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Re-post: Best Hidden Secrets of The Wine World: Wines of Georgia

January 17, 2013 9 comments

In 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed, but I still like the posts I wrote, so I decided to re-post them on this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.

Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense to the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

We are continuing our “secrets” discovering journey, this time moving a few thousand miles mostly east of Veneto, Italy, which was our last stop. Now we are in the fertile mountainous region called the Caucasus. To be more precise, our destination is Georgia, a small country with a rich history (the subject of Georgian Wines was already discussed in this blog, but a recent encounter with Georgian Wines convinced the author that this subject is worth talking about again).

For the sake of this blog, we will of course focus on the part of Georgian history which relates to wine. For beginners, Georgia is widely considered a cradle of winemaking. According to Wikipedia, wine production started in Georgia more than 8,000 years ago. With all due respect to the so-called “old world” of wine, that beats France, Italy, and other European countries by about 7,000 years.

Of course, truth to be told, multiple thousand years of history don’t translate directly into today’s advantage. For instance, the majority of the countries which existed thousands of years ago are not even remembered today. If everything goes well, that long history can only translate into traditions – good or bad, but traditions are just what they are: “typical ways of conducting certain activity”, or “an inherited or established way of thinking, feeling, or doing”, according to the definition from Merriam-Webster.

Fast forward to the middle of the 20th century, and Georgian wine-making traditions came under attack by the Soviet regime, and the Georgian wine-making industry became literally non-existent. Fast forward once again, to the last decade of the 20th century, and traditions came back into play, helping to re-born the Georgian wine industry. Of course, once the former soviet union collapsed and Georgia became independent, freedom had a “drugging” effect. A tremendous amount of mediocre (at the best) wine was produced, all in an attempt to “get rich quick”. This situation backfired, and Georgian wines went into the “ignore” category without any chance to rise to prominence (disclaimer: these are observations from the US-centered wine market).

Luckily, traditions, based on real, rich history and pride came to the rescue. Fast and greedy mostly disappeared, and real winemakers and businessman took their place. Those thousands of years of history and traditions became a multiplying force for skills, craftsmanship, and ambitions, and now started bringing us world-class wines. It is still very difficult to buy good Georgian wines in the US, you have to really know where to get them, but hopefully, this situation will change. Hmmm, maybe we don’t need that to change? Let’s keep it secret, so those in the know can continue enjoying first-growth Bordeaux quality wines at one-hundredth of the price?

Bagrationi_SparklingTime to talk about wines – after all, we need to put some substance behind the nice words. Let’s start with… Champagne? Err, Sparkling wine, of course, as Champagne can only come from Champagne. Enters Bagrationi 1882, which makes sparkling wines using traditional “Méthode Champenoise” for more than 100 years. Round, soft and creamy, with perfect acidity, bright and refreshing, this sparkling wine will successfully compete with any of the actual Champagnes and other sparkling wines. In the blind tasting (non-professional), 2007 Royal Cuvee was the best out of the 8 sparkling wines, including classic Champagnes (you can read about it here).

Pheasant's_Tears_winesMoving along, let’s talk about some of the most unique wines I ever had a chance to taste. Pheasant’s Tears winery (as well as some others), produces wines using thousands-years old (talk about traditions) technology – the grapes are crushed and fermented for a prolonged period of time in the clay vessels called Qvevri. The resulting wines, made from different indigenous grapes, such as Kisi, Rkatsiteli, Tavkveri, Saperavi, and others, are very different from most of the other wines. Both whites and reds show very nice tannins which come from prolonged contact with skin and seeds (no oak aging whatsoever), as well as a great level of complexity somewhat similar to good Madeira. These wines should really be experienced, as words can’t do them enough justice.

Maisuradze_winesLast for this post, but not least, I want to mention true world-class winemaker-made classic wines. You know, those wines which are happily associated with winemakers or lead producers, such as Michel Rolland,  Christian Moeux, Helen Turley, Andy Erickson ( Screaming Eagle), and many others. These wines are made by David Maisuradze out of the classic Georgian red grape called Saperavi. Both Mukuzani and Saperavi are truly amazing wines, with perfect layered dark fruit on the palate, perfect structure, powerful tannins, and excellent balance. 2005 Mukuzani shows more tannins at this point (it was aged for 24 months in the oak), and while it can be definitely enjoyed right now, it needs another 10-15 years to truly shine. Get it, if you can!

Georgian wines came back to the wine lovers to take the place they really deserve, the product of love and obsession supported by deep roots and traditions. While not easy to find, they are definitely worth looking for. Make an effort, find the bottle, try it, and send me a “thank you” note later on, as I’m sure you will be inclined to do. To the wonderful wine discoveries!

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