If you want to gaze out over the vineyards of Alazani Valley – a glass of amber wine in hand – and enjoy the majestic vistas of the Caucasus, then it’s time to take a journey to Kakheti, the most important wine region of Georgia – a land whose breathtaking landscape will leave you as tipsy as its wine.This journey will take you back in time to introduce you to the most ancient winemaking techniques and let you taste unique wine.
1.Georgia is recognized as the homeland of wine. Artifacts have been found in the territory of Georgia that provide evidence for an 8000-year-old continuous tradition of winemaking. For millennia, the varying cultures of Georgia have maintained the Qvevri technique of making wine. Today, the same wine-making style is still as popular and is an integral part of the identity of Georgian winemaking.
2. Qvevri winemaking method is what every Georgian is proud of. A Qvevri is a large clay vessel with a specific shape. In the Georgian language, Qvevri means “buried in the ground”, which in itself tells us about the essence of this technique. The Qvevri is buried in the ground but with the top exposed above ground to easily control the vinification process. The Qvevri is sealed with a wooden or stone cover, which is encased in a layer of clay, acting as a sealant. The opening of a Qvevri usually takes place in spring and is always followed by a celebration, an event worth witnessing. It makes spring one of the best periods to visit Kakheti.
Since the processes of fermenting wine in a Qvevri are largely natural, without human intervention, it is often a big surprise what wine you will find when opening the Qvevri. That is why every winemaker is excited to open the Qvevri and why it is followed by a celebration. It may sound like a big risk for the wine maker to take, but they will quickly tell you it is a risk worth taking, and that this uncertainty is an intrinsic part of Qvevri’s uniqueness and charm. The constant temperature under the ground and micro-oxidation process of clay vessels gives the wine a special color and characteristics. It also softens the tannins, even after several months on the skins, and gives the wine a delicate and velvety structure.
The Qvevri technique is practiced all over Georgia, but when you hear this word, the first thing that comes to mind is the Kakheti wine region.For most Georgians, “Kakhetian wine” cais closely associated with “Qvevri wine”. Therefore, the best way to be introduced to the Qvevri method is to start from the Kakheti wine region.
Since 2013, when UNESCO introduced the ancient tradition of Qvevri winemaking in the list of intangible cultural heritage, this method has become even more popular and has spread beyond Georgia. Trends in re-mastering the Qvevri technique can be found in different wine regions around the world. Representatives of the old world and new world are actively testing making the wine in clay, amphora-like vessels.
Get to know Kakheti wine region and its terroir
The Kakheti Wine Region is located in the eastern part of Georgia and comprises two river basins, Ivri and Alazani. These rivers have a significant influence on the character of Kakhetian wines. Kakheti is bordered on the west by another very important wine region of Georgia – Kartli. To the east and south is Azerbaijan. The northern part of Kakheti is bordered by the Caucasus ridge and there is nothing more beautiful than looking at the Kakheti vineyards glistening in the sun and counting the white clouds floating above the Caucasus ridge.
Together with the location, the climatic conditions of the region play an essential role in the formation of Kakheti wines. Kakheti vineyards are cultivated at an altitude of 250-800 meters above sea level. We can find both humid subtropical as well as continental climates in the region. The climate is also influenced by the dry air of the Caspian Sea and the moist air masses of the Black Sea. Humid air coming from the west is mostly held back by the Likhi ridge, which divides Georgia into its eastern and western parts. Thanks to the Likhi ridge, the amount of annual rainfall is much lower in Kakheti than would otherwise be the case. The driest seasons in the Kakheti wine region are summer and winter, but it is worth traveling in spring and autumn as well, the gentle rainy days add their own wistful romance to the vineyards of Kakheti.
On both sides of the road from Tbilisi to Kakheti, you can see rows of beautiful vineyards and if you can not resist the temptation, you can easily stop and take a walk through them – most Kakhetian vineyards are not fenced and you can visit them freely. You will probably notice a particularly dark-colored soil – the reason for this is the high concentration of iron in it. Don’t forget to look for these same tones of the earth in your wine glass later.
Soils of Kakheti Wine Region:
Grape Varieties of Kakheti Wine Region:
Ikalto red Tavkveri
Mtsvivani Kakhetian Chitistvala
Discover the grape varieties you have never heard of before
Kakheti terroir provides ideal conditions for both local varieties and international wine varieties as well. When talking about the Kakheti wine region, the first thing that comes to mind is Rkatsiteli and Saperavi grapes. These two wine varieties have become the face of the region and Georgia. With the increase in the awareness of Georgian wine, the interest in these varieties is growing, so do not be surprised if you encounter these Kakhetian wine varieties in different wine regions in the world.
Let’s meet Rkatsiteli, to add vivid colors to life
Rkatsiteli is the main white variety of Kakheti. It is characterized by its elegance [NR1] and a high ability to adapt to the environment. It feels comfortable even in frost. It is equal in frost resistance to even the Riesling and Pinots of the northern wine regions. Rkatsiteli is as diverse as the Kakheti region itself. You can taste dry white made with both conventional white wine techniques as well as the ancientQvevri method, but also fortified and sweet dessert wines made by this grape.
As a young classic white wine, it displays a familiar yellow-green color. Over time, Rkatsiteli wine develops a deep golden hue. The wine made by the Kakhetian method varies between amber and brown according to their age. The Rkatsiteli aroma profile is dependent on the technology of winemaking. However, we can select a few aromas that are most often found in Rkatsiteli wine:
Rkatsiteli has also found a role as table grapes. If you arrive in Kakheti during the harvest period, it will be difficult not to eat the delicious, sweet, and full grapes right off the vines while you are picking them.
Meet Saperavi, which will be telling age-old stories
Saperavi is the leading red grape variety from Kakheti, it is versatile enough to produce dry, semi-sweet, sweet, and fortified wines, both with the Qvevri method as well as the conventional method.
.. Wines made from Saperavi have pronounced characteristics and are easy to distinguish from other kakhetian red wines, and wines from all other regions of the world for that matter!. This ancient wine variety seems to tell the story of centuries-worth of tradition with its staidness and elegance. The intensity of the colors and aromas gives us a strong, deep wine that lingers with its presence. It should also be noted that the pulp of the Saperavi berry is itself red (a so-called teinturier grap) – an unusual trait for red wine varieties – which is reflected in the intensity of the color of Saperavi wine. Saperavi wine in Kakheti is often referred to as “black wine” by the locals, know you understand why.
Ripe dark fruits
Cassis and spice
Saperavi wines are distinguished by high quality and great aging potential, which will allow you to spend Kakheti evenings with Saperavi wines of different ages. For sure, you will fall in love with many things in Kakheti, and Saperavi will be one of the first.
What to taste in Kakheti Wine Region
Most of the vineyards (65%) in Georgia are located in the Kakheti Wine Region. Kakheti is divided into two zones: Telavi and Kvareli. It should also be noted that 15 of the 20 PDO’s of Georgia are located in Kakheti.
From this list we can select three PDOs that are most famous for producing distinctive wines in Kakheti Wine Region:
What is PDO?
Protected Designation of Origin or PDO defines the Georgaphical area and know-how of producing certain wines.
Tsinandali is located in the Telavi district, on the right bank of the Alazani river. The total area of the vineyards cover 653 hectares and are vines are planted at an altitude of between300-750 m above sea level. Tsinandali produces high-quality dry white wine from Rkatsiteli and Kakhetian Mtsvane varieties. The core component of Tsinandali wine is Rkatsiteli, while the share of Kakhetian Mtsvane is set at a maximum of 15%.
The wine is characterized by a straw-colored tint. When you taste it, you will find the wine balanced and harmonious. The Rkatsiteli provides the full body while the refreshing acidity is a gift from the Mtsvane grape. If you visit Kakheti during the summer, enjoy an 8-10 ̊ C chilled Tsinandali alongside a freshly caught Alazani river trout with oyster mushroom garnish. The Tsinandali wine is full of elegant grassy hints and tropical and creamy tones – it easy to appreciate that you are dealing with a multi-layered, very interesting wine and not just a summer refreshing wine.
Tip! – The Prince of Wines
When visiting Tsinandali, don’t miss the Tsinandali Estate, where Georgian wine was bottled for the very first time. The cellar still boasts wine bottles from the 19th century! Apart from this historical background, the estate is full of other stories and activities for visitors. The establishment of the Tsinandali estate is connected to Prince Alexander Chavchavadze. Going back to the 19th century, he was – in addition to being an excellent winemaker – a businessman, a military man, a poet, and one of the pioneers of Georgian romanticism. Tsinandali estate was turned into a cultural nexus and it can be said that they still maintain this image.
Along with the historical artifacts of winemaking, you can see how the distinguished Georgians of the 19th century lived, take a walk in the beautiful garden, best accompanied by the romantic poetry of Prince Alexander himself of course! Last but not least, you can taste their exceptional Tsinandali, which makes you feel that you have traveled back in time and are a guest at one of Prince Alexander’s parties.
Near Tsinandali, again on the right bank of Alazani, you can visit PDO Mukuzani in Gurjaani administrative unit. The total area of the vineyards is 246 ha and is located at an altitude of 350-750 m above sea level. Mukuzani wine has been produced since 1893 from Saperavi grapes. It is traditionally aged in oak barrels. Dark pomegranate-colored wine with ripe berry tones and a slight hint of oak is a perfect combination with local cuisine. During your visit to Mukuzani, you will have a wonderful time for dinner with Mukuzani. It seems to be an old friend who has not seen you for a long time and you want to spend time talking to and reminiscing over old stories. You cannot imagine how many things Mukuzani wine has to offer you… The peculiarities of the Saperavi variety and Mukuzani terroir create such a complex wine that you just can not get bored with.
Kindzmarauli is located in the Kvareli district on the left bank of the river Alazani. The total area of the vineyards is 2400 hectares and sits between 250-550 m above sea level. The semi-sweet wine of Kindzmarauli has been produced from Saperavi grapes since 1942. Kindzmarauli is a small paradise for lovers of semi-sweet wines. If you see an explosion of intense colors and aromas in your glass while traveling in the Kakheti wine region, you know that it is Kindzmarauli. A subtle scent of red fruit, berries, violet, and lilacs, or dried fruits will slowly seduce you. If you think you do not like semi-sweet wines this may be the wine to change your mind. Unlike the most popular semi-sweet wines, Kindzmarauli has more tannins, though it is still very tender and velvety. It has a very complex and full body, so do not be surprised if in addition to desserts it is offered with a meat dish. Kindzmarauli is like the beginning of a new relationship -full of emotions, excitement and pleasure. Therefore, if you are traveling with your partner in Kakheti, Kindzmarauli is a must-do on your list.
Get to know kakhetian culture closely… it’s full of surprises
Rituals for the protection of the Kakheti vineyards
Wine is an integral part of Kakheti’s identity. Therefore, Kakheti vineyards – called kaks – have always played a very important role for the locals in their daily life. The Kakhetians took special care to protect the vineyards and even used various rituals for this purpose.
According to one of the rituals, the hostess of the family baked special bread rolls. A family man who took care of the vineyard brought these bread rolls, along with candles and wine, to the vineyard during the flowering of the vine. On each of the four sides of the vineyard, the man would pour a glass of wine, light a candle, break the bread rolls into four parts, throwing them to the four sides of the kak. In this ritual, he prayed for the protection and preservation of the vineyard.
According to another ritual, it was necessary to protect the Kakheti vineyard from both birds and rodents as well as from the “evil eye” (a person who is driven by envy or evil and whose sight may bring you bad luck). Prayers were recited in the vineyard. Also, red-and-white prayer-inscribed pieces of cloth were attached to the vines throughout the kak.
Hospitality and “Supra” traditions
In Georgia, it is said that the guest is sent by God. The guest – both in the past and present-day – is associated with great honor and joy Even as a tourist in Georgia, you will feel greeted like a long-lost relative returning to the family fold. It is a tradition of warmth and generosity.
The tradition of “table” (gathering together to eat) is based on this hospitality tradition, and it is a cultural custom passed down all the way to the present day. In this process food, wine, singing, dancing, toasts and the “tamada” (toastmaster) play an important part.
These traditions are well worth experiencing yourself. , and there is no better place than Kakheti to observe them. Along with Kakhetian wines and food, you will find a “tamada”, who unites the dinner guests and moderates’ conversations on a variety of topics using specific toasts. Then you too will say a toast and you will feel as if you had wanted to say one for a long time and could not find the appropriate moment. The meal is usually accompanied by Kakhetian folklore and song, as it is said that “everyone sings” in Georgia. Maybe you will be even luckier and the members of the table will start singing “Chakrulo”. Chakrulo is a Kartli-Kakhetian folksong featured on the list of intangible monuments of UNESCO. The song was launched into space in 1977 as a sample of “Earth Voices” for alien civilizations!
Are you ready to taste Kakheti?
Chakapuli – Spring is in the air!
Mtsvadi – Georgian Barbecue
If you decide to visit Kakheti during the spring, then other pleasures await you along with the opening of the Qvevri. As you already know, wine plays an important role in the lifestyle of Kakheti, so you should not be surprised that Kakhetian cuisine includes prominent use of wine. Chakapuli is roasted/boiled mutton and veal. White dry Kakhetian wine, many herbs, and plums (Tkhemali) are used to prepare it. Its lively aromas are associated with the arrival of spring and the awakening of nature. That is why it is even more desirable to taste Chakapuli in the spring, along with white wine from a newly opened Qvevri.
Mtsvadi is a fusion of Caucasian and Asian cuisine, but when somebody mentions it, Georgians’ will associate it with the Kakheti wine region. Mtsvadi is a barbecue dish roasted over a fire pit. In Kakheti, vine stalks are used as roast spits for the meat. Without a Mtsvadi, a Kakhetian harvest is almost impossible. If you decide to visit Kakheti during autumn, then make sure to take part in the harvest – after the pleasant – but exhausting – labor, wash down the Mtsvadi with a Kakhetian Qvevri wine from the vineyard.
Churchkhela – Georgian Desert
Churchkhela is the most popular Georgian dessert. Threaded walnuts or hazelnuts are soaked in boiled grape juice and dried. If you, like many other tourists, wonder why there are colorful “candles” on display in the tourist streets, this is actually Churchkhela. Wherever Churchkhela is available, it is an excellent accompaniment to wine tasting. If you visit Kakheti during the harvest, you should take part in the process of making Churchkhela. Afterward, you can save some homemade Churchkhela for the New Year, the same way Georgians do.
In and around Kakheti
Sighnaghi – The city of love
Sighnaghi is a small, rough city, located on a high hill. Historically, it was protected by walls and a large gate. During enemy invasions, which were quite frequent in Kakheti, it was Sighnaghi that sheltered the population in the area. Nowadays, many tourists escape to Sighnaghi to enjoy a glass of wine atop the Sighnaghi parapets, gazing out across the beautiful Alazani valley view. Sighnaghi is called the city of love in Georgia. Apart from the wonderful architecture, tiny beautiful streets, and the amazing Kakhetian wines, you can also get married in Sighnaghi at any time you wish. The marriage house is open 24 hours a day. So, if you are thinking about marriage, the city of love will be a great place for it!
Alaverdi Monastery Cellar – “Monks’ Wine Since 1011”
If you are a wine lover and you are in the Kakheti wine region, then it is almost mandatory to visit the Alaverdi Monastery and its cellar. Besides being one of the most important cultural heritage sites, Alaverdi Monastery is also famous for its continued tradition of producing wine since the 10th century. Today there are about a hundred varieties of wine grape in their vineyards. The monks mostly produce Qvevri wines using ancient wine-making techniques.
David Gareja Monastery – The stone town of the Assyrian father
The monastery complex of David Gareja is completely carved into the rock. In the desert area of Kakheti, it stands as a silent sentinel keeping many stories and secrets. The monastery complex was founded by the Assyrian father David in the sixth century. Over the centuries, the monastery complex has played an educational, cultural, and political role. Just 60-70 kilometers away from Tbilisi, this monastery complex will take your breath away, make you feel strangely humble, and make you feel you are stepping back through time.
Time to get closer to nature
Lagodekhi National Park
Lagodekhi National Park is characterized by a diverse landscape and various forms of wildlife. The Lagodekhi national park includes natural monuments such as the “Rocho Waterfall”, “Ninoskhevi Waterfall”, “Machi Fortress”, “Black Rock Lake” and “Nature Cognition Trail”. Try to spend a few days in Lagodekhi to be able to thoroughly explore the park and to spend your evenings with the local winemakers.
Eagle Gorge (Artsivi Kheoba)
Eagle Gorge is a natural monument located in the Vashlovani protected area. It consists of a limestone canyon and the surrounding forest cover. The Khornabuji fortress is also located there. Up to sixty species of birds can be observed in this area. Youcan also see endangered plants in the canyon.
Ilia Lake – is located in Kindzmarauli PDO. Its deciduous forest provides charm for all seasons, and if you visit Kakheti in winter, the snow-covered trees and the white colors reflected in the lake will make you feel like you are in a fairytale. There are many tourist attractions around the lake. Kakhetian wine pairs wonderfully with this amazing view.
Insider Tips about Kakheti Wine Region
Where to eat in Kakheti?
The Terrace Signagi
Address: #10 Baratashvili Street, Signagi
Menu: Georgian & European Cuisine
Address: #10 Barnovi, Telavi
Menu: Georgian traditional Cuisine
Address: Napareuli, Telavi
Menu: Georgian & European Cuisine
Where to stay in Kakheti?
Schuchmann Wines Chateau, Villas & SPA
Address: Kisikhevi, Telavi
5 of 5 stars
Akhasheni Wine Resort
Address: Akhasheni, Gurjaani
4.1 of 5 stars
Address: #97 Kvirike Didi Street, Telavi
2.9 of 5 stars
The best wine bars in Kakheti
Pheasant’s Tears Winery – Wine Bar
Address: 18 Baratashvili Street, Signagi
Telephone: +955 0355 23 15 56
Natural Wine Bar
Address: #1 Erekle street, Telavi
Telephone: +995 592 06 16 00
Ambri Wine Saloon
Address: #24 Nadikvari Street, Telavi
Most Frequently Asked Questions about Kakheti Wine Region
1. Where is the Kakhetiwine region located?
Kakheti wine region is located in southern-eastern Georgia.
Kakheti is the most important wine region in the country, with ancient viticulture roots, as nearly three-quarters of Georgia’s wine grapes are grown here.
2. What are the most famous sub-regions and appellations in Kakheti?
Kakheti wine region can be split into Shida Kakheti and Gare Kakheti (sub-zones) and the main sub-regions in it are Kindzmarauli and Tsinandali.
Within the wine region, there are 18 wine appellations or Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) out of 28 in the entire country. Some of the Kakheti’s appellations are Akhasheni, Kakheti, Manavi, Teliani, and Vazisubani.
3. What are the main grape varieties in Kakheti?
Home to famous Qvevri wine, Kakheti is a place for indigenous grape varieties. The main grapes under vine in Kakheti are especially Saperavi, CabernetSauvignon, Rkatsiteli, and Kakhuri Mtsvani followed by Qisi, Khikhvi, Budeshuri, Mtsvivana, Kunsi, Sapena, Tavkveri, and Ikalto Red.
4. What is the best wine to try in Kakheti?
One can not visit the Kakheti wine region without sipping their number 1 white grape Rkatsiteli. Both on the classic Georgian Tsinandali method or traditional method, the white wines made with Rkatsiteli generally bring notes of citrus, crisp green-apple, and subtle spice, with an acidic side.
5. What to see in Kakheti?
There are several ancient cultural spots to see in Kakheti. A place to take a good tour is the Davit Gareji Monastery, a rock-hewn Georgian Orthodox monastery complex. The architectural beauty of the place holds a millenary history with chapels, churches, and living quarters dug into the rocks.