Often called the ‘cradle of wine’, Georgia boasts the oldest traces of winemaking in the world, along with over 500 indigenous grapes.
The ‘qvevri’ — an earthenware vessel that has been used to make wine for thousands of years in Georgia — has become the unofficial symbol of the country. These lemon-shaped pots are filled with grape juice and buried up to their necks in the ground. Notably, the juice still contains the grape skins, seeds and even stems. The entire wine-making process takes place in these vessels, with very little intervention, resulting in lively, complex wines of different hues, from amber to ruby. In restaurants, staff will often ask if you’d like a “Georgian wine” or “European wine,” referring to whether it was made using the traditional or modern method.
Like its wines, the land of Georgia offers an immense amount of diversity, from the Caucasus mountains to the Black Sea. The best way to travel around is to take marshrutkas — minibuses that zip around the country with (sometimes alarming) speed. Along the roadside, you’ll see people selling homemade wine, and qvevris of all sizes. To experience the full breadth of Georgian wine culture, here are six not-to-miss highlights.
1. Sip wine and listen to Jazz at Palaty’s in Kutaisi
Kutaisi, Georgia’s second most important city after its capital Tbilisi, has a quaint charm, just like this restaurant where you can listen to live jazz while sampling Georgian wine and cuisine. Try Palaty’s own Saperavi, made from the native Georgian grape that produces rich, dark reds.
2. Unwind with a wine bath at Sam Raan Spa in Tbilisi
The name of Georgia’s capital derives from the old Georgian word for ‘warm’ because it was built around the area’s sulphuric hot springs. To this day, hot baths and spas remain central to the experience of the city. A truly unique Tbilisi treatment is a wine bath, where you soak in warm tub of wine, enjoy a body scrub made of grape seeds, and finish off, naturally, with a glass of wine.
3. Pair traditional Georgian food and wine at Zakhar Zakharich
With wooden tables and a no frills vibe, it’s easy to underestimate this restaurant. However Zakhar Zakharich has a reputation for serving the best khinkali — Georgian dumplings stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables — in town. Pair your khinkali and traditional dishes with a carafe of Georgian wine, which comes in two varieties; red and white.
4. Wine Tasting at Chateau Mukhrani
Chateau Mukhrani was the first winery to introduce European wine-making techniques to Georgia. It all started in 1876, when Ivane Mukhranbatoni, a descendant of the Bagrationi Royal Family, returned home from France and decided to apply what he had learnt about winemaking from the continent to his ancestral land.
Today, you can enjoy tours, tastings, and a meal at the restaurant. Situated just 25 minutes away from Tbilisi, this makes a wonderful day trip out of the city for wine-lovers.
5. Visit Alaverdi Monastery in Kakheti
Kakheti is Georgia’s main wine region, and Alaverdi Monastery Marani has a history that stretches back to the 8th century. The monastery produces white and red qvevri wines, as well as Chacha — traditional Georgian pomace brandy. In addition to a tasting in the wine cellar, you can visit the church and the small vineyard nearby that boasts over 100 grape varieties.
6. Chill out at the Bar in Rooms Hotel Kazbegi
Possibly the coolest bar in the country. Set amidst the Caucasus Mountains, this bar boasts an unbeatable view, trendy design and an impressive list of Georgian wines.
Madhvi Ramani writes articles, essays and fiction. Her work has been published by The New York Times, Washington Post, Asia Literary Review and others. She grew up in London and currently lives a thoroughly bohemian lifestyle in Berlin. Find out more at www.madhviramani.com or follow her on twitter @madhviramani.