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Georgian Wines & Spirits

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On the eastern shores of the Black Sea snuggled up to the Caucasus Mountain range rests a country of some 5,000,000 people, a land rich in ancient and modern history, agriculture, literature & extraordinary wines, it is. . . . . . . . .the Republic of Georgia!

Georgia, formerly part of the Soviet Union, has a long & ancient history of winemaking. The word "wine" is of Georgian origin. Ancient wine vessels dating back to 5000+ B.C., recently unearthed by scientists, offer evidence to support this theory. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar & other notables of history enjoyed Georgian wines.

Georgia's moderate climate and moist air, influenced by the Black Sea, provide the best conditions for vine cultivating. Even though a small country, Georgia is home to over 500 varieties of wine, which have been enjoyed by Georgians, Russians & a great many Europeans.

Georgia is considered the source of the first cultivated grapevines. Archaeological sources combined with archaeological finds prove this to be so. Tools of grape and wine production, clay vessels for wine, and art and jewelry depicting grapes and grape leaves found in Georgia have been dated as far back as 5000 BC. The ancient symbol of Christianity in Georgia, which arrived in the fourth century, is a cross woven of grapevines.

Traditional Georgian grape varieties are little known in the West. Now however, that the wines of Eastern and Central Europe are coming to international awareness, grapes from this region are becoming better known and more appreciated. Wines from this raea of the world were famous to such historical notables as Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Socrates, Homer, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Jesus, Pontius Pilate & many others.

The two most important grapes used in Georgian wines, Rkatsiteli and Saperavi, have the potential to produce excellent, if not great wines. Rkatsiteli is a white variety that is so widely grown in Eastern and Central Europe that it ranks third in the world in hectares grown. Rkatsiteli is high in acidity and is capable of producing wines with fine character. Jancis Robinson, author of the The Oxford Companion to Wine, calls Rkatsiteli very important and high quality</span>" in her review of world grape varieties.

Saperavi produces substantial deep red wines that are suitable for extended aging, perhaps up to 50years. Saperavi has the potential to produce high alcohol levels and is used extensively for blending with other lesser varieties. A third variety, the white grape Mtsvane, is also important in Georgian wines, and is often blended with Rkatsiteli to which it adds a fruity, aromatic balance.

There are five main regions of viniculture, the principal region being Kakheti, which produces seventy percent of Georgia's grapes. Traditionally, Georgian wines carry the name of the source region, district, or village, much like French regional wines such as Bordeaux or Burgundy. As with these French wines, Georgian wines are usually a blend of two or more grapes. For instance, one of the best-known white wines, Tsinandali, is a blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes from the micro regions of Telavi and Kvareli in the Kakheti region. Kindzmarauli is a semi-sweet, deep red wine from the Kvareli micro-region made from Saperavi grapes. Traditionally, Georgian wines were & still are fermented in large clay vessels called "kvevris" and left with skins and seeds for an additional three or four months. Certain wines such as the white Gurjani and dry, red Mukuzani are aged in oak casks. Georgian wineries and grape producers have also adopted European practices for wine production, and there is now a wide selection of new wines. Other excellent and interesting traditionally named wines are the semi-sweet red Khvabchkara and Akhasheni, and dry red Kvareli.

Georgia ranks 4th in grape production in the former Soviet Union behind Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova, though Georgian wines have always been the most highly prized. It is unfortunate that recently these wonderful wines have begun to be widely imitated and counterfeited. Reportedly, as much as 90% of Georgian wines sold in Russia now are bogus. There is virtually no protection of Georgian wine names. Moscow markets have Georgian wines with names like Kindzmarauli produced in cities throughout Russia. As a Russian winemaker remarked to me a few years ago, "If there was so much Georgian wine as is found in shops in Moscow, Georgia would be under a sea of wine." In the EU, The USA & Canada, one may be assured that the Georgian wines being sold are indeed from the Republic of Georgia and have been certified as being the genuine & authentic product.

In ancient times their were red wines & white wines but now in modern times we also have blush or faintly pinkish wines along with ?whites? that are actually pinkish in color. The reds of Georgia are such vibrant & colorful wines that they are often described not only by their names but by the actual colors as well.

In this article the wines will be distinguished by their characteristics: dry, semi-dry, sweet, fortified & sparkling. Some of the names of varieties of grapes, the regions of origin & the actual name of the wine may be hard to pronounce but they are ever tasty.

GEORGIAN SEMI-SWEET WINES

Alaznis Veli
A white semi-sweet wine made from the Rkatsiteii, Tetra, Tsolikauri & other industrial grape varieties cultivated in Western and Eastern Georgia. The wine of straw color has a characteristic aroma, a fine, fresh and a harmonious taste. It contains 9-11 % alcohol and has 6 - 7 % titrated acidity.

Khvanchkara
Khavan1 A fine naturally semi-sweet red wine made from the Alexandria & Mudzhuretuli grape varieties cultivated in the Khvanchkara vineyards in Western Georgia. The wine has a strong specific bouquet and a harmonious velvety taste with a raspberry flavor. It is of dark-ruby color. The Khvanchkara wine is one of the most popular Georgian semi-sweet wines. It contains 10.5 - 12.0% alcohol, 3 - 5 % sugar and has 5.0 - 7.0 % titrated acidity. The wine has been manufactured since 1907. For its excellent taste it was awarded 2 gold & 4 silver medals at international exhibitions.

Kindzmaraurli
A high quality naturally semi-sweet wine of dark-red color. It is made from the Saperavi grape variety cultivated on the slopes of the Caucasian mountains in the Kvareli district of Kakheti. It has a strong characteristic bouquet and aroma, a gentle harmonious and velvety taste. The wonderful taste and curative properties have won Kindzmarauli general recognition. The wine contains 10.5 - 12.0 % alcohol, 3 - 5 % sugar and has 5.0 - 7.0 % titrated acidity. It has been manufactured since 1942. For its supreme qualities Kindzmarauli was 3 gold, 4 silver & 1 bronze medal at international wine competitions.

Akhasheni
A naturally semi-sweet red wine made from the Saperavi grape variety grown in the Akhasheni vineyards of the Gurdzhaani district in Kakheti. The wine of dark-pomegranate color has a harmonious velvety taste with a chocolate flavor. It contains 10.5 - 12.0 % alcohol, 3 - 5 % sugar and has 5 - 7 % titrated acidity. The wine has been manufactured since 1958. At international exhibitions it was awarded 6 gold & 5 silver medals.

Odzhaleshi
One of the best red semi-sweet wines made from the grape variety of the same name cultivated on the mountain slopes overhanging the banks of the Tskhenis-Tskali river, particularly in the Orbeli village and Samegrelo district (Western Georgia). Odzhaleshi has dark-ruby colour, a gentle bouquet and aroma, a harmonious rich taste with a fruity flavor. It contains 10 - 12 % alcohol, 3 - 5 % sugar and has a titrated acidity of 5 - 6 %.

Usakheklauri
A naturally semi-sweet wine, which is superior to all other wines of this kind for its gentle and subtle qualities. It is produced from the excellent Usakhelauri grape variety cultivated mostly in the Zubi-Okureshi district in Western Georgia. Vineyards are arranged on the mountain slopes. The wine has attractive ruby color, harmonious sweetness with a wild strawberry flavor. It is noted for a pleasant velvety taste, a delicate bouquet and inimitable piquancy. The wine contains up to 10.5 - 12.0% alcohol, 3 - 5% sugar and has 5 - 7 % titrated acidity. It has been manufactured since 1943. The word "Usakhelauri" means "nameless" in Georgia. The wine was so fine that it was hard to find an adequate name for it. At international exhibitions Usakhelauri was awarded 2 gold & 3 silver medals.

Apsny
A naturally semi-sweet red wine made of red grape varieties cultivated in Abkhazia. The wine of pomegranate color has a pleasant aroma, a full and harmonious taste with gentle sweetness. When ready for use, the wine contains 9 - 10% alcohol, 3 - 5 % sugar and has 5 - 7 % titrated acidity. At an international exhibition the wine received 1 silver medal.

Lykhny
A naturally semi-sweet pink wine made of the Izabella grape variety cultivated in Abkhazia. The wine has pink color, a specific aroma and a fresh harmonious taste. When ready for use, the wine contains 8 - 9% alcohol, 3 - 5 % sugar and has 5 - 7 % titrated acidity. At international exhibitions Lykhny was awarded 1 silver & 1 bronze medal.

Alaznis Veli
A red semi-sweet wine made from the Saperavi, Alexandreuli, Mudzhuretuli, Odzhaleshi and other red grape varieties grown in Western and Eastern Georgia. The wine of color ranging from light-red to red has a pleasant fresh bouquet and a harmonious velvety taste. Its strength is 10 - 12 vol.% and titrated acidity 5 - 8%.

GEORGIAN SEMI-DRY WINE

Anakopia
A white semi-dry table wine made from the Tsolikauri grape variety grown in the Sukhumi and Gudauta districts in Abkhazia. The color range is from light to dark-straw. It has a specific aroma and a subtle fresh taste. The alcohol content in the ready wine is 9 - 11 %, sugar content 1 - 2 g/100 ml, titrated acidity 5 - 8 g/l. The wine has been produced since 1978.

Mtatsminda
A pink table semi-dry wine produced since 1984. It is prepared by the original technology from the Saperavi, Tavkveri, Asuretuli, Rkatsiteli and other grape varieties grown in Tetritskaro, Kaspi, Gori and Khashuri districts. The wine is characterized by a harmonious taste with a fruity aroma & a beautiful color. The alcohol content is 9 - 11.5 %, sugar content 1 - 2 %, titrated acidity 5 - 7 g/l.

Aguna
A pink semi-dry wine produced since 1984. It is made from the Saperavi, Cabernet and Rkatsiteli grape varieties grown in East Georgia. The wine has a rich fruity taste. The alcohol content is 9 - 11.5 %, sugar content 1 - 2 %, titrated acidity 5 - 7 g/l.

Tbilisuri
A white semi-sweet table wine made from the Tsolikauri, Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane and Tetra grape varieties. The wine is of light-straw color. A harmonious combination of natural sweetness, acidity and specific grape aroma gives the wine a fresh and mild taste. The alcohol content in the ready wine is 10.5 - 12 %, the sugar content 1 - 2 %, acidity 5 - 7 %.

Sachino
A pink semi-dry wine produced since 1984. It is made by the original method from the Aleksandreuli, Aladasturi, Odzhaleshi, Tsitska, Tsolikauri and other grape varieties cultivated in West Georgia. The wine is notable for a mild taste, a moderate extractibility, a pure aroma and a beautiful color. The alcohol content is 9 - 11.5 %, sugar content 1 - 2 %, titrated acidity 5 - 7 g/l.

Pirosmani
A naturally semi-sweet red wine. It is made from the Saperavi grape variety cultivated in the Akhoebi vineyards of the Kardanakhi village in the Alazani Valley. The wine is fermented in clay jars buried in the ground, an ancient Kakhetian technology of wine-making. When ready for use, the wine contains 10.5 - 12 % alcohol, 1.5 - 2.5 % sugar and has 5 - 7 % titrated acidity.

Barakoni
A naturally semi-dry red wine made from the unique Alexandreuli and Mudzhuretuli grape varieties cultivated in Western Georgia on the steep slopes of the Rioni gorge in the Caucasian mountains. This top quality wine of light-ruby color has a fine fragrance of violets, natural pleasant sweetness and a tender harmonious taste. When ready for use, Barakoni contains 10 - 12 % alcohol, 1.5 - 2.5 % sugar and has 5 - 7 % titrated acidity. The wine has been manufactured since 1981.

GEORGIAN SWEET DESSERT WINES

Khikkhvi
A vintage white dessert wine made from the Khikhvi grape variety grown in Kardanakhi. It has pleasant amber color, a characteristic aroma and a delicate taste. Its strength is 15 vol.%, sugar content 18 - 20 %, titrated acidity 4 - 8 g/1. The wine has been produced since 1924. At international competitions it received 4 gold medals.

Saamo
This vintage dessert white sweet wine is made from the Rkatsiteli grape variety cultivated in the Kardanakhi vineyards of the Gurdzhaani district in Kakheti. It takes the wine three years to mature. The golden-color wine has an original fine bouquet, a pleasant taste with a harmonious honey fragrance. When ready for use, the wine contains 17 % alcohol, 13 % sugar and has 4 - 6 g/1 titrated acidity. It has been manufactured since 1980. At international exhibitions Saamo was awarded 4 gold & 1 silver medal.

Salkhino
A liqueur-type of dessert wine made from the Izabella grape variety with an addition of the Dzvelshava, Tsolikauri and other grape varieties cultivated in the Mayakovski district (Western Georgia). It has characteristic ruby or pomegranate color. The alcohol content is 15 %, sugar content 30 %, titrated acidity 3 - 7 g/l. At international competitions the wine received 6 gold medals. It has been produced since 1928.

Gelati
White dry ordinary wine made of the Tsolikauri, Tsitska and Krakhuna grape varieties cultivated in Western Georgia. The wine of straw color has a characteristic savor with a fruity flavor and fresh harmonious taste. Its strength is 10.0 - 12.5 vol.% and titrated acidity 5 - 8 %.

Kakheti
White table wine made of the Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grape varieties cultivated in Kakheti. The amber-color wine has a fruity aroma with a vanillic flavor. It is characterized by an energetic, velvety and harmonious taste. Its strength is 10.5 - 13.0 vol.% and titrated acidity 4 - 6 %. At international wine competitions the Kakheti wine was awarded 1 silver & 1 bronze medal. It has been produced since 1948.

Bodbe
Is made from the Rkatsiteli grape variety in the village of Bodbe in the Magaro microdistrict, one of the most beautiful places of Kakheti. The wine has a light-straw color, a fine aroma of wild flowers and a pleasing tender taste which give the wine piquancy highly estimated by connoisseurs. The ready wine contains 10.5 - 11.5% alcohol and has 5 - 7% titrated acidity.

Dimi
An Imeretian-type white ordinary wine. It is made from the Tsolikauri and Krakhuna grape varieties grown on small areas in Imereti (Western Georgia) by the old local technique consisting in fermenting the grapes pulp to which some quantity of grapes husks is added. The dark-straw color has a pleasant specific bouquet with a fruity flavor, a fresh harmonious taste and savory astringency. Its strength is 10.5 - 13.0 vol.% and titrated acidity 6.5 - 8.0%. The wine has been produced since 1977.

Garedzhi
White dry ordinary wine made of the Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grape varieties cultivated in Kakheti. The wine has a color ranging from pale-straw to amber, a pleasing bouquet and a full harmonious taste. Its strength is 10.0 - 12.5 vol. % and titrated acidity 4 - 7 %.

Ereti
White dry ordinary wine made from the Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grape varieties. It has a straw color, a fine fruity bouquet and a full fresh and harmonious taste. Its strength is 10.0 - 12.5 vol.% and titrated acidity 5 - 8 %.

Shuamta
A dry wine produced since 1984. It is made from the Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grape varieties according to the Kakhetian recipe. The wine is of amber or dark-amber color and has a moderately astringent harmonious taste with a fruity aroma. The alcohol content is 10 - 12%, titrated acidity 4 - 6 g/l, extractibility over 25 g/l.

Saperavi
An ordinary table red wine made from the Saperavi grape variety grown in some areas of Kakheti. It is an extractive wine with a characteristic bouquet, a harmonious taste and pleasant astringency. Its strength is 10.5 - 12.5 % and titrated acidity 5 - 7 %. At the international wine competitions this wine received 1 gold & 1 silver medal. It has been produced since 1886.

GEORGIAN FORTIFIED WINES

Karadanakhi
A fortified vintage white wine of the type. It is made from the Rkatsiteli grape variety cultivated in the Kardanakhi vineyards of the Gurdzhaani district. The wine matures in oak barrels for three years. The amber color wine has a pleasant specific bouquet with a typical port wine flavor and a fine honey fragrance. It contains 18 % alcohol, 10 % sugar and has 4 - 6 % titrated acidity. Kardanakhi has been manufactured since 1976. It was awarded 8 and 1 silver international medals.

Anaga
A madeira-type top-quality strong wine made from the Rkatsiteli, Khikhvi and Mtsvane grape varieties cultivated in the Gurdzhaani, Signakhi and Tsitel-Tskaro districts. The wine has light-golden to dark-amber color, a strong peculiar bouquet, an extractive harmonious taste with a clearly pronounced Madeira touch. The alcohol content is 19 %, sugar content 4 g/ml, titrated acidity 3 - 7 g/l. The Anaga wine was awarded 1 international silver medal.

Signakhi
An ordinary strong wine of the port type made from the Rkatsiteli grape variety grown in the Signakhi district in Kakheti. The amber-color wine has an extractive harmonious taste with a clearly pronounced fruity touch. The alcohol content 3 g/100 ml, titrated acidity 5 g/l.

Veria
A fortified vintage white port made from the Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane, Chinuri and other commercial grape varieties grown in Eastern Georgia. The amber-color wine has a peculiar aroma and harmonious taste. Its strength is 18 vol.%, sugar content 7%, titrated acidity 3 - 7 g/1. At an international wine competition it received 1 gold medal. The wine has been produced since 1977.

Lelo
A port-type wine made from the Tsitska and Tsolikauri grape varieties grown in Zestaphoni, Terdzhola, Mayakovski and Vani districts. The wine has a rich harmonious taste with a fruity aroma & a beautiful golden color. The alcohol content is 19 %, sugar content 5 %, titrated acidity 6 g/l.

Marabdna
this is a port-type wine made from the Rkatsiteli grape variety grown in Marneuli and Bolnisi districts. It has a full harmonious taste with a fruity aroma & light-golden color. The alcohol content is 19 %, sugar content 5 %, titrated acidity 6 g/l.

Kolkheti
This fortified vintage white port is made from Tsolikauri, Tsitska and other commercial white grape varieties grown in Western Georgia. The amber-color wine has a specific bouquet and harmonious taste. Its strength is 18 vol.%, sugar content 7 %, titrated acidity 3 - 7 g/l. At an international competition the wine received 1 silver medal. It has been produced since 1977.

Taribana
A port-type wine made from the Rkatsiteli grape veriety cultivated in Kakheti. The wine has a mild oily taste, a low sugar content and a beautiful color. The alcohol content is 19 %, sugar content 5 %, titrated acidity 5 g/l.

Traditional & Ancient Wine Vessels
For centuries, Georgians drank and in some areas still drink their delicious wine from horns and skins specially treated for this purpose. These drinking implements came from their herd animals, as no part of the valued and respected beasts went to waste. The horns were cleaned, boiled and polished, creating a unique, durable and quite stylish drinking vessel. The horns were prized by the merchants and warriors that traveled the fertile valleys of the Caucasus.

Wine vessels of every shape, size and design account for the bulk of earthenware artifacts unearthed by Georgian archeologists. The Georgian craft of pottery is millennia old. Ancient artifacts attest to the high skill of Georgian craftsmen in whose hands water, clay and fire turned into an object of an exceptional beauty much admired by people. The most impressive of all archeological finds are kvevri, giant clay vessels in which wine was fermented and stored. The old ones used to dig them into soil, just as we are doing now. Georgian museums have on display numerous clay vessels of all designations. Some were used to ferment grape juice and to store up wine, such as kvevri, chapi and satskhao, and others were used for drinking, such as khelada, doki, sura, chinchila, deda-khelada, dzhami and marani. For ages, artisans polished their skills to improve these vessels. The secrets of trade passed on from fathers to sons. Modern potters carefully study the ancient craft and decorative patterns and create their own pottery making extensive use of ancient national traditions and using the latest scientific and technological achievements to enrich ancient traditions.

Many of he unearthed silver, gold and bronze artifacts of the 3rd and 2nd millennia B.C bear chased imprints of the vine, grape clusters and leaves. On the basis of this evidence it is safe to say that viniculture has a long record in Georgian history. The State Museum of Georgia has on display a cup of high-carat gold set with gems, an ornamented silver pitcher and some other artifacts dated the 2nd millennium B.C. The museum of history has a cameo depicting Bacchus. Numerous sarcophagi with wine pitchers and ornamented wine cups, found in ancient toms, are a proof that wine was nothing unusual for Georgians at all times.

Sources:

Kartveli Wines & Spirits
Irakles Duzhmadze, pamphlet in Russian & Georgian 1990

Wines of the World
Helmut Kirscher, booklet, Berlin-Germany 1989

http://www.mildiani.com
http://www.georgianvino.com
http://www.selectwinesllc.com/repofgeor.html
http://www.askaneli.ru/English/index.html
http://www.sttoxml.com/sites/kst-georgian-wines/index.htm
http://www.winefromgeorgia.com
http://www.alaverdi-wine.com/alaverdi-wine-listing.php

Georgian wine & spirits are available in the US.
Try the follwoing on-line sources:

http://www.georgianvino.com
http://www.selectwinesllc.com/swllc/repofgeor.html
http://www.red-wine.biz/index.htm
http://www.waitrose.com/food_drink/wfi/drinks/wine/9909088.asp
http://www.russianfoods.com/showroom/view004C2/vendor003E8/default.asp
http://www.tbilvino.com.ge

© Donald R. Houston, PhD 2006

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