21 October 2013

Georgian Wines - I Love You

Our hosts in Georgia signed us up for a company field trip with a bunch of great folks to visit a winery in Signagi. Part of our trip was a stop to the vineyard to help harvest grapes. Equipped with Swiss army knives and scissors KMac and I dived in.

Way more fun that harvesting blueberries. That was the thing we all did in the summer where I grew up. I did it once, for like half a day. Not fun. All the grapes we collected would accompany us to the winery we were visiting for stomping and processing.

Lunch was served in the vineyard. There was so much good food. Maybe it's good I don't like in Georgia. I can't even imagine how much I'd weigh if I were eating pork shashlik (pooork!!!!!), some sort of eggplant in yogurt awesomeness, cheeses, potatos, bread, and whatever else was on the table every day.

We drank wine from our host winery out of traditional clay bowls. They did not so much help with making the wine taste good...

After leaving the vineyard we drove the rest of the way to Signagi to the Pheasant's Tears winery. Georgia has a long, long history of producing wine and you can really make an amazing vacation exploring its wine country. Our only stop of this brief trip was Pheasant's Tears in Signagi but if you want you could spend a couple weeks visiting more. And it would be worth it because Georgian wine is a-freaking-mazing.

At Pheasant's Tears the grapes were thrown in a big trough and everyone of the trip took turns stomping the crap out of the grapes. The juice and pulp were collected and taken down to their cellar. Traditional Georgian wine is aged, not in oak or steel, but in large clay vats that are buried in the ground. So that's where we poured the grape juice.

The vat

We would head back to the winery later for a traditional supra but in the meantime KMac and I did a little exploring of the small town. Charming.

After a bit of exploring and a small rest we returned to Pheasant's Tears for a wine tasting and supra.

The garden at Pheasant's Tears

I cannot now recall how many of their wines we tried, six? Seven? The overwhelming favorite at our table was the very first, the Tsolikauri. I ended up buying three of those (one as a gift for our hosts and one went to my neighbor who was looking after my Sherlock).

Table favorite.
And now I wax poetic on Georgian wines...while more and more distributors in the States are carrying them (notably the liquor store next to Cork on 14th and a place in Georgetown where you can even get Pheasant's Tears) they are still pretty rare finds. Georgia is one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world and is likely even the birthplace of what we know to be wine today. Jennifer Walker wrote a good article about Georgian wines for The Culturist. While I'm more of a red than white person, my experiences with Georgian wines to date has me preferring their whites...but even more than that...the green.

In addition to the bottles that we bought in Signagi, KMac and I also bought some wines chosen at random in a Tbilisi shop. I ended up drinking all three of them this past week with a visiting friend who is my Georgian go-to expert. Our overwhelming favorite was the green. Yes, green. Apparently a green wine doesn't mean young, it means it's made out of Rkatsteli and Mtsvani grapes, which both translate as ‘green'.  I've been running around a lot lately and could really use a break but I'd jump back on a plane to Tbilisi in a heart beat to buy more of it!

Cheers again!

And of course we all had glasses of cha cha, the Georgian version of grappa. Eh. I'm not generally a grappa fan. It's better than ouzo or raki for sure since it's made from grapes (from the leavings of grapes gathered from other wineries actually) and doesn't have the awful anise taste of ouzo and raki...but still. Eh.

After the tasting we moved into the winery's restaurant for a supra. A supra is a traditional Georgian feast. An important part of Georgian culture, supras are held for both festive occasions, and after funerals. The owner, John, served as the Tamada, or toastmaster. According to wikipedia " A successful Tamada must possess great rhetorical skill and be able to consume a large amount of alcohol without showing signs of drunkenness." Which is true as a supra goes on until the last guest departs and toasts are said as long as guests are there.

There was so much amazing food. I love Georgian food. Love, love, love. I could not even keep count of how many open wine bottles made their way to the table during the evening. We were also especially honored to have Zadashe perform for us throughout the evening. Zadashe is a Georgian group that performs traditional dancing and polyphonic music. They were fantastic. KMac and I also bought two of their CDs.

We were some of the last to leave the supra that night. I wish I could have held out longer but we were so tired!

The next day we visited a nearby monastery and church where Saint Nino, possibly the most important saint in Georgian Orthodoxy, is buried. Saint Nino is credited with bringing Christianity to Georgia.

Georgia I miss you already! Have I mentioned that I am currently unemployed? If anyone in Georgia wants to hire me...!

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