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Have your ever heard of Mtsvani, Usakhelauri, Saperavi or Rkatsiteli varieties?
If you enjoy a nice glass of wine after a hard day, you probably have Georgia to thank. Whether it’s claret from the vineyards of Bordeaux, or a sauvignon blanc from California, each has a debt to pay to what is possibly the oldest wine producing country in the world.
Archaeological evidence of viniculture in Georgia dates back to between 9000 and 7000 BC, and some ancient methods of wine production still exist to this day.
From the main wine-producing region of Kakheti in the east, to Imereti and Svaneti in the west and north, people still bury clay jugs or kvevri in the ground to store wine at a suitable temperature. It is thought that this was the only way to ferment and store wine until the Romans introduced wooden barrels to middle and northern Europe in the 1st century BC. Yet from commercial vineyards to people’s homes, the old ways are still used to produced some of the most prized wine in the Caucasus.
In Soviet times, Georgian wine was held in high regard. Georgian born Soviet leader Joseph Stalin is believed to have been a lover of the semi-sweet red wine Khvanchkara. So much so, that he served the wine to British prime minister Winston Churchill and US president Franklin Roosevelt at the Yalta summit near the end of World War II. Russia remained Georgia’s largest foreign market for wine exports until an embargo in 2006. Yet Russia’s loss has been the gain of new markets in Europe and America.
While many Georgian grape varieties remain unfamiliar to the western palate (can you claim to have heard of Mtsvani, Usakhelauri, Saperavi or Rkatsiteli?), they are beginning to get noticed outside of Georgia. Usually the grapes are blended to create wine with a distinct flavour and character, and popular Georgian wineries like Tamada, Telavi and Eniseli are enjoying an increase in exports. So, if you’ve tried wine from both the old and new worlds, now it’s time to uncork a very old world wine from Georgia.