If you've never had a wine from the Republic of Georgia, then you've never really tasted history. By most estimates, Georgia is the birthplace of winemaking, which is to say that this region (the area where Georgia, Turkey, and Armenia connect on today's maps) houses the earliest archeological evidence of winemaking yet known. Wine production is 8000 years old in Georgia, and has been a central part of the culture ever since. The country is home to more than 500 indigenous grape varieties, and is the source of today's increasing interest with making wine in clay amphorae -- the country's ancient qvevri-based winemaking techniques have become part of the new avant-garde, along with the orange wines (skin macerated white wines) that can be traced back to these techniques.
Thanks in part to producers such Josko Gravner, the commercial success of orange wines has led to a resurgence of interest in Georgian wine in the West, and thanks to ambitious importers such as Blue Danube, some Georgian wines are beginning to be accessible to restaurants, retailers and consumers.
My personal experience with Georgian wine is not yet nearly as deep as I would like. Following my trip to Turkey a few years ago, I attempted to arrange a trip to the Republic, but the Georgian Wine Association wasn't able to make it happen. I still hope to make it there someday. In the meantime, I have tasted Georgian wines at every opportunity, including a tasting held in New York that happily coincided with a brief visit there last year.
I find many of the Georgian red wines overly tannic and bitter, sometimes with sour characteristics. The dominant red grape, Saperavi, often features wet leaves and wet wood flavors without a generosity of fruit that would balance these more astringent qualities. I am encouraged by some lesser known red varieties that are beginning to cross my path, however, including Chkaveri and Aladasturi (see below). The white wines, on the other hand are exotic and quite exciting. The most common grapes in use for whites are Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane, which does wonderful things when macerated on the skins in the ancient qvevri techniques that many winemakers employ.
Here are a few of my favorites that you should be able to find online.
2010 Our Wine Rkatsiteli, Kakheti, Republic of Georgia
Medium orange in color, this wine smells of earthy wet leaves and exotic fruits. In the mouth the wine has the wonderful tannic grip that comes with a skin macerated white, and flavors of citrus peel, cooked quince, and wet stones. Excellent acidity and length. Grown biodynamically and macerated for 6 months on the skins in qvevri. Includes 6% Mtsvane and 4% Khikhvi. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25.
2010 Iago's Wine Chinuri, Republic of Georgia
Medium yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of sweet blossoms and chamomile. In the mouth a muscular tannic structure wraps around flavors of chamomile and sweet roasted almonds and citrus peel dipped in candle wax. Wonderfully silky and bright with excellent acidity that carries herbal notes through a long finish. Made from 100% Chinuri. Score: around 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.
2013 LaGvinari Krakhuna, Republic of Georgia
Light gold in color, this wine smells of earthy, wet leaves and guava. In the mouth wet leaves, crushed herbs, and wet pavement flavors make for a savory set of flavors wrapped in a very tannic grip. Somewhat austere, but exotic and interesting nonetheless. Made from 100% Krakhuna. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??
2012 Orgo Rkatsiteli, Teliani, Republic of Georgia
Light orange in the glass, this wine smells of wet leaves and dried orange peels. In the mouth the wine offers cool, liquid stone flavors tinged with dried orange peels and wet leaves mixed with a hint of candle wax. Lightly tannic and bright with excellent acidity. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2013 Schuchmann Rkatsiteli, Kakheti, Republic of Georgia
Near colorless in the glass, with faint blonde highlights, this wine smells of pear and pomelo zest. In the mouth, the wine has a very silky complexion and mineral backbone, with flavors of pomelo and pomelo zest that are a little sour and bitter, but quite tasty. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2013 Pheasant's Tears Tsolikauri, Imereti, Republic of Georgia
A cloudy yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of apple, pear and wet chalkboard with a hint of lemon zest. In the mouth, lemon pith and grapefruit pith mix with unripe pear and a stiff tannic frame. Wonderfully bright mineral notes linger through the finish, however. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.
2013 Pheasant's Tears Rosé of Takveri, Kartli, Republic of Georgia
Palest ruby in color, this wine smells of red berries and wet stones. In the mouth, flavors of wet leaves, crushed herbs, and wet stones make for a very savory, if a little bitter package. The brisk minerality is quite pleasant however, and the acidity excellent. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $??
2012 Vinoterra Rkatsiteli, Kakheti, Republic of Georgia
Medium amber-orange in color, this wine smells of dried orange peel, wet leave,s and exotic citrus. In the mouth, flavors of wet leaves, candied orange peel, bergamot and candle wax are wrapped in a muscular tannic skein that holds the palate firmly through a long finish. Good acidity. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2013 Vinoterra Kisi, Kakheti, Republic of Georgia
Light orange in color, this wine has a wonderfully sweet, floral aroma tinged with the darker earthiness of wet leaves. In the mouth sweet floral flavors mix with exotic citrus and the barest whisper of tropical fruits, all juicy with fantastic acidity. There's a light tannic quality, to be sure, but this wine wants to dance the night away. Outstanding. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $18. click to buy.
2013 LaGvinari Chkhaveri, Republic of Georgia
Light to medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of mulberry and wet earth. In the mouth, bright mulberry flavors are wrapped in a thick blanket of tannins but manage to shine nonetheless. A deep wet earthy rumble lays below the fruit. Excellent acidity. Made from 100% Chkhaveri. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??
2013 LaGvinari Aladasturi, Republic of Georgia
Light garnet in the glass, this wine smells of spicy red berries and wet leaves. In the mouth, the wine is a revelation, at least as far as Georgian reds go. Spicy and cedary, with flavors of red beans, red berries, and dusted with powdery tannins. Juicy and long. Excellent. Made from 100% Aladasturi. Score: around 9. Cost: $??