Cheers! Wines of the South Caucasus

Cheers! Wines of the South Caucasus

Gaumarjos! 
Cheers!

Fine wines flow freely all over the South Caucasus. Georgia – a fabulously beautiful country that claims to be the place where the wine grape originated – stands out with its long and pleasant tradition of viniculture (winemaking) which leads, of course, to the pleasure of wine-drinking.

Subtle Signs of GrapevinesThe signs of grapevines throughout Georgia are pervasive. Georgians originally were sun worshippers, believing the sun’s chosen plant was the grape vine. St. Nino, who brought Christianity to Georgia, was said to have made a cross of grape vines bound together with her hair, symbolizing the sun’s rays. The winding characters of the Georgian alphabet resemble the trailing growth of the vine, and this motif is found in Georgian architecture throughout the country.

Visitors can sample wines from grapes grown in these vineyards of Georgia's Alaverdi Monastery <br>Photo credit: John Wurdeman

Visitors can sample wines from grapes grown in these vineyards of Georgia’s Alaverdi Monastery
Photo credit: John Wurdeman

Georgia’s Fine Wine CountryGeorgia’s wine country, the Kakheti region, is the most important wine producing area of the region. Here you can take a tour of the Pheasant’s Tears Winery, producing organic wines from varietal grapes that grow well in the Kakhetian micro-region. The name of the winery comes from a Georgian legend in which the hero claims that it takes a “wine beyond measure” to make a pheasant cry tears of joy.

An evening at the Pheasant's Tears restaurant in Signagi, Georgia <br>Photo credit: John Wurdeman

An evening at the Pheasant’s Tears restaurant in Signagi, Georgia
Photo credit: John Wurdeman

Ancient methods are used to produce artisanal organic wines at Pheasant's Tears Winery <br>Photo credit: Annie Lucas

Ancient methods are used to produce artisanal organic wines at Pheasant’s Tears Winery
Photo credit: Annie Lucas

At Pheasant’s Tears, you can sample wines in the 250-year-old tasting hall and travel down to the village of Tibaani to see where the grapes are grown. You can also visit the cellars where the wines are macerated in huge ceramic vessels lined with beeswax. Called qvevri, these clay jugs have been used for winemaking for over 6,000 years in this part of the world.

In the Telavi region, a historic winery still produces the dry white Tsinandali wine. Tsinandali Village is best known for the family estate of Alexander Chavchavadze. A 19th century Georgian aristocrat and poet, Chavchavadze kept an estate that was a center of the intellectual life of the time. Here he and his father founded the first and foremost winery in the country.

Want to know more about Georgia’s bounty of wine and wine-tastings?
Insider’s Guide to Georgia’s Wine Country

 

An Alaverdi winemaker using an ancient <i>qvevri</i> method of making Georgian wines <br>Photo credit: John Wurdeman

An Alaverdi winemaker using an ancient qvevri to make Georgian wines
Photo credit: John Wurdeman

Making Wine in AzerbaijanIn Azerbaijan, Shemakha was a renowned grape growing and winemaking district through most of its history. Present-day Shemakha is known not only for its sweet wines but also for its finely woven carpets.

Spirits of ArmeniaArmenia’s capital, Yerevan, boasts the Yerevan Brandy Factory. From 1953 until 1991, Yerevan Brandy Factory was the sole brandy distillery in all of Armenia. Although that has changed (and the original complex has split into the Yerevan Brandy Factory and the Yerevan Wine Factory), the factory still produces brandy to the rigid national standards that so impressed Winston Churchill that he allegedly ordered 110 bottles per year. Visitors can take in the onsite museum or sample some of the wares at the tasting bar.

Sampling Armenian wines at the tasting bar in Yerevan's Wine Factory<br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Sampling Armenian wines at the tasting bar in Yerevan’s Wine Factory
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

The South Caucasus WayIn Georgia, say, “Gaumarjos!” In Azerbaijan, “Sağol!” In Armenia, “Genatzt!” All three are the South Caucasus way to say, “Cheers!”

Travel to the South Caucasus with MIRYou can learn more about wines – and taste them for yourself – on MIR tours that travel to the South Caucasus. You can also book a custom private journey.

 

(Top photo: Natural amber Georgian wines. Credit: Douglas Grimes)

PUBLISHED: August 4, 2014

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