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Wines of Georgia: You Have To Experience It To Believe It

June 9, 2011 5 comments

The subject of Georgian wines is not new on this blog – I wrote about Georgian wines on a number of occasions, and those were good occasions, or maybe rather even good surprises (you can find the posts here and here). But after I was lucky enough to attend Georgian Wine tasting in New York City, I don’t want to talk about Georgian wines in terms of “good surprises” anymore – I think Georgian wines are ready to take a permanent high place in the wine’s “who is who” world.

There were about 60-70 wines presented in the tasting. I didn’t have a chance to taste each and every one of them, but among those I tried, there were no bad wines. There were some which were regular, there were some which were good, there were some which were great, and there were a few which were amazing. I think this is a pretty good line up for the wines which I would collectively avoid only about a year ago, as those were mediocre at the best. There is a definite trend up in the quality of the Georgian wines, and I believe a lot of them are ready to meet discerning palates of the wine lovers around the world.

Let me share some of the notes and thoughts, supported by practical examples, of course. I already wrote before about Georgian sparkling wine called Bagrationi. It is produced for more than hundred years, using traditional Méthode Champenoise. This time I had an opportunity to try four different wines, and they all were very good, but 2007 Bagrationi Royal Cuvee was a standout for me. Medium body, very balanced acidity, very round overall.

My next personal favorite was 2010 Chateau Mukhrani Tavkveri Rose. This was one of the number of excellent wines presented by Chateau Mukhrani, and it played to my particular weakness to the Rose wines, especially during summer time. This wine is made out of the indigenous Georgian grape, Tavkveri, one of many other grapes which don’t grow anywhere else (based on information from Wikipedia, there are about 400 varieties growing in Georgia, with less than 40 used for commercial winemaking).

It is not easy to produce a rose wine with the character. Lots of available rose wines from all the different regions are virtually indistinguishable – a little bit of strawberry, and a little bit of acidity, nothing memorable. The Chateau Mukhrani Rose was totally different – lots of concentrated berry flavors, cranberries and sour cherries, all supported by very balanced acidity and long finish – truly a great Rose.

Another wine from Chateau Mukhrani I have to mention was 2009 Chateau Mukhrani Shavkapito. Another indigenous grape, Shavkapito, and yet another great tasting wine – good dark fruit expression, very round and layered with smooth and approachable tannins.

Next group of wines I have to mention are the wines made by Pheasant’s Tears and Alaverdi Monastery. What puts these wines aside even in such a distinguished crowd is a very unique method of making wines. Both wineries are making wine using qvevri, a clay vessel lined with beeswax, which is used for fermenting and aging of the wine. There were a number of wines presented, both red and whites, all made using qvevri. The white wines were especially unique, as they sported a deep yellow color,  which is typical for really old white wines, but not for the white wines which are one or two years old. Most of those white wines also showed quite extensive tannins – without being aged in the oak. All of those characteristics ( deep yellow color, tannins) are coming from prolonged fermentation and aging process which takes place in the qvevri, where grapes are crushed and juice stays in the contact with the skins and seeds for the period of up to 6 months. In addition to unique color and tannins, some of the white wines also exhibited Madeira style saltiness, coupled with enough sweetness and acidity to make overall experience very pleasant. These are really unique wines, and you should try to find them – if you can.

Last but not least are the wines which were my absolute favorite in this tasting – Mukuzani and Saperavi red wines produced by Maisuradze wines.

Both 2005 Maisuradze Wines Saperavi and 2005 Maisuradze Wines Mukuzani are produced from Saperavi grape  – one of the most popular grapes used in the production of the red wines in Georgia. The difference between the wines is that Mukuzani contains only Saperavi grapes actually grown at Mukuzani vineyards. Another difference is the aging time in oak – Mukuzani spent 24 months in oak versus 12 months for Saperavi. Both wines are showing tremendous power and structure, and while Saperavi is more approachable, Mukuzani still needs time in the cellar – it will truly shine after another 10 years (at least) in the cellar. Both wines are excellent and definitely worth seeking.

Bottom line is simple – Georgian wines are ready for the prime time. They need a bit of marketing, and a bit of luck, and then we will all have more wines to enjoy. But for now – takes this post to your local wine store, and ask them to get these wines for you – and then let me know what you think.

[Unanticipated] Burgundy Pleasure and Other Grape Encounters

June 7, 2011 1 comment

Looking through the cellar, many bottles have their stories, memories associated with them: “Ahh, I remember I brought this bottle from Italy. And it was raining like crazy when we stopped by that small wine shop in Paris, where this bottle is from. And this one – it was our vacation in Florida (coconut wine, anyone?). Aha, this one I got as a present for my birthday… And those five? I hope they will be as good as the first one was three years ago…”.

Then you stumble upon a bottle on which you go totally blank: “No, I don’t recognize the producer or the winery. Did I bring it from somewhere? Probably not. Where could I buy it? I think I got it as a present?”. Good thing in such a case is the fact that most likely you will have no expectations, so you will take this wine for what it is.

This was exactly my experience with 2004 Albert Bichot Vieilles Vignes Bourgogne – I had the bottle for a while, but how did it end up in my wine fridge, I had (and still have) no idea. Considering the wine was 7 years old, and from unknown ( for me) producer, it could’ve been already gone in terms of quality and pleasure, so the decision was made – the time has come to open the bottle.

This 2004 white Burgundy  (100% Chardonnay, of course) happened to be in a perfect shape! Vanilla and touch of spices on the nose, hint of vanilla and lichee fruit on the palate, good acidity – very round and perfectly balanced (Drinkability: 8). Turns out it was a good choice – and having no expectations made it even better experience.

As I mentioned “other grape encounters”, let’s move from France to Italy. I recently had a chance to experience some of my most favorite wines – Amarone. You can read about it in details here – this is my post at The Art of Life Magazine. While the Amarone from Vaona was excellent, I’m still trying to find Amarone which will deliver the same mind-blowing experience I had with 1997 Le Ragose Amarone  at the Windows on the World Wine School (read The Art of Life post for the full story) – of course full report is guaranteed if I will be able to find that wine.

And another “grape encounter”, this time moving across the globe east and south, we are getting from Italy to Georgia (and I’m not talking about one of the 50 US States). Few days ago, I was lucky enough to attend Georgian Wine tasting, which I can summarize in one short word: “WOW!”.  Extensive report is coming in one of the near future posts, but for now I would like to mention great progress with unique grape count – it increased by 7! In case you are curios, here is the list of grapes and wines:

Chinuri – 2009 Pheasant’s Tears Chinuri Qvevry

Tetra – Alazanis Valley White

Goruli – 2009 Chateau Mukhrani Goruli Mtsvane

Pink Rkatsiteli – 2010 Alaverdi Monasteri Rkatsiteli Qvevry Rose

Kavkveri – 2010 Pheasant’s Tears Kavkveri Qvevry

Tavkvery – 2010 Pheasant’s Tears Tavkvery Qvevry

Shavkapito – 2009 Chateau Mukhrani Shavkapito

Total grape count now reached 324, and counting. Happy grape discoveries to everyone! Cheers!

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