Category Archives: Georgia

Georgian wines

Georgian Wine Tasting in Istanbul

Georgian wine has been gaining in popularity for several years now. Not even Istanbul can resist the charms of neighboring Georgia’s wine and cuisine. While we don’t get a huge variety of Georgian wine here we at least have a steady supply.

While the wine tastings I lead are usually Turkish wine-focused, several months ago we shelved the Turkish wine in favor of some of the Georgian wines available here. Apparently not even sharing a border with a country makes it easier to import alcohol. The selection here is limited to a few basic table wines from a couple of Georgia’s large, commercial producers; particularly Chateau Mukhrani and Telavi Wine Cellar.

Georgian wine

Chateau Mukrani is one of the largest wineries in Georgia. The winery was originally established towards the end of the nineteenth century by Prince Ivane Mukhranbatoni on the family’s Mukhrani estate. By 1896 winery production peaked with twelve wines and international awards and popularity. Unfortunately the chateau and vineyards suffered during the twentieth century. In 2002 an investment group formed to restore the chateau to its former glory. By 2007 they were producing wines from newly invigorated vineyards in the eastern Georgian village of Mukhrani.

In the middle of Alazani Valley, lies Kakheti’s largest city, Telavi. It is just outside the city where, in 1915, Telavi Wine Cellar was founded. Telavi Wien Cellar belnds innovation with a sense of history, keeping faithful to the noble traditions of Kakhetian winemaking, while adapting to modern methods to produce wines that would please the most refined, and discerning global palate.

Georgian food

Of course no Georgian wine tasting would be complete without some traditional Georgian food. I made several dishes including both Imeretian and Megruli khachapuri, a chicken salad, and my favorite Georgian starter: eggplant rolls with garlic walnut paste.

And now, the wines!

Chateau Mukhrani Goruli Mtsvane

Chateau Mukhrani Goruli Mtsvane 2014 Tasting Notes:

There are some dozen different grapes with the word Mtsvane in their names because in Georgian, Mtsvane just means “green.”  Many grapes are called Mtsvane Something, and typically the Something part of the name has to do with where the grape is from (or thought to be from).  Mtsvane Goruli (or Goruli Mtsvane) means “green from Gori,” which is a town in the Kartli region in the Caucasus mountains of south-central Georgia.  This and Mtsvane Kakhuri, which means “green from Kakheti” are the two most common varieties found.

We tasted the Chateau Mukhrani Goruli Mtsvane. Bright and fruity with white and yellow plums and citrus on the nose, the sur lie ageing add some depth of flavor while keeping the wine’s freshness and easy to drink nature.

Chateau Mukhrani Rkatsiteli

Chateau Mukhrani Rkatsiteli 2014 Tasting Notes:

Rkatsiteli is probably the most common white wine grape variety in Georgia; particularly in Kakheti. It is used to make everything from table wine to European-style wines, qvevri amber wines, and even fortified wines.

Like the Goruli Mtsvane above, the Chateau Mukhrani Rkatsiteli was also aged sur lie. Flavors of yellow and white plums, white mulberry, and citrus are highlighted by refreshing acidity. A warm finish hints at both the sur lie ageing and the depth of character of which this grape is capable.

Kondoli Rkatsiteli

Telavi Wine Cellar Kondoli Rkatsiteli 2011 Tasting Notes:

This Rkatsiteli from Telavi Wine Cellar was much more complex than the young and fresh version by Chateau Mukhrani. The wine was aged 70% in French barriques (35% new oak, 35% old oak) and 30% in stainless steel.  Fruity and aromatic, the nose is warm with the scents of apricots, white peach, melon, and toasted nut. Minerality balances the fruit on the palate keeping them fresh instead of saccharine and hints of hazelnuts and slight buttery finish from the oak give this Rkatsiteli some very interesting layers.

Telavuri Saperavi

Telavi Wine Cellar Telavuri Red Tasting Notes:

Unlike the other wines from the tasting, this wine from Telavi Wine Cellar is a non vintage blend from the winery’s Kakheti vineyards. Part of the winery’s table wine line, this dry red is a Saperavi-lead blend of local Georgian grape varieties. While not particularly complex its fruity aromas (largely black fruits like blackcurrants) and velvety texture make it perfectly quaffable.

Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi

Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi 2012 Tasting Notes:

The final wine of our tasting was the Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi 2012. More complex than the non vintage from Telavi Wine Celler, this Saperavi was aged 20% in French, American and Caucasian oak barrels after undergoing malolactic fermentation. A beguiling bouquet of black mulberry, blackberry and cherry tempt you to explore further while light florals, balsamic, and echoes of soft oak on the palate complete this wine’s seduction.

Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane 2014

Tanini was one of my favorite winery finds at Tbilisi’s New Wine Festival this year. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a bottle of their rose to bring home though. The Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane amber wine more than made up for any disappointment though!

Tanini is the brain child of Emzar Vasadze who makes traditional Georgian wines in Kakheti. Using only native grapes, he produces Saperavi, Tavkveri, Mtsvane, Rkatsiteli, Kisi, and Saperavi Rose wines; mostly in qvevri. Georgian wines, particularly qvevri wines, are knows for being pretty tannic and he took the name of his wine, Tanini, for that quality.

Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane

But wait, what are qvevri and amber wines? I am by no means an expert on Georgian wines and recommend checking out Exotic Wine Travel and Taste Georgia. In a nut shell though:

A qvevri (kve-vri) is an egg-shaped earthenware vessel used for making, ageing and storing the wine. They are made in all sizes with large wine producers using vessels large enough for a man to climb into. Usually they are buried in the ground. After pressing the grapes the juice, skins, stalks, and seeds are all poured into the qvevri which is sealed. In this style of wine making the cap is not punched down, nothing is stirred or messed around with. In a few months the seal is removed from the qvevri and the wine is siphoned out.

Amber wine, also known as orange wine, is kind of the reverse of a rose. Whereas rose wines are red wines made in the style of white wine; amber wines are white wines made like red wines. In short; they ferment for a time in contact with the grape skins (and seeds and sometimes stems). The more skin contact the wine has had, the darker amber (or orange) color the wine will achieve. While Georgia is possibly the most well-known for its amber wines; they are not the only ones who make them. You can find amber wines throughout the Balkans, north east Italy, and elsewhere.

Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane

Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane 2014 Tasting Notes:

You can see from the picture what a deep amber color this is. Mtsvane simply means “green” in Georgian and indeed the grapes are very green. So it takes some amount of skin contact to achieve this burnt orange color!

To me, qvevri amber wines always smell overwhelmingly of apple cider. Quite possibly because I grew up drinking fresh pressed, unpasteurized cider so that raw quality that Georgian amber wines have must prick a memory. The Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane had a lot of that aroma for me. I also detected peaches, peach skin, mineral, and a smokey something.

This is also an unfiltered wine meaning no finding took place to clarify the wine. While it’s got only 11% abv, the wine making style ensured that this still packs a big punch! It explodes in your mouth with massive, chewy tannins. Yeasty apple and peach flavors wrap around a solid acidic and mineral core. There’s not a lot of progression in this one; it’s a full attack from start to finish.

There’s a growing movement in the wine world, including Georgia, for “raw” wine. Raw wine takes organic wine making a step further. Basically the rule of thumb, as I understand it, is nothing extra in or out. It’s just the grape and what it brought with it. So no foreign yeasts to aid fermentation, only the yeast that lives naturally on the grape. No fining, no filtering, no manipulation of any sort is done. I believe that that Tanini followed that practice with this Mtsvane. However for me a better description of this particular wine would be not “raw” but “wild”.

 

Telavi Marani Tvishi 2013

This Telavi Wine Cellar Marani Tvishi was another great find at Rind. And worth every penny of the 70ish TL that I paid. Telavi Wine Cellar’s wine are the most available Georgian wines available in Istanbul. Except right now. As I write this I am impatiently waiting for Rind’s order to arrive. The order they put in over a month ago.

But back to the Marani Tvishi!

Marani Tvishi

Under the Telavi Wine Cellar company, Marani is one of the largest wineries in Georgia. It’s also one of the most helpful websites. Not only does it list all the Marani wines being produced but provides tasting notes. Which, coming from Turkey where there are laws against that (which seem to be followed only sometimes?) is really refreshing.

One of the things I find interesting about Georgian wine is their labeling. Old World wines are labeled by appellation; New World by grape type. Georgia seems to use a mix of the two. The Marani Tvishi falls under the Old World labeling example. Tvishi is not a grape but a Specific Viticulture Area (SVA). Specifically one located in Racha-Lechkhumi, Svaneti. The Marani Tvishi which is in fact made from 100% Tsolikauri, is part of the winery’s Appellation Range. It differs greatly from the Marani Tsolikauri that is part of the Regional Range.

It’s enough to make your head spin! Marani’s website lists 55 wines; including two icewines, four chachas, and five brandies. The next time I do more than just run over to Tbilisi for a weekend I am making an appointment with Marani and tasting everything.

Marani Tvishi

Telavi Marani Tvishi 2013 Tasting Notes:

Probably not all that much of a spoiler but I really liked this one. I am kind of a sucker for semi-sweet wines. I actually didn’t know when I opened this that it was a semi-sweet. Because it was though it was an accidentally excellent pairing with the Thai green curry dish E and I drank it with!

One of the things I love so much about semi-sweet whites is how refreshing they are. They’re not the cloying, saccharine dessert wines many assume them to be. They’re lightly sweet and usually low in alcohol (11% in this case) making them excellent quaffing wines. The Marani Tvishi was no different!

A brilliant pale yellow with green highlights in the glass, the Marani Tvishi is beautiful from the off. The nose is slightly sweet with tropical, apricot, and honeysuckle notes. In the mouth it’s light with lively and zesty acid and flavors of quince, apricot, and honeysuckle.

A truly enjoyable wine. The Marani Tvishi has, if you’ll forgive the paraphrase, ‘wet’ my appetite for more wines by Marani!

Zero Compromises: Georgian Wine Festivals

Procrastination is my first, middle, and last name. But I couldn’t wait any longer to write about the Zero Compromises and New Wine Festival events I attended last month in Georgia. Months ago I saw an advert on the Georgian Wine Club‘s Facebook page for the New Wine Festival. Armed only with a vague mid May date I started planning my return to Tbilisi.

Zero Compromises

But before I get to the New Wine Festival; Zero Compromises. About two weeks before I left for Tbilisi I saw a post from Vino Underground advertising the Zero Compromises festival. Unlike the New Wine Festival, this would feature only natural wine makers from around Georgia.

Zero Compromises

Hosted in three wine bar/restaurants in Tbilisi this was my favorite of the two events. For the low, low price of 25 Lari (about $10) you got a tasting glass and all access pass to all three restaurants.

Zero Compromises

While both events were fantastic, Zero Compromises was more intimate. The majority of attendees were wine lovers there to taste, learn, and meet with the wine makers. The New Wine Festival was more of a drinking free for all. So unlike the New Wine Festival, Zero Compromises afforded me the opportunity to meet and talk to a lot of the (natural) wine makers which was really exciting for me.

Zero Compromises

I learned so much at Zero Compromises. Largely that I need four hands, actually. Juggling a pen, my tasting book, taking pictures, giving and receiving business cards, and the all important wine glass was a little too much for me. So most of my pictures came out pretty blurred. None of which I’m sure had anything to do with the amount of wine I had. I forgot to count how many makers came out and how many wines they had but even a sip or two of each wine was enough to make juggling everything just a tad too difficult. Throw in a 3 AM wake up call, a flight, and little food and forget about it.

Zero Compromises

I somehow managed to make it to all three venues before packing it in. Although I really phoned in the last place. I’d given up taking notes when I realized I couldn’t really read the last few pages I’d taken. I needed food. Thank goodness I was in a country that knows how to throw down in the kitchen! I went to a restaurant I’ve liked in the past and ordered way too much food. But I had such a limited time in Tbilisi and I wanted to eat everything.

Zero Compromises

I started where I always do with what is possibly my favorite Georgian dish: sauteed eggplant slices layered with walnuts ground with garlic and Georgian spices. Pomegranate seeds are usually added as a pretty garnish but I for one think that they really add to the overall dish.

Zero Compromises

The eggplant was followed by lobiani (bread stuffed with lobio-seasoned beans-and baked) and pork and potatoes sauteed with something yummy. They packed up most of the lobiani for me to take back to my hotel. Then it was early to bed for me so I could get up and do it all over again the next day!

Zero Compromises

Located in Mtatsminda Park above Tbilisi, the New Wine Festival is not new. It features ‘new’ wines (i.e. the most recent vintages). This was a true free-for-all. When I learned online that there was no festival entry fee I felt that for sure one would have to pay per tasting. Not so. There must have been 100 or more wineries there and all tastings were free.

Zero Compromises

I arrived early and with a half-baked strategy got down to business. I was glad that I did that because within a couple hours the area was packed with people. Mostly people just looking to score some free wine. However I was able to talk to a couple producers and follow up with some I’d met the day before at Zero Compromises.

Zero Compromises

I took a brief break to bolt down a couple bottles of water and for a snack of possibly the best pork mstvadi (shashlik) I’ve ever had. Cooked over hot coals in the center of the park, the mstvadi was crispy on the outside and dripping with grease and juices. If the line to get some hadn’t been such a moshpit of inefficiency I’d have gone back for more.

Zero Compromises

Believe it or not but that’s a rose!!

One of the producers I was happy to be able to meet was the team from Tanini. And I will now say something I have never before said: I was really sorry to not be able to get a bottle of their rose. I know. They promised me that the rose had little to no skin contact but look at that color! Saperavi grapes are one of the very few that have not only purple skins but purple fruit. So the juice itself is naturally already a purple-red color. I can’t see anyone making a blanc de noirs from that!

Zero Compromises

Then it was time for more food! Another round of pork mtsvadi for me. Although this wasn’t nearly as good as what I had in the park. It was however accompanied with the traditional ajika sauce which is all kinds of spicy delightfulness.

My trip didn’t end there! While the two days of serious wine tasting had just about done me in I still had another day of wine tasting and shopping ahead of me. But before I could get there I went to a festival after party. I was invited by a guy I met at Zero Compromises so armed with a GPS location and a game cab driver I tried to find the location of the house party. Which turned out to be half way up a mountain on the edge of Tbilisi in an unfinished housing development. I was pretty sure I was going to get ax murdered. But that’s another story!

Kindzmarauli Marani Kisi 2013

This Kindzmarauli Marani Kisi 2013 was part of the loot I brought home from Georgia in October. It was a duty free purchase I made before boarding. I remember that I had an awful migraine when I left Georgia. I was in pain, nauseated, and miserable. To add insult to injury, there’s a dedicated wine store in the Tbilisi airport and they offer wine tastings. I had to content myself with at least buying a couple wines as I was too ill to taste any.

Georgian loot

Kisi is a native Georgian grape grown largely in the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia. As with many grapes, winemakers in Georgia use both traditional Georgian and European methods when vinifying Kisi.

KMac and I saw a fair amount of Kisi wines during our trip but never got around to trying any. It seemed liked a good idea then to pick one up in duty free. I ended up with some of the heaviest hand luggage I’ve ever hauled around. I had a backpack stuffed with a 3 kilo book (that’s right, a book that weighs 3 kilos) and 3 to 4 kilos of cheese. My hand bag held my camera equipment, various electronic, spices, possibly more cheese, and anything else that wouldn’t fit between the wine bottles in my check bag. To which I managed to shove in the two bottles I bought in duty free.

Kindzmarauli Marani Kisi

Kindzmarauli Marani Kisi 2013 Tasting Notes:

Kindzmarauli Marani makes its Kisi in the traditional Georgian style-in qvevri. The 2013 is a nice, medium-bodied wine with 12.5% abv and would pair well with lighter foods or served as an aperitif.

In the glass the Kisi was a dark, golden straw color. The nose was full of lychee, tropical fruits, citrus, and herbs; possibly also some pine. On the palate it was creamy and slightly thick feeling. The flavor was fainter than the nose but I got some of the citrus flavors and a mineral finish.

2014 Mtsvane by Okro

While we were in Sighnaghi KMac and I made a point to find the Okro winery and restaurant one evening. When we arrived one of the family members showed us around their cellar and answered our exhaustive questions. Of course we then stayed for a tasting and to have dinner. To accompany the excellent food we ordered my favorite bottle from the tasting: the 2014 Mtsvane by Okro.

Mtsvane by Okro

Mtsvane, which means “green” in Georgian, has six different, genetically unique, variations. The two most common of which are Mtsvane Kakhuri and Goruli Mtsvane. I am not positive which of the two Okro used. I know she told us told but unfortunately I misplaced my notes! My guess is that it is probably the Mtsvane Kakhuri. It grows well on the calcareous soils in Kakheti where Okro is located.

When made European-style (fermented and aged in stainless steal) Mtsvane Kakhuri makes light, dry wines with white peach, floral, citrus and tropical aromas, with a light mineral undertone. When made in qvevri it darkens into an amber wine with flavors that are more like apricot and other stone fruits.

Mtsvane by Okro

Goruli Mtsvane, on the other hand, is mostly planted in the alluvial soils along the Mtkvari River and in the Ateni Valley. Goruli Mtsvane is very light and best drunk when young and fresh, when its floral, lime, and subtle honeyed notes are crisp and most vibrant.

Mtsvane, be it Kakhuri or Goruli, is one of my favorite Georgian grapes and this Mtsvane by Okro is one of the nicest I’ve had. I’m so happy I managed to convince them to sell me a bottle! It seems that when KMac and I were there they were down to their last few bottles of the 2014 and were keeping them back for the restaurant.

Mtsvane by Okro

2014 Mtsvane by Okro

First of all, this is a qvevri wine fermented and aged in one of the traditional, Georgian clay vessels. Also unfiltered so it’s quite cloudy.

The nose was apricots and peaches and honey with a hint of something green. From the aromas in the nose I half-way expected it to be slightly sweet even though I knew it was a dry wine. In fact it was rather sharp with some lemon, a lot of minerality, and thyme.

I enjoyed all the Okro’s wines we tried but this was my favorite. I hope that the next time I visit Kakheti I’ll be able to visit Okro’s vineyards as well.

The Beautiful 2014 Jakeli Saperavi

Last September I returned to Georgia for a trip full of wine and adventure. While I was in Tbilisi I got the chance to meet the founders and writers of Exotic Wine Travel, one of my favorite wine blogs.

Vino Underground

I met Dr. Matthew Horkey and Charine Tan at Vino Underground, a great wine bar in the heart of Tbilisi that is owned by several of Georgia’s premier wine makers. It was there they introduced me to the 2014 Jakeli Saperavi.

Saperavi is a native Georgian grape that has been cultivated in the Kakheti region since 6000-5000 B.C. Over 7,000 years this grape has been grown and used to make wine-Georgia’s claim to being the birthplace of wine is not a light one!

Dark purple, almost black in color, the saperavi grape is one of the few that has pigmentation in both the skin and the pulp. The wines it makes are usually high in both tannin and acid and are boldly flavored.  2014 Jakeli Saperavi

As much as I want to, I don’t really like wines made from saperavi. Which is especially unfortunate as it is the most ubiquitous wine in Georgia. I never found a saperavi wine that really captured me…until that is Matthew and Charine introduced me to the 2014 Jakeli Saperavi.

Founded in 2001, Jakeli is a family venture that makes certified organic wines. They are committed to making quality natural wines which means they don’t add sulfur and they don’t filter. Their saperavi wines are big and bold and will age well for a couple years if you have the will-power to have one and not open it.

2014 Jakeli Saperavi

2014 Jakeli Saperavi Tasting Notes:

In the glass it’s a lovely deep purple color. The nose is deep and multilayered with raspberry, forest fruits, pepper, blackcurrant leaf, and nutty and forest aromas. This 14.5% abv wine is big and gorgeous. Bold, suede-like tannins with strong acid and a long, long finish carry raspberries, pepper, tobacco, and earthy/leafy flavors.

This is a seriously special wine. If you can find any grab all the bottles and run. I don’t know if it’s changed my mind about saperavi in general but if I have a chance to get another bottle I’ll be beating off the competition to do it.