Exploring Georgian Wine: The Khareba Winery

While Georgia has made wine for some eight thousand years, its wines are little known in North America.  The International Wine Review has begun tasting and reviewing Georgian wines in preparation for a future, post-COVID trip there. Recently, Georgia’s Khareba winery sent us samples, and we subsequently held a Zoom tasting with the lead winemaker, Vladimer Kublashvili.  We followed that up with another tasting, this time paired with delicious Georgian food at Washington, DC’s Supra restaurant owned and managed by Jonathan Nelms. This article reviews the wines of Khareba. Another article, available on the IWR home page, discusses Georgian food and wine.

Khareba’s Wine Cellar in Imereti

Founded in 1995 by three brothers named Kharebava, Khareba is Georgia’s largest and most commercially successful winery.  However, its origins date back to at least the 17th century when wines from its vineyards in Vachnadziani belonged to the noble Jandieri and Vachnadze families. It was also an important state-owned winery until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.  The Kharebava brothers renovated and expanded the winery and its vineyards and managed to survive Putin’s embargo of Georgian wine in 2006; while they lost their most important export market, they were forced to diversity and expand their market. Today they export to many countries and beginning in 2013 also resumed selling in Russia. Annual production is about 500 thousand cases.

Today Khareba owns 1500 hectares of vineyards specializing in the country’s indigenous varieties and has four winemaking facilities including one built in Imereti in 2004 and three in Khaketi. It will soon add a new winery in Racha for the production of wines from the Aleksandouli and Mujuretuli grape varieties.  Khareba grows over 25 different grape varieties in seven different growing regions including Khaketi, Imereti, Racha, and Lechkhumi and produces over 30 different wines in addition to sparkling wine and brandy.  Its facilities include a 7.7 km long tunnel carved into the Caucasus Mountains (built for defense purposes in the 1950s and bought by the winery in 2006) for aging wine located in Kvareli in the Kakheti region.  Khareba makes wine in both traditional qvevri and conventional, modern stainless steel tanks and oak barrels.

Winemaker Vladimer Kublashvili

Vladimer Kublashvili leads the winemaking team and has been the lead winemaker since 2006; he studied at the Georgian Agricultural University and has done several post graduate courses in France and Germany.  He is assisted by consulting winemakers including Hervé Romat, who holds a doctorate in enology from the University of Bordeaux and is co-owner of the Château Grande Maison in Côtes de Bourg, and Ingo Simon, owner and winemaker the Simon winery in the Mosel specializing in sekt.

We would like to thank Khareba’s US importer, Best Value Wine Group, which facilitated the provision of samples for this article, and Lisa Granik MW for information on Georgian wine in her excellent, in-depth book, The Wines of Georgia.

THE WINES

Qvevri Wines

Khareba Winery 2019 Monastery Qvevri Wine Aladasturi Imereti 90   This light red wine begins with a bouquet of fresh cherry and a hint of dried rose petals. The medium weight palate is very fresh, silky smooth, and quite Pinot Noir like with its flavors of red berries and cherries. Made from Aladasturi grapes produced by the Stavropigial St. George monastery of the Imereti region; they’re dried in the sun for a couple of weeks after harvesting and then fermented on the skins in qvevri. 11.5% alc.

 

Khareba Winery 2014 Monastery Qvevri Wine Mtsvane Khaketi 91   Medium amber color. This is an interesting, complex and delicious wine made in traditional qvevri. The nose is herbal with touches of hazelnut and dried apricot, while the silky palate shows earth notes along with dried stone fruit finishing very dry with a chalky mineral character. The tannins are slightly astringent, but the wine paired beautifully with eggplant stuffed with walnut paste at Washington DC’s Supra restaurant. Made from Mtsvane grapes in the Khaketi region and fermented in qvevri; 12% alc.

Khareba Winery 2010 Tsitska Imereti 92  Medium gold–Sauternes like color. This is an example of an older white wine made in qvevri. It begins with a distinctly savory nose showing dried fruit, especially stone fruit. On the palate, it has a velvet texture with excellent depth and richness of a wide variety of flavors including toasted nuts, ripe citrus and pineapple. Finishes dry with resolved tannins. An amazing, elegant wine for 10+ years of age! A dry white wine made from the Tsitska grape, fermented and matured with 5% of its skins in qvevri for 8 months. 12.5% alc.

Modern Wines

Khareba Winery 2019 Krakhuna Dry White Imereti 88  This dry white wine made from the Krakhuna grape variety offers a clean nose with notes of citrus and lime zest. In the mouth, it’s crisp and fresh and light in both body and flavor. Softly textured and made for easy drinking. Made from Krakhuna grapes grown in the Kvirila river valley; 12.5% alc.

Khareba Winery 2017 Dry Red Aged Wine Kakheti 91  Showing dark fruit and hints of cocoa powder and leather on the nose, this is serious, big red wine. It’s full in the mouth with freshness and depth of spicy, ripe, dark fruited flavors. Finishes long with rich extract. Made from the Saperavi grapes grown in the Kakheti region and matured in oak barrels; 14.5% alc.

Khareba Winery 2014 Saperavi Premium Gold Kakheti  92  The Saperavi Premium Gold is one of the super-premium wines produced by the Khareba winery. We found it to be a gorgeous wine with dense fruit, good freshness and well balanced. It’s softly textured and mouth filling with aromas and flavors of dark fruit well integrated with toasted oak. It finishes with an alluring mineral quality. Made from Saperavi grapes grown in Mukuzani, the region reputed to grow the best Saperavi, from the estate’s oldest vineyards planted in 1995.

Khareba Winery 2019 Kindzmarauli Saperavi Kakheti 88  The Kindzmarauli Saperavi is slightly off dry. On both the nose and palate, it’s fresh and fruit forward with nice gripping tannins offsetting the residual sugar. The overall impression is not one of sweetness. It’s a youthful wine meant for easy drinking. Made of Saperavi grapes grown in the Kindzmarauli district of Kakheti and fermented semi-dry. 12.5% alc.  We also tasted the 2017 vintage of this wine with a similar evaluation.

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