White, red, sweet, sparkling and orange wines are made in Georgia’s diverse terrain. For a small country the climatic and topographic variation is huge – you can find a spot to grow almost anything in Georgia, one reason this country has been coveted by hungry and much larger neighbours throughout history. The flavour profile of many Georgian wines will be familiar to lovers of aromatic dry whites, and juicy fragrant reds.
Georgian white wine
The Caucasus Mountains dominate much of Georgia’s terrain, meaning that fresh, lively white wines – mostly from native varieties – are widely produced in cool vineyards at altitude. Alcohol levels are moderate, acidity naturally fresh, and the flavour profile including citrus, nutty, floral, herbal and delicate exotic fruit. If you enjoy the fragrant white wines of, for example, Austria, Alsace and Italy, you will certainly ‘get’ Georgian whites.
Georgian sparkling wine
Sparkling wines are made using both the ‘Classic’ (i.e., like Champagne) and ‘Tank’ (i.e., like Prosecco) methods. They are fresh, lively, fruity examples ranging from uncomplicated party fizz (and the Georgians have a lot of parties) to a growing number of more ambitious, aged examples.
Georgian red wine
Superb red wines are made in Georgia from warmer locations with continental climates. The hero red grape of Georgia is Saperavi, which produces deeply coloured, intense and surprisingly elegant reds in both fruity and oak-aged styles. What do they taste like? Think of the velvety texture of Malbec, with the fragrance of Syrah and the freshness of Sangiovese. If you enjoy Rhône, Italian or Argentine reds (another mountainous terroir), you will love Georgian reds.
And now for something completely different…
So far, so familiar. But this is a nation famous for its poets, painters, dancers, singers and fiercely creative spirit. Georgia has two very particular wine styles that are unique. They have emerged from intersections of Georgian terrain, national character and history.
Qvevri wine is a direct link to 8000 years of wine culture, and humanity’s love of making something delicious and symbolic, and drinking it with friends. Qvevri are large clay vessels – looking a little like a giant fat amphora – buried in the ground in cellars called Marani. Whole grapes and bunches are placed in the Qvevri and essentially left alone to ferment and clarify for weeks or months.
Qvevri are one of the earliest examples of wine technology and their use has been traced back to the earliest origins of wine. Georgia’s unbroken wine culture – and national obsession with wine – means that it is the heartland of Qvevri winemaking.
Qvevri are used by most wine producers across Georgia, and are particularly popular with organic and biodynamic producers who want to make wine with no or reduced intervention.
Georgian Qvevri red wines are not dissimilar to conventional red wines, albeit with a thicker texture and spicier, peppery, meaty fruit character.
White grapes fermented in Qvevri become ‘Orange’ or ‘Amber’ wine. The juice takes on the deep orange colour of the tannin and compounds of the skins, and intense and complex aromatics of walnut, mandarin, and dried herbs.
Georgian Orange wines feel like a red wine and smell like an exotic white. They can taste strange at first but are superb with food, and are growing in popularity across the world.
Off-dry reds made from late-picked Saperavi red grapes are a historic wine style of Georgia. Good examples combine fine tannic grip with exuberant cherry fruit and light, seductive sweetness. Kindzmarauli is the most famous village and appellation for this style. Georgians serve these sweet red wines lightly chilled, and drink them with richly spiced and grilled meats and mature cheeses.