Savouring one of the world’s oldest winemaking regions
A sip of Georgian wines
Georgian wines may be a relative rarity in this part of the world, but this country tucked away in the stunning South Caucasus mountain ranges of Eastern Europe is considered by some as the ‘birthplace’ of wines. Indeed, winemaking has a long, illustrious history in Georgia—archaeologists discovered wine residue in ceramic jars that date back some 8,000 years. But for most of that, Georgian wines did not travel too far from its borders. It was only in recent years that Georgian wine producers are taking their wines further afield, including to China, where they enjoy more than 100 per cent growth annually.
Microclimates vary according to region, but in general, Georgia enjoys ideal winemaking conditions with fairly mild weather—sunny short summers and frostfree winters. The country is also awash with myriad indigenous varieties unknown to much of the international wine drinking fraternity, such as Rkatsitelli, meaning ‘red stems’, a thick-skinned white variety that make wines with high acidity and aging potential; and Saperavi, probably Georgia’s most popular red variety featured in many of the country’s more established red wines.
Traditionally, wines are produced in Georgia by sealing the must in massive amphora-like clay vessels lined with beeswax known as qvevri. Qvevri vary in size; some can hold up to 3,000 litres. These hulking eggshaped vessels are then buried in the ground anywhere from a few months to several years for the wines to mature. White wines produced this way tend to show unusually high tannins due to the extensive skin contact, and can sometimes wear an orangey hue.
According to Giorgi Sikharulidze, the chief specialist of marketing at the National Wine Agency, Ministry of Agriculture of Georgia, qvevri winemaking is still thriving in Georgia. “As this traditional method of winemaking requires much more work than modern, European-style wines, it accounts for approximately just five per cent of total wine production,” he explains.
Singapore trade partners and media got a taste of Georgian wines during a special trade lunch in August, held as part of travelling festival held in Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macau.
Compared to French-style wines, they tend to be sweeter on the palate and more rustic with plenty of fruit. Highlights include the Bagrationi Rouge NV, a semi-sweet red sparkling made with Méthod Charmat; the fresh crisp straw-coloured beauty Château Mukhrani Reserve Royale 2013 made from indigenous variety Goruli Mtsvane, which won bronze in the International Wine Challenge held in London earlier in May; and the Mildiani Mukuzani 2014, a low alcohol dry red made with Saperavi that is fresh on the nose, with a hint of blackcurrants on the nose and smooth tannins.
Above The former Soviet republic lies at the intersection of Europe and Asia; (inset) Qvevri—clay vessels used for traditional winemaking in Georgia
Below Some wines sampled at the trade tasting