Friday, 30 September 2016

Georgian wine revisited

My last article of Georgian wine was in 2012. Although I haven’t written anything on Georgian since then, I did attend its tastings organised nearly every year by Meiburg Wine Media, including the Georgian Wine Festival 2016. I noticed quite a few things have changed.

First is the recognition of Georgia. Back in 2011 when I visited Georgia with some 40 importers and media from Asia, hardly anyone knew where Georgia was. At this year’s master class, Debra still joked that we should not mix up this Georgia, with over 8,000 years of winemaking history, with the US Georgia. In reality, a lot of wine lovers, and certainly most in the wine trade, are aware, if not exactly pinpointing the location, of this winemaking country between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

The second is the awareness of Qvevri (or Kvevri) wine. They may not have tried it but most realise it is the traditional winemaking method where wine is made in amphorae (although not the entire process). I like Qvevri white wine for its blend of floral, spices and stone fruits aromas but surprisingly fresh, light and dry palate.

Then it is the availability of Georgian wine in the market. In Hong Kong, Georgian wine is still confined to a few small yet focused importers but the increase in import was an impressive 230% in 2015, while China is Georgia’s fifth largest export market (around 760,000 bottles in 2015). Japan also saw its import of Georgian wine increased by 21% in 2015.

Last and the most important, is the improvement in wine quality. Qvevri wine is always of high quality if an acquired taste. However, it only contributes to around 5-8% of the total Georgian wine production. The bulk of Georgian wine is made in modern wineries using stainless steel tanks and barrels. When I was at the Tbilisi Georgian Beverages Tradeshow in 2011, the wine quality was hit and miss because of winery hygiene or practices and vineyard management (too high yield). At this tasting, the wine quality has leapfrogged. All the wines were clean and well made. albeit a few of them might have a bit too much oak.

What I was glad to see is that Georgian wineries are not rushing to plant international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay alike even though making wine with these varieties is a short cut to export markets. Georgia has 526 indigenous grape varieties most with un-pronounceable names but they are unique characteristics. I would hate to see them disappear.

These were a few outstanding wineries/wines at the tasting:

Bagrationi 1882: The Bagrationi royal family introduced secondary fermentation in bottle from France to Georgia and in 1882, the wine won worldwide acknowledgement in St Petersburg, Russia, hence the name. Its Classic Brut NV made with Chinuri and Tsitska was outstanding. Bagrationi 1882 is available from Ancient Wines Ltd.

Chateau Mukhrani: Founded in 1878 by the Prince of Mukhrani, heir of the royal family of Georgia, the winery owns 100% of the vineyards and controls crop size to produce the best quality grapes. I particularly like its white wines: Reserve du Prince Goruli Mtsvane 2013 and Rkatsiteli 2014. Chateau Mukhrani is available from Georgian Valleys Co.

Tamada: Meaning ‘Toast Master’, this is a joint venture between Pernod Ricard and Georgian shareholders. Its Napareuli 2009, a 100% Saperavi dry red wine, is a good representation of this mostly planted red variety in Georgia.

Winery Khareba: a big producer with some 1,000 ha of vineyards in Kakheti, Imereti and Racha-Lechkhumi. Try their range of Qvevri wines.

Usakhelauri Vineyards: A relatively new comer in 2001 and only planted with Usakhelauri red variety. The winery only produces two unfiltered wines: a semi-dry and a semi-sweet. Even the bottle is unique.

Let’s hope more importers and restaurants could carry Georgian wine.

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