The Vine Guy: A historical lesson on Georgian wines

By |
Entertainment,Scott Greenberg

One of the benefits of writing a wine column is it is mostly subjective. Aromas and flavors can be as personal as one's taste in abstract art. However, on very rare occasions, my enthusiasm can supplant specific details.

Such an error was brought to my attention last week by alert reader Christopher T. He read my column on Greek wines and took exception to the first sentence, "Greece is considered by many to be the birthplace of wine." He correctly noted that while the Greek wine industry dates back to around 4,000 B.C., there is evidence of a thriving winemaking trade in and around the area that is now known as the Republic of Georgia as well as parts of Turkey (that were formerly Georgian) that date all the way back to 8,000 B.C. To support his point, he referenced author Patrick E. McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania, whose books "Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages" and "Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture" explore the cultural and economic evolution of ancient Georgia (and other areas) though wine.

Furthermore, according to Nicholas Krivoruchko, an importer of Georgian wines, the word "wine" comes from the Georgian word "gvino" which, he says, "the Romans shorten to vino and the French shortened to vin." Ancient winemaking objects, including clay amphorae that date back to about 6,000 B.C., have been discovered in and around Georgia. In addition, the area boasts more than 500 different grape varietals -- many of which are only found in Georgia.

Unfortunately, the spread of Phylloxera (an agricultural pest) and various other fungal diseases devastated many vineyards during the last half of the 19th century. Even though the vineyards were eventually replanted, Georgia's communist government imposed a prohibition on alcohol in the late 1980s, severely curtailing wine production.

But thanks to the rich alluvial soil-laden valleys nestled in the shadows of the Caucasus Mountains, and a temperate climate that provides warm sunny days and cool nights, the Georgian wine industry is making a significant comeback. Many of the wines display excellent structure, with firm tannins and great acidity. Well played, Christopher. Evidently, Georgia is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. Here are a few Georgian wines that are worth having on your mind and palate. Retail prices are approximate.

The 2007 Mukhrani Tavkveri Rose ($15) is a charming wine made from the indigenous Tavkveri grape. It delivers loads of fresh fruit on the palate, including tart cranberries, ripe cherries and cloves. The bright finish features just a hint of orange peel and pomegranate that gets a boost from the crisp acidity. QPR 8

In the Georgian language, mtsvani means new, young and green. In my world, it translates to a delicious white wine. The 2010 Teliani Valley Teli ($11) is made from 100 percent Mtsvane grapes and fermented in oak, which provide a bouquet of toasted bread and green apple. The mouthfeel has a creamy quality to it which supports flavors of nectarine, apple and guava. Abundant acidity keeps the additional flavors of tropical fruit and nectarine focused on the rich finish. QPR 8.5

Saperavi is one of Georgia's most popular red wine varietals because it has a dark skin that imparts a deep red color and imparts tannins for structure and aging. The 2007 Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi ($10) has well-defined flavors of blackberry, dark cassis and blue blueberry fruit on a very velvety frame. The structure is supported by soft tannins and exhibits just a touch of dark cocoa and vanilla, thanks to the oak treatment. QPR 8

A semisweet version of Saperavi is the traditional rendition from the Kindzmarauli area of the Kakheti region, which produces about 70 percent of the country's grapes. The 2011 Teliani Valley Kindzmarauli ($16) features aromas of sweet plums, ripe red berries and candied apple. The flavors of plums, raspberries and pomegranate are sweet without being cloying and would make a wonderful accompaniment to Asian fare such as Peking Duck and roast pork. QPR 8

Note: QPR is a rating system that compares the quality a wine delivers relative to the price. A QPR of 10 is considered an excellent value.

View article comments Leave a comment