Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Georgian Wine: All About Context (Part 2)

"Present-day Georgia may occupy the land where the vine itself was first domesticated; it’s recently surrendered to archaeological attention the world’s earliest pure-wine residues, dating back some 8,000 years. It has an extraordinary patrimony of indigenous varieties, and unique wine-making techniques, too, unchanged for a millennium or more; these have proved seductively interesting for the natural wine movement worldwide, and for those who perceive modern winemaking as an impasse."
--Andrew Jefford, Decanter Magazine

In Georgian Wine: All About Context (Part 1), I discussed attending a recent seminar, titled "Georgia in Context," presided over by Alice Feiring, a Georgian wine expert and proponent of natural wines, and Taylor Parsons, a sommelier from Los Angeles. In that previous article, I related the essential information about Georgian wine that was presented at the seminar. Accompanying this presentation, we also were led through a tasting of four different Georgian wine flights, totaling about 14 wines, and I now want to talk about those wines.

Nearly all of the wines we sampled would be considered "natural wines," which shouldn't be a surprise as Alice Feiring was one of the presenters. In general, these wines were produced in a traditional manner, using indigenous varieties (often from organic vineyards), stem & skin maceration, fermentation and/or aging in qvevri, natural yeasts, and no filtration or fining. These producers also tended to be small operations, making under 3000 cases annually.

In general, I found these wines to be some of the "cleanest" natural wines I've tasted, lacking the "funkiness" that turns off some people. The white wines certainly are more savory than fruity and I love the transformation that occurs with the extended skin contact. The acidity tends to be high in many of these wines, making them excellent for food pairings as well as aging. I also enjoy the diversity of the red wines, especially Saperavi, which can be made into so many different styles.  Although these qvevri wines only comprise about 3% of the total production in Georgia, they are still important and worthy of attention.

We were supposed to start our tasting with a Georgian Pétillant Naturel (Pét-Nat), a sparkling wine made in the méthode ancestral, but it didn't arrive in time. There are about seven producers in Georgia currently making Pét-Nat, usually with the Chinuri grape. Instead, we sampled the 2015 Orgo Mtsvane Brut Blanc de Blanc, sourced from 50 year old vines. The base wine is fermented in qvevri, but without skin contact, and is aged for about two years in the bottles. It is made more in an international style, and I found it to be crisp and dry, fresh and savory, and a pleasant drink.

Our First Flight was a comparison of the white wines of West and East, two wines from Imereti and two from Kakheti. The 2016 Makaridze Tsolikouri is produced by a winery, founded in 2009, which is located in Imereti. Tsolikouri is the primary white grape of the West. This is a natural wine, with a fine amber color, crisp acidity, a delicious savoriness with intriguing spice notes. The 2016 Vino Martville Tsolikouri-Krakhuna, also from Imereti, is a blend of two white grapes and also is a natural wine. It was a bit more cloudy, very aromatic, and with high acidity and nice complexity.

Representing the East, the first wine was the 2014 Okro’s Wines Rkatsiteli, from Kakheti, and it too is a natural wine, fermenting in qvevri for about six months. With a darker amber color, this wine was impressive, with intense aromatics and a complex melange of flavors. Powerful spice notes, high acidity, salted almonds, dried fruit, and more. This is a wine to slowly savor, enjoying its subtle nuances as it sits in your glass over time. Highly recommended. The 2013 Cradle of Wine Rkatsiteli Blend ‘Gogi’s Wine’ is also a natural wine from Kakheti that is macerated in the qvevri for about six months and is then aged for another three years in qvevri. It too was interesting and delicious, though maybe a bit less complex that the Okro.

Our Second Flight was named Other Stars, meant to showcase some of the other indigenous white grapes of Georgia. The 2016 Archil Guniava Wine Cellar Krakhuna, another natural wine, is from Imereti, made from the Krakhuna grape. It was aromatic and fruity, with crisp acidity, spice notes and was very approachable. This would be a good choice to introduce a newcomer to the wines of Georgia. The 2015 Tchotiashvili Mtsvane, a natural wine from Kakheti, is made from the Mtsvane grape. I found this wine to be aromatic and spicy, herbal and savory, and quite tasty. There were some subtle stone fruit flavors that provided a nice depth to the wine. Highly recommended.

The 2015 Do-Re-Mi Kisi, a natural wine from Kakheti, is made from the Kisi grape. It possessed high acidity and was more tannic, accented by floral and spice notes. The 2016 Orgo Kisi Old Vines, a natural wine from Kakheti, is also made from the Kisi grape. Some of the old vines extend back to 1930. This wine was also acidic and tannic, with floral and spices notes, as well as the taste of ripe peaches. It was more complex and concentrated than the other Kisi and I really enjoyed its taste. Highly recommended.

The Third Flight, titled Modern Approaches, and presented three Saperavi wines, the primary red grape of the East. Saperavi grapes were once used to color yarn and silk dyes, and now can be used to produce a wide range of wine styles. Saperavi is one of the few red grapes with both high acid and high tannins, like Nebbiolo and Cabernet Sauvignon, making it excellent for aging. The 2015 Doqi Saperavi was light and fresh, with mild tannins, high acidity, and plenty of red and black fruit flavors. Very approachable, and a wine that could pair well with burgers to pizza.

The 2016 Chubini Saperavi, another natural wine, was also very fruity and soft, with a touch more tannins than the Doqi, but just as tasty and easy drinking. It was said this wine was uncommonly fruity for a qvevri wine. The 2014 Lukasi Saperavi was made in a more international style, being aged for about 12 months in French oak. Modeled after Napa Cabernet, this wine was pleasant but not impressive. Personally, I'm not looking for Georgian wines that mimic California wines.

The Final Flight, titled Indigenous Reds, presented three more wines, two made from Saperavi and one from a different red grape. The 2015 Gotsa Saperavi Rosé, from Kartli, is a natural wine and their vineyards should soon be certified Biodynamic. It was more of a light red color, rather than a pale pink, and was dry and crisp, with subtle red fruit flavors and a touch of earthiness. Very interesting and delicious, this would be pleasant this summer while you grill outside. The 2014 Shalauri Saperavi, another natural wine from Kakheti, was a bigger wine, yet still elegant and not overly tannic. There were more black fruit flavors, underlying spice notes, and a touch of savoriness. Absolutely delicious and highly recommended. This is a wine for hearty foods, like grilled meats, and something that would appeal to Cabernet lovers.

The 2015 Vartsikhe Otskhanuri Sapere, a natural wine from Imereti, is made from the Otskhanuri Sapere grape, a major one on the East and not related to Saperavi, despite the similarity in its name. It is said to be more akin to Cabernet Franc, and I enjoyed this dark and flavorful wine, with plenty of red and black fruits, mineral notes, hints of spice and a lengthy finish. Also highly recommended.

Once again, I'm impressed by the wines of Georgia. If you're not drinking Georgian wines yet, then you need to expand your vinous horizons and sample the bounty of this fine country. With over 500 indigenous grapes, 8000 years of wine-making, and some fascinating methods of wine production, you should fine plenty of interest in Georgian wines.

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