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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!