Georgian Wine: From Wine Discovery to Modern Tasting

georgian wineWhen you are wandering through the store as you get ready to have company over or have a special dinner you can get overwhelmed with the many wine choices that are available. How do you choose? What type of wine goes best with the meal you are making? Which region of the world produces the type of wine you are looking for?

These questions are made possible because of the one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world. Georgian wine, from the Southern Caucus region of Central Asia, is believed to be the source of the first cultivated grapevines and wine production dating back over 8,000 years. You can learn all you need to know about wine regions, flavors and pairing for any occasion and be able to make the best choice for your meal.

Georgian Wine History

Since at least 6,000 BC the people of the country of Georgia have been intentionally cultivating grapes in the region and making wine. It is currently thought that the discovery of wine came by a simple act of storing grape juices in earthen pots that were buried to withstand the winter in shallow pits. The grapes, sealed up and stored below ground as an act of preservation, fermented and produced the first wines of the region. Taking this discovery and molding it over time helped the people of Georgia produce more and more coveted wine varieties and wines ready to serve throughout the year.  While on average it is believed that wine was left for around six months, this technique also introduced the aging process as some sealed pots were left buried for many years, producing different flavors and complexities that could lead to more experimentation.

The technique of storing grapes in the sealed clay vessels underground for months to mature gives Georgian wines a particularly distinctive earthy flavor unlike wines that are stored above ground in oak barrels or other fermenting procedures. This unique option for storage has been recognized by UNESCO as a protected cultural heritage and continues to this day as some winemakers and families still have buried clay storage containers that they pull their wonderful wine right out of when it is ready to drink.

Beyond the discovery of what is now a popular and lucrative beverage, the people of Georgia have associated themselves with wine and with grapes and grape leaves as a distinct and important part of their culture and national identity. Artifacts that have been discovered in the region from over 3000 years ago were found to have imprints of vines, grape clusters, and grape leaves. The artist depictions and sculptures that have been found of important leaders and individuals in the region often show them with wine pitchers and wine cups. The ancient tombs that have been found include ornamented wine cups inside of them meaning the prominent people of the day were buried with their goblets and wine so they did not go without in the afterlife!  Today, a statue of the Mother of Georgia shows her holding a sword in one hand and clay bowl of wine in other – a warning for enemies and an offering for guests in her country.

Throughout the history of Georgia, wine has remained an important feature in their cultural landscape. As Christianity moved into the region around the fourth century A.D., the focus on wine became even more significant with the stories of Christ turning water into wine and the possibility that Saint Nino bore a cross made of vine wood, making the symbolism of the religion in the country more accessible.

Production of Georgian wine in the 1980’s increased sharply due to the preference for the taste on the Soviet market. In 1985 the number of acres dedicated to wine production in the country more than doubled as the country was producing 881,000 tons of grapes a year. It wasn’t until the anti-alcohol campaigns of Mikhail Gorbachev and a potentially politically induced ban on Georgian wines entering Russia that production slowed and vineyards were cut off. Modern measures from the Minister of Agriculture indicate that Georgia still produces 130,000 tons or more of grapes a year which is around 14 million bottles, but questions still arise over which wines crossing from Georgia into nearby countries are authentic Georgian wines and which are mislabeled fraudulent wines masquerading as Georgian wines.

Types of Wines

Georgia produces both white and red wines that are becoming more and more popular in the European market as they gain notoriety and popularity. They have yet to make a significant entrance into the international wine marketplace, but it is possible that they will. Georgia’s semi-sweet varieties of wine are the most popular. International wine competitions have awarded several gold and silver medals to the semi-sweet wines of Georgia on multiple occasions.  While there are over 500 types of grapes growing throughout the wine regions of Georgia, which is significant as there are just over 3,000 known in the world. For production, there are 38 varieties of grapes used in commercial wine making in the region and Georgian wines are almost always a blend of grapes, which is similar to French wines like a Bordeaux or Burgundy.

Wine Education

Georgian wines are traditionally fermented and served in clay and alongside local meats, fruits and vegetables.  The pairing of any wine from any region with food is a craft you can learn and have a lot of fun experiencing. You can show your friends and family how to perfectly pair wines with any meal and for any occasion, providing a thoughtful and delicious opportunity for you and your guests to connect.

The world of wine is an amazing place to explore and there is a lot to know about grapes, tastings and discovering what you like. One of the best ways to learn these wine tips and techniques is to be taught by a professional while you are trying the exact same flavors they are talking about. This way you can learn about grape varieties and flavors from different regions while sampling them yourself and developing your taste buds to identify what is influencing the white and red wines you love. For example, do you like a bold, dry red wine with hints of cherry and tobacco? Or a delicate white of oak and vanilla? The only way to find out is to try wines of these flavors and learn what these tasting notes mean for your wine. Since everyone’s taste buds are different, you may find you are able to pick up on different subtleties than other people are, but identifying what the distinct flavors are and what regions produce what types of wine will help you enjoy and discover the ever interesting world of wine. For instance, if you know a lot about blends used in California winemaking you can identify new and interesting blends and help your friends and family discover amazing wines for themselves.

Whether you are trying a rare Georgian wine, or picking a wine at the table of your favorite restaurant, with this knowledge you will know what to look for at the store for your home-cooked meal as well as how to order wine from a restaurant with confidence. From the basics of wine knowledge you can move to understand the major red and white wines of the world, how to identify aromas and flavors, how to properly store wine and the secrets of winemakers and be on your way to becoming a wine connoisseur!