Insider’s Guide to the South Caucasus: Georgia’s Wine Country

Insider’s Guide to the South Caucasus: Georgia’s Wine Country

The little South Caucasus country of Georgia is a gorgeous place, boasting fabulous food, music and mountains. Its warm Mediterranean climate, deep black soil, saw-toothed mountains and Black Sea coast combine to make Georgia a Garden of Eden, overflowing with wine and rich in culinary flair – everything you could wish for in a destination.

Georgia’s Kakheti region is famous for its wine, and the towns and wineries here are definitely worth a visit… and a wine-tasting:

Kakheti vineyard

Harvesting grapes in the Kakheti region

Kakheti – Georgia’s Wine CountryKakheti is Georgia’s wine country. And Georgia takes its wine seriously. Long ago, Georgians were sun worshippers and believed that the sun’s chosen plant was the grape vine. There’s archaeological evidence that people were making wine in this region 8,000 years ago: wine residue was scraped from an ancient earthenware vessel called a qvevri, used to ferment, age and store wine.

Even today, traditional Georgian winemakers still use this method. In 2013 UNESCO elected Georgia’s qvevri method of winemaking to its .

Georgian wine has been made in quevri for thousands of yearsPhoto: Mariana Noble

Georgian wine has been made in quevri for thousands of years
Photo: Mariana Noble

Imagine a drive through Napa Valley. Take away the traffic and the signs advertising roadside wineries, but keep the rows upon rows of grapevines marching up the slopes. Now add a herd of sheep crowding the road, accompanied by a mounted shepherd and his dogs. Add a full-grown pig lazily making its way from one house to the next in one of the little villages. Maybe add a dog or two sunning itself in the road, as men, women and kids step around it.

Georgian shepherds<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Georgian shepherds
Photo: Mariana Noble

Georgia's Kakheti region

Every home has a garden
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

In every village, every house has a garden, every garden has a grapevine, and almost every grapevine has its own personal winemaker who makes small batches for the family. Near the vines you can spot a walnut, apple or a persimmon tree. Chickens scratch for bugs among the tomato plants.

Nobody goes hungry in Kakheti.

Spices for sale at a Kakheti market<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Spices for sale at a Kakheti market – fenugreek, marigold petals and salt blends
Photo: Mariana Noble

Telavi – Napa’s Sister CityTelavi, the Kakheti region’s capital, has been around since the 1st century, when it was a stop on one of the trade routes from the Middle East to Europe. Today it hosts a sizeable market where you can pick up anything that you haven’t grown yourself. Interestingly, Telavi has been the sister city of Napa, California since 1987.

Grapevines and monastery<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Grapevines and monastery, icons of Georgia
Photo: Mariana Noble

In the countryside around the city, several old monasteries show the remnants of their winemaking histories, the potbellied ceramic vessels called quevri, which are  filled with macerated grapes, buried in the ground and left as the liquid ripens into wine in the traditional fashion.

At Alaverdi Monastery, you can sample natural wines that the Alaverdi monks make according to this ancient method. Typically, natural wines in eastern Georgia are aged with their stems and skins, making the colors deeper and the acidity gentler.


Signagi – Pheasant’s Tears WineryThe little walled town of Signagi overlooks the Alazani Valley. Its walls and towers were built of cobble and brick in the 18th century, by order of Erekle II, King of Kakheti and Kartli.

Here in this lovely town you can find , producing organic wines in the traditional fashion 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.

The winery has its own restaurant as well, where the brilliant Georgian wines are paired with nouveau-traditional dishes sourced from local gardens, vineyards and wild places. A visitor here can enter into the full Kakhetian experience, feasting, toasting and singing songs for hours, the way they like to do it all over Georgia, but especially in wine country, Kakheti.

Feasting and toasting at Pheasant's Tears Winery<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Feasting and toasting at Pheasant’s Tears Winery
Photo: Mariana Noble

Travel to Georgia with MIRHead to Georgia to enjoy unforgettable cuisine and natural wines on MIR’s tour, A Taste of Georgia. You can also experience the lush landscapes and warm hospitality of Georgia on these small group tours:

Or, you can opt to travel on your dates and at your pace on MIR’s independent private trips: Essential Georgia, Essential Georgia & Armenia or Essential Caucasus. MIR also specializes in custom, private tours of Georgia and the South Caucasus.

 

(Top photo: Georgian grape vines in the Kakheti region – Photo credit: Mariana Noble)

PUBLISHED: March 23, 2015

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