Sunday 28 August 2011

New Kid from the Old World

I suspect many people might not even know where Georgia is, let alone have experience of tasting Georgian wine. Georgia, in the Caucasus between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, was part of the Soviet Union until 1991 when it gained its independence. It claims to be the oldest wine producing region in the world with an 8,000 year winemaking history that is an essential part of the country's cultural heritage. Georgian wine was traditionally made in 'kvevri', ceramic jars containing grape juice, skin and stalks that were buried underground for fermentation. The wine was thick and tannic.

Georgian wines were highly prized in Russia which imported over 90% of the production. A falling out in 2006 saw Russia putting an embargo on Georgian wine (citing counterfeiting), leaving Georgia to look for new export markets. In hindsight, the embargo can be seen as good news for wine lovers in other parts of the world.

The country has a mild climate moderated by the Black Sea to the west. Cool summer nights retain the acidity in the grapes and the mineral-rich waters from the Caucasian mountains provide natural nutrients to the vines. There are over 400 indigenous grapes, of which some 38 are used for winemaking, all unfortunately with pretty much unpronounceable names—another language for the wine lovers!

There are still a lot of small growers making wine using traditional methods while the bigger ones are adopting modern techniques, producing wines that are more accessible when young.

Georgia adopts an appellation system similar to that in Bordeaux or Burgundy where wine can be named after the region, district or village—more confusion for consumers! However, wine lovers should not be deterred by the confusing labelling or alien-sounding grapes. After all, we all learn to, more or less, master the French appellations. I have recently tried a few Georgian wines and found them surprisingly pleasant:

Tbilvino Tsinandali Special Reserve 2007 (white): A blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes, barrel fermented and aged in oak for nine months. Floral and ginger nose with refreshing acidity and appetising palate. At 12.5% alcohol, this is a food friendly wine that goes well with sashimi or steamed pork dumplings.

Tblivino Mukuzani, Special Reserve 2003 (red): 100% Saperavi grapes. Red fruits with prunes, dry leaves and pepper nose. A wide spectrum of aromas supported by fresh acidity and ripe tannin. An elegant wine with 12.5% alcohol.

Available from Georgian Valleys Corporations Ltd

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