Georgia – land of Food & Wine
Georgia, the land of food and wine, is definitely worth putting on your list of countries to see and explore! Having overlanded the Silk Road quite a few times, if asked for my favourite country on the classic Silk Road route from Istanbul to Beijing then Georgia would be my first choice every time…
With its ancient history, amazing landscapes, friendly people and a passion for living and their proud culture this country has so much to offer. No visit to Georgia is complete without sampling some Georgian wine, after all one of Georgia’s most famous claims is that they are the home of wine!
Georgia’s ancient wine heritage has been established from a wine-stained shard of pottery dating to about 6000 BC found in Georgia, with Armenia in second place with evidence from 5000BC.To put this into context, France’s wine-making history only dates back around 2600 years.
The earliest wine in Georgia was more than likely made by ancient hunter gatherers who picked too many berries and left them to lie and returned to a fermented juice possibly trapped in a hollow in a log or rock and so the amazing properties of fermented fruit caught on. Georgia has further archaeological evidence of wine being fermented in clay jars or quevri as early as 4000BC. It is also believed that the word wine was derived from the Georgian word ღვიপফ (ghvino). So based on all this they have a strong argument that they are actually the home of wine.
Wine is central to Georgian culture and tightly bound to their religious heritage. Almost every family in Georgia makes their own wine or have one of the extended family or close friend make their wine. Feasting and hospitality are pillars of Georgian culture and the Tamada or toastmaster will lead the festivities with wonderful heart felt toasts followed by the emptying of a traditional wine horn. With tables groaning under exotic Georgian fare (Georgian food deserves its own dedicated blog, wait till you hear about Kachapuri!) the wine is sure to flow as you explore this amazing country with its friendly people.
Chances are you will be invited to explore a local family’s wine cellar and this is not to be missed and best to be planned when you have some time to appreciate and don’t plan to operate any machinery afterwards. Don’t expect expensive wine racks with dust covered bottles though. Expect the wine to be in either clay quevri’s sunk into the cellar floor with a bucket used to scoop out the good stuff or stored in any other container available and to be poured in healthy measures.
Also worth mentioning is don’t expect it to taste like the wine you drink back home, its fantastic wine but more than likely slightly sweeter than you would normally drink andwith a more earthy taste. With close to 500 species of grape the choice is huge though expect about 40 varieties to feature most often. Ever tried a Muskhuri Suphera, a Tamaris Vazi or a Dzaganidiz Shavi? Well these are some of the many varieties on offer. That said if you had to ask any Georgian which is the best variety they would more than likely mention Saperavi, a great tasting red wine and Georgia’s most planted grape variety. And if ask then the best region for wine making, the answer would probably be Kakheti, one of the 7 wine making regions of this small country.
Then there is the wine making style and here you will come across some of the biggest differences as wine in Georgia is in most cases whether it is red or white is fermented on the skins and often with the stalks. On the skins is the norm with red wines and gives red wine its colour and tannins but with white wines this causes Georgian whites to have a more golden colour and distinctive taste. The white wines can be a bit more of an acquired taste as they are so different from the white wines we are used to, but personally I am a huge fan of the reds which are always easy drinking with very few after affects due to the natural style of wine making.
So to wrap it all up a couple of other tips before you go. The Georgian language is great to hear spoken but not easy to pick up, and when written it is a total mystery thanks to their
unique alphabet. My two most used words in this hospital country are Gaumarjos the traditional toast of Georgia and Madloba which means thank you. Worth also thinking about if you plan to really jump in an enjoy this country is what heartfelt toast you will propose when called upon to toast at a feast. Toasts here are much more than just the “cheers” that many of us are used to, and a good Georgian toast will mention the host’s family, the fantastic hospitality, good food, health, prosperity and bless Georgia.
Lastly this discussion would not be complete without mentioning the Georgian fire water called Chacha a grape-based spirit home distilled by many families. This (very) strong spirit is best sipped slowly at the end of a meal or to warm you up round the camp fire if bush camping as you travel through this amazing part of the world.
Most overland journeys through this part of the world visit a home wine-making family, a wine-making monastery as well the new modern cellars with all the bells and whistles where they are making wines more like you are used to back home. You will also hopefully stay at a Georgian homestay where you will have the chance of experiencing Georgian hospitality and some great wine. So Gaumarjos and enjoy Georgia and if you would like to discuss traveling through this part of the word please get in touch.
Want to find out more about the Georgian wine-making process? This video gives a wonderful insight into Georgian wine-making and the use of the traditional quevri clay vessels where the wine is fermented.
Fancy trying some Georgian wine before you go? Don’t expect to find it in your local supermarket, but it is increasingly becoming available outside Georgia. If you are in the UK check out the Georgian Wine Society who stock a great selection, or if you are lucky enough to have a Georgian restaurant nearby, then the wines make a perfect accompaniment to Georgia’s rich and unique food!