With more than 500 grape varieties and eight millennia of viticulture history, Georgia is one of the most up and coming wine producing countries in the world thanks in part to the amber-wine trend. Amber wine is something Georgia has been pioneering for centuries.
In 2017, a team of archaeologists found the oldest trace of winemaking in the Kartli region, south of Tbilisi. This happened about eight thousand years ago. No wonder drinking the precious liquid sits at the very core of the Georgian culture.
Drinking is so important in Georgia, every feast comes with its own toastmaster, chosen for their wit: the Tamada.
The Tamada’s duty is to ensure that the glasses of wine flow, and that each of them is drunk with a purpose. Traditionally, no one is allowed to drink between the toasts, presumably to sober up before having to down yet another glass with yet another toast. However, modern times have called for modern measures. ‘Democratic supras’, feasts where guests can drink between the toasts, have made their way to the table.
What makes Georgian wines unique?
An ancient winemaking method
Georgian wine isn’t only unique due to its drinking rituals and its significant number of indigenous grape varieties, but also thanks to its production method.
Unlike most old-world wine, Georgians do not use oak barrels to ferment, store or age their wine. The oldest evidence of winemaking indicates the use of qvevri. These egg-shaped terracotta vessels (see picture above) are still used today in Georgian wines. The qvevri, now part of the UNESCO World Heritage, are buried underground and sealed with molten beeswax and clay before they produce intensely coloured and distinctively aromatic wines. Thanks to their chemical compounds and porous qualities, qvevri traditionally aid natural fermentation.
While qvevri reds are comparable to conventional or modern method reds, Georgian amber wines (as they like to call them) are a little-known treasure. Fermented in qvevri with the grape skins (and sometimes stems too), they have a similar structure to red wines.
Georgian orange wines tend to be bone dry, medium to full bodied. They are relatively tannic, oxidative and often characterised by notes of dried or exotic fruits, nuts, caramel and leather.
The colour varies: the longer the skin contact, the darker the wine. Stem contact can give the wine a bold and slightly smoky aroma, reminiscent of Scottish Islay whisky. The fermentation process with skin contact can take from a couple of days to more than half a year, thus producing a wide range of styles, some lighter, some richer.