Georgia wine country, with longlasting winemaking history, is located between Europe and Asia. The country is largely unknown (and often mistaken for the state of Georgia in the United States) but has recently gained international attention for its unique Qvevri wine. Key Archeological findings, which include material evidence of 8000-years-old traces of grape inside many ancient vessels, make Georgia wine country one of the ancients with a continuous and uninterrupted tradition of viticulture and winemaking.
Today, Georgia is home to 525 indigenous grape varieties and they still make wine with traditional method in Qvevri – a traditional egg-shaped clay vessel. However, the classical European winemaking technique has also been practiced in different Georgian wine regions since the 1830s, when Prince Alexandre Chavchavadze introduced this method. This is when some European style wine cellars were established around the country.
Why is Georgian Wine So Special?
As mentioned, Qvevri is an egg-shaped clay vessel, buried under the ground and used all over the Georgia wine country. In the traditional method, Qvevri can be employed throughout the different stages of vindication from fermentation to maturation, when grape juice is often left on the skin, which gives wines complexity and exceptional flavors. And this is how famous “Orange” or, you may call, “Amber wines” are born.
Qvevri Winemaking Method
As proof of cultural significance and distinctiveness, the ancient Georgian tradition of Qvevri winemaking is under the protection of UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage.
The practice of the Qvevri winemaking method varies in different Georgian wine regions because of variation in climate and soil which plays a decisive role not only in viticulture but also in winemaking style.
Wine Tourism in Georgia
The country’s extensive wine history, culture, and gastronomy make it extremely attractive for international visitors. This hidden gem of the wine world is now accessible for travelers and wine lovers to discover ancient traditions of winemaking through Georgian wine regions.
To understand the diversity of Georgian wine, it is better to take a closer look at the most important Georgian wine regions.
Georgian Wine Regions
Explore the diversity of Georgian wine regions here and discover the ancient winemaking traditions of the country that brought “the cradle of wine” status to Georgia wine country.
Kakheti – The Engine of Georgian Wine Industry
Kakheti is one of the most important Georgian wine regions that occupies the easternmost part of the country. Approximately, three-quarters of the vineyards of Georgia wine country are cultivated here. The region cultivates indigenous grape varieties such as white Rkatsiteli, Kakhuri Mtsvane, Red Saperavi, etc. Saperavi grape variety is one of the most important grapes spread through all viticulture districts of Kakheti and throughout the other Georgian wine regions. Saperavi is a teinturier grape (like Alicante Bouschet) producing very deep color in red wines and thus, a high potential of aging and presents harmonious taste with a pleasant astringency.
Kakheti is the region of many different monasteries, churches, natural parks, and the famous hilltop town Signagi that has a magnificent view of Alazani Valley and the Caucasus Mountains. While in Kakheti, you should not miss visiting Alaverdi Monastery surrounded by vineyards. The monks of the monastery have been producing wines for more than 10 centuries in the traditional way.
Wines in Kakheti Region are produced in both European and traditional styles. The traditional Qvevri winemaking process here is going through the following steps: processing grapes, pouring juice together with the whole amount of “Chacha” (skins, stalks, and pips) into the Qvevri, where fermentation takes place and the wine rests in contact with the grape marc for about 6 months in Kakheti. Thus, wines made with this method are more complex with a high level of tannins and it gives dark ruby color to the red wines and golden amber to the whites. The most famous PDO wines from Kakheti Region are:
Tsinandali – dry white wine made of 85% Rkatsiteli and 15% Kakhuri Mtsvane grape varieties.
Mukuzani – dry red wine made of Saperavi grape. It is a full-bodied, dark-colored wine with harmonious aromas.
Kindzmarauli – semi-sweet red wine made of Saperavi. Wine has a dark red color, pleasant sweetness, and fruity tones.
Kartli Region – Classic European-style and Sparkling Wines
Kartli is another distinct winemaking region in the central-eastern part of Georgia wine country, where the capital city, Tbilisi is situated. Kartli Wine Region is divided into three sub-zones and compared to the Kakheti Region, it is well-known for its high-quality classical European-style and sparkling wines. However, they also use the traditional winemaking method here. The region is famous for its Atenuri PDO, which is produced in one of the oldest areas, known since the middle ages. Atenuri is a white wine made from Chinuri and Goruli Mtsvane grape varieties. Besides local indigenous grape varieties – Chinuri, Goruli Mtsvane, Shavkapito, Tavkveri, etc., the region also cultivates some well-known international grape varieties, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, etc.
In 30 minutes drive from Tbilisi, you will find the ancient capital of Kartli kingdom – Mtskheta. Uplistsikhe, a rock-hewn ancient town, is another must-visit place in the Kartli region.
Here you will be able to taste classic, European-style, and sparkling wines.
Where Argonauts Discovered Vine Alley with The Fountains of Wine.
The ancient Greek myth of Apollonius Rhodius (3rd century BC) about Argonauts, describes Kolkhian Kingdom (Current Imereti territory) as a place, where they have vine alley and wines flow from fountains.
Imereti Wine Region is located in the western part and it is one of the ancient regions of the country. The region’s uniqueness is defined by its historical and natural landmarks such as the Gelati Monastery Complex, The historical city of Kutaisi, Natural formations of Sathaplia, and Prometheus Caves, etc. Moreover, the local gastronomical specialties, which perfectly complement regional wines, will leave everyone amazed.
Imereti is one of the most diverse Georgian wine regions in terms of climate and soil composition, which influences the diversity of wines produced here in three different sub-zones.
The most well-known wine from Imereti Region is a blend of local grape varieties Tsitska and Tsolikouri. The region is also well represented with wines made from other local grape varieties, such as white Krakhuna and red Otskhanuri Sapere. Imereti region also uses traditional winemaking techniques. However, Imeretian wine is made in its own specific way.
Unlike Kakheti, here traditional clay vessel is known as Churi and juice is fermented with the smaller amount of skin and much shorter period than in Kakheti. The only appellation, Sviri PDO got its status in 1962 and combines three different local grapes – Tsitska, Krakhuna, and Tsolikouri. Imeretian white wines are quite joyful with bright yellow colour and higher acidity.
Racha- Lechkhumi Region – On the Slopes of Caucasus
Racha-Lechkhumi is one of the smallest Georgian wine regions. Unlike other wine regions, here vineyards are pretty small and scarce across the territory. However, wines from here are of high quality and very distinctive. The most prominent wines from the region are Khvanchkara and Usaxelouri wines. PDO Khvanchkara is a semi-sweet red wine, which is a blend of Aleksandrouli and Mujuretuli. This territory is also popular for PDO Tvishi, produced from Imeretian grape Tsolikouri, which shows great characteristics in village Tvishi, located high in the Caucasus Mountains. It is semi-sweet white wine with golden yellow colour, balanced acidity, and flavors of peach and melon.
The Racha-Lechxumi wine region is a mountainous region with green valleys and the Caucasus Mountains from the north in the north-western part of the country and home of very rare and unique grape varieties. The natural beauty of the region attracts visitors to its lakes, mountains, and glaciers together with churches and monasteries.
Meskheti Region – The Highest Vineyards of the Country
The highest mountainous region Meskheti is located in the southern part of Georgia wine country. Here vineyards are mostly planted on terraces at an altitude of 900 – 1700m in the valleys of the Mtkvari River. It is known as one of the archaic winemaking regions. Meskhetian wine production has been paused for centuries due to the Turkish invasion in the 16th century and later during the Soviet Union period.
Meskheti is one of the unique regions of Georgia wine country with its cultural diversity expressed in gastronomy, wines, and local traditions. Meskhetian cuisine is very different and individual and perfectly pairs with local wines.
Nowadays, only small amount of Meskhetian wines are produced by few family wineries from local grape varieties such as Akhaltsikhuri Tetri, Meskhuri Mtsvane, Meskhuri Saphere, etc. Natenadze Winery was pioneer in rehabilitation and restoration of ancient vine terraces.
Black Sea Coast Area – Regions of Joyful wines
On the Black Sea Coast, where vineyards are located on lower altitudes, it is divided into Adjara, Abkhazia, Guria, and Samegrelo wine regions. Here the climate is sub-tropical and characterized by high humidity and wines from these regions are more light-bodied, crisp, and refreshing. Nowadays, the Adjara Region is trying to play an active role in winemaking by planting and restoring vineyards with old, local grape varieties.
Black Sea Coast regions are famous for their distinctive, mouthwatering gastronomy. Taste some of the highlights of these regions. Adjarian Khachapuri – predominantly known as a cheese boat among foreigners; Megrelian Ghomi and Elarji – Georgian style of polenta; Guria is a real paradise for vegetarian and vegan people, offering a diversity of “Pkhaleuli” – different minced herbs and vegetables combined with walnut and fresh local herbs.