The Wines of Georgia: A First Look

Alaverdi Monastery & Wine Cellar Dating from the 11th Century

Georgia is the cradle of human winemaking with archaeological evidence dating from 6 thousand BCE. Soviet collectivization largely destroyed traditional winemaking, but a wine renaissance focused on small producers and indigenous grape varieties began in the early 21st century, and today there are over 1,300 wineries and 48 thousand hectares of grapes. While the US is just the 10th largest importer of Georgian wine, consumer interest is growing rapidly. We will be publishing a new report on The Wines of Georgia in the near future. We’ll look in depth at the wines and, also, explore the country’s exciting cuisine. In this article, we take a first look with the aim of introducing our readers to the unique and varied wines of Georgia.

The Georgian wine in the marketplace is either traditional or modern. Modern winemaking is similar to that done in the rest of the world. However, traditional winemaking is quite different. It’s done by putting crushed grapes, sometimes with stems, in buried terracotta vessels called qvevri. White wines are sometimes given extended time on the skins, producing “amber” wines.  When these traditional wines are made with organically grown grapes, ambient yeast and very small additions of sulphur dioxide, they are called “natural” wines. 

Georgia is home to over 400 indigenous grape varieties.  However, most wines are made with just a few varieties, and the majority of vineyards are in the Kakheti region located to the east of Tbilisi.  The single most popular white variety is Rkatsiteli, a grape native to the Kakheti region, but now grown throughout Georgia. It accounts for over half of all plantings. The most popular red variety is Saperavi, which makes a rich, full bodied wine, especially when matured in oak barriques.

Our comments on several traditional and modern Georgian wines follow below; US importers are listed when known.  We are in general impressed with the overall quality of these wines. We will evaluate many more wines and give them IWR scores in our upcoming report on The Wines of Georgia.

MODERN WHITE WINES                                                                            

Kakhuri Gvinis Marani 2017 Manavi Dry White Kakheti   Light yellow straw. This wine made from the Kakhuri Mtsvane grape offers a fruity bouquet of spicy pear and melon. The spicy quality continues on a medium weight palate with notes of stone fruit and ginger. Finishes with a lingering sweet fruit note. An excellent food wine. Kakhuri Gvinis Marani was established 9 years ago in Village Gurjaani in the Kakheti region with vineyards in several microzones. Importer: Interbalt Products  

Khareba Lipartiani 2014 Queen Tamar Reserve Georgia   The fruit-rich Queen Tamar Reserve has a fresh melon and orchard fruit nose. It’s round and soft on entry with pleasant pear and melon flavors. It’s mouthfilling, crisp and dry with good acidity and a dry, flavorful finish. A handpicked blend of 60% Krakhuna, 25% Tsitska, 8% Mtsvane, Sauvignon 5%, Chardonnay 2% fermented and aged in stainless steel on the lees for 7 months. Khareba is a large producer with 1000 ha of vines in several parts of the country. It makes both qvevri and modern wines. The lead enologist is Vladimer Kublashvili. The Lipartiani family’s history dates from the 9th century; Vakhtang Lipartiani revived the family’s wine cellar. 
 

Vaziani NV Tsinandali Kakheti   Light yellow straw. Attractive bouquet of pear, melon and dried flowers. Clean and crisp attack with good freshness and balance and easy to like Bosc pear like flavors. Bright mineral like finish. This is a modern wine made in a style familiar to most Western wine drinkers. A blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane. Vaziani was established in 1982 in the city of Telavi in the Kakheti region and modernized in 2012. 
 

TRADITIONAL QVEVRI WHITES

Danieli 2016 Kisi Qvevri White Wine Kakheti    Medium dark amber. There’s a spicy quality to the nose of this traditionally made Kisi wine. Hints of cinnamon, baked apple, and dried cherries show on the nose. It’s broad on the palate with a spicy, cooked fruit character, finishing with good richness and bright acidity. Excellent food wine. Made from 95% Kisi and 5% Mtsvane from the Akhmeta region, Magraani territory. Danieli is located in Village Argokhi, Akhmeta Municipality, the Kakheti region. George Babunidze is the winemaker. 

DoReMi 2018 Mtsvane Khaketi    Amber copper color. Multifaceted bouquet of orange peel, pomegranate and baked apple. Round and soft on entry, the flavors mirror the bouquet on a mouthfilling, spicy palate. Dry with good extract and a hint of astringency on a prolonged finish; excellent food wine. DoReMi was founded in 2012 in Village Gamarjveba, Rustavi Municipality, in the Kartli region with the mission of creating organic wines using ancient techniques. They source grapes from the Kartli, Imereti and Kakheti regions. Importer: Terraneo Merchants 
 

Makashvili Wine Cellar 2017 Khikhvi Kakheti   Amber orange. Aromas of dried herbs, tart orange, and baking spice. Opens with a soft, creamy texture and orange extract and dried citrus flavors and finishes dry with firm tannins. Made of 100% Khikhvi fermented in qvevri. The Makashvili Wine Cellar is owned by Vaziani Winery; all wines are made with traditional qvevri. It’s located in Village Telavi in the Kakheti region. 
 

Makharebeli 2017 Rkatsiteli Kakheti  A delicious amber wine showing dried orange and cherry aromas. It’s broad and full in the mouth with good depth and an especially appealing dried cherry quality on the palate. Dry on the finish but with good length. A blend of 90% Rkatsiteli and 10% Kakhetian grapes from the village of Vazisubani, Alazani Valley, Kakheti region. The winery was founded in 2009 with 2.5 ha of estate vines

 Sagvine 2016 Rkatsiteli Dry Amber Wine Kakheti   Gold straw. Scents of fennel and Cointreau show on the nose. Soft on the attack with a mouthfilling, lanolin like quality and complex flavors of orange marmalade, honeycomb, and white pepper. There’s good acidity and overall freshness. A well made and nicely balanced wine with a smooth, dry finish. Fermented in qvevri for 6 months. US Importer: Georgian Wine House.

RED AND ROSE WINES

Corporation Georgian Wine 2014 Mukuzani Singing Wine Kakheti   This Saperavi wine is an excellent savory, dark red wine. Its bouquet reveals red fruit, underbrush and a hint of cedar. The palate has a silky quality and excellent depth of flavor, mirroring the bouquet, and it finishes long with rich extract. Sourced from the Mukuzani zone located in the Kakheti region. The Corporation Georgian Wine was founded in 1999 by Dmitri Nozadze in the village of Tsinandali. It makes wine under several labels and is one of the top exporting wineries of Georgia. The winemaker is Albert Utiashvili. 

Dugladze 2016 Mukuzani Dry Red Kakheti    This 100% Saperavi has a pronounced bouquet of ripe dark red fruit. It’s well made and full in the mouth with a savory character flavors of plum, dark cherry and hints of tobacco and chocolate. Finishes with good length and fine firm tannins. An excellent wine to accompany meat stews. Sourced from the Mukuzani zone of the Kakheti region. Destemmed and fermented in stainless steel and matured 9+ months in French oak. The winery was founded in 2004 by the Dugladze family; they have 355 ha of vineyards in the Kakheti, Imereti and Kartli regions. The winery was one of the largest in the Soviet Union when it was built in 1984; it was modernized by the Dugladze family beginning in 2004. 

Simon Chkheidze Cellar 2018 Otskhanuri Sapere Dry Rosé Imereti Region   Light ruby red. This full bodied and deeply colored rosé offers a nose of spicy red berries and red apple. It has a fruity attack and richly flavored palate and resembles a traditional Spanish rosé of Grenache. It’s clean and fresh with good acidity. Produced and aged in Kvevri from Otskhanuri Sapere grapes grown in the Nugzar and Marmuka Chkhektze located 220-240 m above sea level. From Village Obcha in the Imereti Region. 12.9% alc. 
 

Zangaura 2017 Saperavi Kakheti   This is a big and very flavorful red wine. Ripe dark red fruit shows on the nose with a hint of dark chocolate shavings. It’s full on the attack with good depth of delicious, dark red fruit. The mouth feel is silky with lovely depth and precision. Zangaura was founded in Village Akhalsopeli, Kvareli Municipality in the Kakheti region in 2004 by Georgian Wines Ltd, which owns 40 ha of vines. From the Zangaura river valley.  
 

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