onto micro-regions of Telavi and Kvareli),Kartli, Imereti, Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti, and Abkhazia.
UNESCO added the ancient traditional Georgian winemaking method using the Kvevri clay jars to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
Wine lovers have a lot to thank Georgia for. It is widely believed that this is where wine production first began, over 7000 years ago. In fact, our word “wine” is derived from “gvino” – the Georgian word for wine. Archaeological remains suggest that as early as 4000 BC grape juice was being placed in underground clay jars, or quevri (also known as kvevri), to ferment during the winter.
The vine is central to Georgian culture and tightly bound to their religious heritage. It is common for families throughout Georgia to grow their own grapes and produce wine. Feasting and hospitality are central pillars of Georgian culture, and traditional banquets are presided over by a toastmaster, or Tamada, who proposes numerous toasts throughout the meal, and ensures the wine flows liberally.
Georgia is a land famed for its natural bounty. These days there are over 500 species of grape in Georgia, a greater diversity than anywhere else in the world, with around 40 of these grape varieties being used in commercial wine production. Conditions are well suited for viticulture: summers are rarely excessively hot, winters are mild and frost-free. In addition, the mountains around the vineyards are full of natural springs, and rivers drain mineral-rich waters into the valleys. All this means that Georgian wines have a reputation for being exceptionally pure.
Around 150 million litres of wine are produced each year in Georgia, with around 45 000 hectares of vineyards under cultivation. There are 18 Specific Viticulture Areas (a local analogy of the Controlled Appellations of Origin) where the grape variety, planting density and yield per hectare is controlled by Ministry of Agriculture, and where the grape yield per hectare is limited to 8 tons.
Georgia’s wines fall into several zones: Kakheti and Kartli in the east, and Imereti, Samegrelo, Guria, Ajaria, and Abkhazia in the west. By far the most important of these is Kakheti, which produces 70% of all Georgian wine. The map below shows where these can be found, along with the most important Specific Viticulture Areas.
As interest in natural and artisan wine making increases, a great deal of attention has recently been falling on Georgia’s ancient tradition of quevri wine-making. This method of wine-making dates back over 7000 years, and the Georgians are currently seeking to give it special protected heritage status through UNESCO. Quevris are not the same as amphora – firstly, they are much larger, and are buried in the ground up their neck, to preserve a stable temperature. Secondly, the entire wine making process takes place within the quevri – initial fermentation right through to maturation, with the fermenting grape juice often being left on the skins and even grape stems to produce wines of exceptional flavour and complexity. Quevris are used differently in different areas of Georgia, often depending on the climate of the region. As the regions get hotter the more skins and stems tend to be fermented with the grapes – if stems were left in the wine in the cooler regions it would produce wines that were far too “green” and harsh.
One of Georgia’s other great wine making traditions, which one cannot help noticing when coming across these wines for the first time, is its semi sweet wines, which appear in both red and white varieties. The Georgian Wine Society stocks a number of these wines, including the famous Kindzmarauli, the less well known but highly regarded varieties of Ojaleshi and Pirosmani, and the magisterial Khvanchkara, the favourite wine of one of Georgia’s most infamous sons, Joseph Stalin.
Traditionally, medium sweet wines were produced in the mountainous areas where, due to climate and soil conditions, late harvest and early winter prevented fermentation and the wine stayed sweet. This type of wine was therefore generally used for local and quick consumption, because in spring, when the temperature rose, the wines tended to re-ferment and spoil. Nowadays, famous Georgian semi-sweet wines such as Kindzmarauli and Khvanchkara tend to be created within temperature controlled fermentation tanks at the winery to preserve their higher sugar content.
Georgia is the birthplace of wine according to a number of the world's competent experts. The mention of the ancient traditions of vine growing and high quality wine growing in Georgia (or Colchis and Iberia, as it was known in ancient times) can be found in the works of Homer and Apollonius of Rhodes. Even the unique Georgian alphabet is modeled after the shape of the vines curly offshoots. Up to 500 indigenous grape varieties are still cultivated here. Wine is part of Georgian heritage including architecture, poetry, and songs, and is associated with celebrations, holidays, rituals and most importantly with Georgia's religion the Christian Orthodox Church. Winemaking remained the basis of the Georgian economy for centuries. Through the long history of the Georgian nation, the vine has gained iconic significance in Georgia. It is a symbol of regeneration, of wealth and plenty.
The roots of Georgian viticulture have been traced back by archeology to when peoples of the South Caucasus discovered that wildgrape juice turned into wine when it was left buried through the winter in a shallow pit. This knowledge was nourished by experience, and from 4000 BC inhabitants of the current Georgia were cultivating grapes and burying clay vessels, kvevris, in which to store their wine ready for serving at ground temperature. When filled with the fermented juice of the harvest, the kvevris are topped with a wooden lid and then covered and sealed with earth. Some may remain entombed for up to 50 years.
Wine vessels of every shape, size and design have been the crucial part of pottery in Georgia for millennia. Ancient artifacts attest to the high skill of local craftsmen. Among vessels, the most ubiquitous and unique to Georgian wine-making culture are probably theKvevris, very large earthenware vessels with an inside coat of beeswax. Not only kvevris were used to ferment grape juice and to store up wine, but also chapi and satskhao; others yet were used for drinking, such as khelada, doki, sura, chinchila, deda-khelada,dzhami and marani.
The continuous importance of winemaking and drinking in Georgian culture is also visible in various antique works of art. Many of the unearthed silver, gold and bronze artifacts of the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC bear chased imprints of the vine, grape clusters and leaves. The State Museum of Georgia has on display a cup of high-carat gold set with gems, an ornamented silver pitcher and some other artifacts dated to the 2nd millennium BC. From classical Antiquity, Georgian museums display a cameo depicting Bacchus, and numerous sarcophagi with wine pitchers and ornamented wine cups found in ancient tombs.
From the 4th century AD, wine has gained further importance in Georgian culture due to Christianisation of the country. According to tradition, Saint Nino, who preached Christianity in Kartli, bore a cross made from vine wood. For centuries, Georgians drank, and in some areas still drink, their wine from horns (called kantsi in Georgian) and skins from their herd animals. The horns were cleaned, boiled and polished, creating a unique and durable drinking vessel.
During Soviet times wines produced in Georgia were very popular. In comparison with other wines from Moldavia and Crimea that were available on the Soviet market Georgian wines had been more preferable for Soviets. In 1950 vineyards in Georgia occupied 143,000 acres, but in 1985 already 316,000 acres due to increasing demand. In 1985 wine production was 881,000 tons. During Mikhail Gorbachev's anti-alcohol campaign, many old Georgian vineyards were cut off.
Georgian wine has been a contentious issue in recent relationships with Russia. While political tensions with Russia have contributed to the 2006 Russian embargo of Georgian wine, wine produced within Georgia is also known for being counterfeit, which Russia states is the primary reasoning for the wine embargo. Counterfeiting problems stem from mislabelling by Georgian Producers and falsified “Georgian Wine” labels on wines produced outside of Georgia and imported into Russia under the auspices of being Georgian produced.Winemakers in Georgia have also been known to import grapes and produce “falsified” Georgian Wine, leading then defense minister Irakli Okruashvili to note in 2006 that “[He thought] several wineries that are still producing fake wine in Gori should be closed”. However, these wines are currently being sold in the United States. and the European Union without any major difficulties noted in authenticity. Also, the shipment of counterfeit wine has been primarily channeled through Russian managed customs checkpoints in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where little inspection and regulation occurs.
Georgia is optimistic its recent Association Agreement with the European Union will expand its export markets and reduce the risk presented by any future unilateral embargoes by Russia
Viticulture in Georgia to day:
Georgia ranks 2nd (in terms of volume) in grape production in the former Soviet Union behind Moldova, and Georgian wines have always been the most highly prized and sought after in the Soviet space. Presently, the wine is produced by thousands of small farmers (using primarily traditional techniques of wine-making), as well as certain monasteries. Modern wineries such as Teliani Valley,Gevelli, Giuaani, Telavis Marani, Tbilvino, Kindzmarauli Marani, Badagoni and Mukhrani also produce it.
According to Minister of Agriculture of Georgia grapes harvest in 2009 was 130000 tons and wine production has increased from 13.8 millions wine bottles in 2009 to 15.8 millions wine bottles in 2010 with bottle size 0.75 l (11.85 thousands tons in 2010). In 2009 Georgia exported 10.968 millions bottles of wine in 45 countries. In 2010 Georgia exported wines in: Ukraine - about 7.5 millions bottles, Kazakhstan - about 2.0 millions bottles, Belarus - about 1.2 millions bottles, Poland - about 870 thousands bottles and Latvia - 590 thousands bottles
Georgian Wine Varieties
Traditionally, Georgian wines carry the name of the source region, district, or village, much like French regional wines such as Bordeaux or Burgundy. As with these French wines, Georgian wines are usually a blend of two or more grapes. Georgian wines are classified as sweet, semi-sweet, semi-dry, dry, fortified and sparkling. The semi-sweet varieties are the most popular.
· Pirosmani is a semi-sweet white wine made from a 40% Tsolikauri, 60% Tsitska blend. It has won 3 gold medals and one silver medal at international competitions.
· Tsinandali is a blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes from the micro regions of Telavi and Kvareli in the Kakheti region.
· Tvishi is a natural semi-sweet white wine made from Tsolikauri in the Lechkhumi region. It has won one gold medal, two silver medals and one bronze medal in international competitions.
· Mtsvani is a dry white wine made from Mtsvani.
· Alaznis Veli is white semi-sweet wine made from the Rkatsiteii, Tetra, Tsolikauri and other industrial grape varieties cultivated in Western and Eastern Georgia. The wine of straw color has a characteristic aroma, a fine, fresh and a harmonious taste. It contains 9-11% alcohol and has 6-7% titrated acidity.
· Anakopia is a white semi-dry table wine made from the Tsolikauri grape variety grown in the Sukhumi and Gudauta districts in Abkhazia. The color range is from light to dark-straw. It has a specific aroma and a subtle fresh taste. The alcohol content in the ready wine is 9-11%, sugar content 1-2 g/100 ml, titrated acidity 5-8 g/l. The wine has been produced since 1978.
· Tbilisuri is pink semi-dry wine produced since 1984. It is made from the Saperavi, Cabernet and Rkatsiteli grape varieties grown in East Georgia. The wine has a rich fruity taste. The alcohol content is 9-11.5%, sugar content 1-2%, titrated acidity 5-7 g/l.
· Khikhvi is a vintage white dessert wine made from the Khikhvi grape variety grown in Kardanakhi. It has pleasant amber color, a characteristic aroma and a delicate taste. Its strength is 15 vol.%, sugar content 18-20%, titrated acidity 4-8 g/1. The wine has been produced since 1924. At international competitions it received 4 gold medals.
· Saamo is a vintage dessert white sweet wine is made from the Rkatsiteli grape variety cultivated in the Kardanakhi vineyards of the Gurjaani district in Kakheti. It takes the wine three years to mature. The golden-color wine has an original fine bouquet, a pleasant taste with a harmonious honey fragrance. When ready for use, the wine contains 17% alcohol, 13% sugar and has 4-6 g/1 titrated acidity. It has been manufactured since 1980. At international exhibitions Saamo was awarded 4 gold and 1 silver medal.
· Gelati is a white dry ordinary wine made of the Tsolikauri, Tsitska and Krakhuna grape varieties cultivated in Western Georgia. The wine of straw color has a characteristic savor with a fruity flavor and fresh harmonious taste. Its strength is 10.0-12.5 vol.% and titrated acidity 5-8%.
· Kakheti is a white table wine made of the Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grape varieties cultivated in Kakheti. The amber-color wine has a fruity aroma with a vanillic flavor. It is characterized by an energetic, velvety and harmonious taste. Its strength is 10.5-13.0 vol.% and titrated acidity 4-6%. At international wine competitions the Kakheti wine was awarded one silver and one bronze medal. It has been produced since 1948.
· Bodbe is made from the Rkatsiteli grape variety in the village of Bodbe in the Magaro microdistrict, one of the most beautiful places of Kakheti. The wine has a light-straw color, a fine aroma of wild flowers and a pleasing tender taste which give the wine piquancy highly estimated by connoisseurs. The ready wine contains 10.5-11.5% alcohol and has 5-7% titrated acidity.
· Dimi is an Imeretian-type white ordinary wine. It is made from the Tsolikauri and Krakhuna grape varieties grown on small areas in Imereti (Western Georgia) by the old local technique consisting in fermenting the grapes pulp to which some quantity of grapes husks is added. The dark-straw color has a pleasant specific bouquet with a fruity flavor, a fresh harmonious taste and savory astringency. Its strength is 10.5-13.0 vol.% and titrated acidity 6.5-8.0%. The wine has been produced since 1977.
· Gareji is a white dry ordinary wine made of the Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grape varieties cultivated in Kakheti. The wine has a color ranging from pale-straw to amber, a pleasing bouquet and a full harmonious taste. Its strength is 10.0-12.5 vol. % and titrated acidity 4-7%.
· Ereti is a white dry ordinary wine made from the Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grape varieties. It has a straw color, a fine fruity bouquet and a full fresh and harmonious taste. Its strength is 10.0-12.5 vol.% and titrated acidity 5-8%.
· Shuamta is a dry wine produced since 1984. It is made from the Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grape varieties according to the Kakhetian recipe. The wine is of amber or dark-amber color and has a moderately astringent harmonious taste with a fruity aroma. The alcohol content is 10-12%, titrated acidity 4-6 g/l, extractibility over 25 g/l.
· Alazani (white), named after Alazani river, is a mid-straw colored semi-sweet wine made from 100% Rkatsiteli. The climate of the Alazani Valley is slightly warmer than that of other wine-growing Georgian regions, making the local grapes sweeter than the rest. It has won one silver and one gold metal in international competitions.
· Akhasheni is a naturally semi-sweet red wine made from the Saperavi grape variety grown in the Akhasheni vineyards of the Gurdzhaani district in Kakheti. The wine has a dark-pomegranate color has a harmonious velvety taste with a chocolate flavor. It contains 10.5-12.0% alcohol, 3-5% sugar and has 5-7% titrated acidity. The wine has been made since 1958. At international exhibitions it was awarded 6 gold and 5 silver medals.
· Khvanchkara is a high-end, naturally semi-sweet red wine made from the Alexandria & Mudzhuretuli grape varieties cultivated in the Khvanchkara vineyards in Racha, Western Georgia. The wine has a strong, distinctive bouquet and a well-balanced tannin profile with flavors of raspberry. It has a dark-ruby color. Khvanchkara wine is one of the most popular Georgian semi-sweet wines. It contains 10.5-12.0% alcohol, 3-5% sugar and has 5.0-7.0% titrated acidity. The wine has been made since 1907. It was awarded 2 gold and 4 silver medals at various international exhibitions.
· Kindzmarauli is a high quality naturally semi-sweet wine of dark-red color. It is made from the Saperavi grape variety cultivated on the slopes of the Caucasian mountains in the Kvareli district of Kakheti. It has a strong characteristic bouquet and aroma, a gentle harmonious and velvety taste. The wonderful taste and curative properties have won Kindzmarauli general recognition. The wine contains 10.5-12.0% alcohol, 3-5% sugar and has 5.0-7.0% titrated acidity. It has been manufactured since 1942. For its supreme qualities Kindzmarauli was 3 gold, 4 silver & 1 bronze medal at international wine competitions.
· Mukuzani is a dry red wine made from 100% Saperavi in Mukuzani, Kakheti. The wine is sourced from the very best wines of the vintage that have been fermented at controlled temperatures and with selected yeast strains. The wines are then matured for 3 years in oak to give the wine-added complexity and flavor. Mukuzani is considered to be the best of the Georgian Dry Red wines made from Saperavi. It has won 9 gold medals, 2 silver medals and 3 bronze medals in international competitions.
· Ojaleshi is one of the best red semi-sweet wines made from the grape variety of the same name cultivated on the mountain slopes overhanging the banks of the Tskhenis-Tskali river, particularly in the Orbeli village and Samegrelo district (Western Georgia). Odzhaleshi has dark-ruby colour, a gentle bouquet and aroma, a harmonious rich taste with a fruity flavor. It contains 10-12% alcohol, 3-5% sugar and has a titrated acidity of 5-6%.
· Pirosmani is a naturally semi-sweet red wine. It is made from the Saperavi grape variety cultivated in the Akhoebi vineyards of the Kardanakhi village in the Alazani Valley. The wine is fermented in clay jars buried in the ground, an ancient Kakhetian wine-making technique. When ready for use, the wine contains 10.5-12% alcohol, 1.5-2.5% sugar and has 5-7% titrated acidity.
· Saperavi is a red wine made from the Saperavi grape variety grown in some areas of Kakheti. It is an extractive wine with a characteristic bouquet, a harmonious taste and pleasant astringency. Its strength is 10.5-12.5% and titrated acidity 5-7%. At the international wine competitions this wine received one gold and one silver medal. It has been produced since 1886.
· Usakhelauri is a naturally semi-sweet wine, which is superior to all other wines of this kind for its gentle and subtle qualities. It is produced from the excellent Usakhelauri grape variety cultivated mostly in the Zubi-Okureshi district in Western Georgia. Vineyards are arranged on the mountain slopes. The wine has attractive ruby color, harmonious sweetness with a wild strawberry flavor. It is noted for a pleasant velvety taste, a delicate bouquet and inimitable piquancy. The wine contains up to 10.5-12.0% alcohol, 3-5% sugar and has 5-7% titrated acidity. It has been manufactured since 1943. The word "Usakhelauri" means "nameless" in Georgia. The wine was so fine that it was hard to find an adequate name for it. At international exhibitions Usakhelauri was awarded 2 gold and 3 silver medals.
· Apsny is a naturally semi-sweet red wine made of red grape varieties cultivated in Abkhazia. The wine of pomegranate color has a pleasant aroma, a full and harmonious taste with gentle sweetness. When ready for use, the wine contains 9-10% alcohol, 3-5% sugar and has 5-7% titrated acidity. At an international exhibition the wine received one silver medal.
· Lykhny is a naturally semi-sweet pink wine made of the Izabela grape variety cultivated in Abkhazia. The wine has pink color, a specific aroma and a fresh harmonious taste. When ready for use, the wine contains 8-9% alcohol, 3-5% sugar and has 5-7% titrated acidity. At international exhibitions Lykhny was awarded one silver and one bronze medal.
· Mtatsminda is a pink table semi-dry wine produced since 1984. It is prepared by the original technology from the Saperavi, Tavkveri, Asuretuli, Rkatsiteli and other grape varieties grown in Tetritskaro, Kaspi, Gori and Khashuri districts. The wine is characterized by a harmonious taste with a fruity aroma and a beautiful color. The alcohol content is 9-11.5%, sugar content 1-2%, titrated acidity 5-7 g/l.
· Aguna is a pink semi-dry wine produced since 1984. It is made from the Saperavi, Cabernet and Rkatsiteli grape varieties grown in East Georgia. The wine has a rich fruity taste. The alcohol content is 9-11.5%, sugar content 1-2%, titrated acidity 5-7 g/l.
· Sachino is a pink semi-dry wine produced since 1984. It is made by the original method from the Aleksandreuli, Aladasturi, Odzhaleshi, Tsitska, Tsolikauri and other grape varieties cultivated in West Georgia. The wine is notable for a mild taste, a moderate extractibility, a pure aroma and a beautiful color. The alcohol content is 9-11.5%, sugar content 1-2%, titrated acidity 5-7 g/l.
· Barakoni is a naturally semi-dry red wine made from the unique Alexandreuli and Mudzhuretuli grape varieties cultivated in Western Georgia on the steep slopes of the Rioni gorge in the Caucasian mountains. This top quality wine of light-ruby color has a fine fragrance of violets, natural pleasant sweetness and a tender harmonious taste. When ready for use, Barakoni contains 10-12% alcohol, 1.5-2.5% sugar and has 5-7% titrated acidity. The wine has been manufactured since 1981.
· Salkhino is a liqueur-type of dessert wine made from the Izabella grape variety with an addition of the Dzvelshava, Tsolikauri and other grape varieties cultivated in the Mayakovski district (Western Georgia). It has characteristic ruby or pomegranate color. The alcohol content is 15%, sugar content 30%, titrated acidity 3-7 g/l. At international competitions the wine received 6 gold medals. It has been produced since 1928
· Alaverdi (White and Red)
· Alazani (Red) is a light red, semi-sweet wine made from a 60% Saperavi, 40% Rkatsiteli blend. It has won 3 gold medals and 3 silver medals at international competitions. The name comes from one of the major river systems of Georgia that borders Georgia with Azerbaijan. The climate is slightly warmer than the rest of the Georgian Wine growing regions and gives rise to much sweeter grapes than those found elseware.