The Soviet era decimated the nation of Georgia’s wine industry, in nearly all respects—but it’s hard to halt an 8,000-year-old tradition. Many consider the nation, on the east coast of the Black Sea, the oldest wine-making nation in the world, based on regional archaeological discoveries of wine residues and grape seeds that date to 6,000 B.C. There’s a renaissance happening there, and it’s producing some of the world’s most unique wines.
Wine-making techniques have changed little through the centuries in this country that borders Russia, Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. Though most Georgian winemakers now utilize modern winemaking techniques, many continue to age their wines naturally in preindustrial qvevri—large, egg-shaped clay vessels that are buried underground. The simple process—brought to life memorably in the 2018 documentary Our Blood is Wine—essentially includes filling the vessels with pressed grapes, sealing, and submerging them in the ground for five to six months before bottling. The technique is listed as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Georgia’s mild climate and proximity to the Black Sea provide suitable grape growing conditions. Winters are mild and frost-free, summers are warm and sunny. Natural springs running from the Caucasian Mountains flow into the vineyard valleys. More than 500 varieties of indigenous grapes are grown here, though a mere 38 are cultivated for commercial winemaking. As with French practice, Georgian wines are named for their sourced district or region.
Important grape varietals include Saperavi, a Georgian red wine essential; the mountain slope-grown Ojaleshi; the high-quality Usakhelauri; and Mtsvane, another Georgian essential. Ilia Mzekalashvili, the head of Georgia’s Sun Wine and practitioner of both the qvevri method and European techniques, uses all of these varietals and more in his winemaking.
Sun Wine’s current five releases, available within the United States, are the perfect primer for learning the various flavor profiles of Georgia’s wine growing terroir:
- 2018 Sun Wine Tsinandali ($18)
This wine hails from the Telavi and Kvareli areas of Kakheti, where Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane (“young and green”) grapes produce a pale, white dry wine. Featuring a distinct licorice root aroma with a complex and crisp acidity unique to Georgian wines, this one is best paired with fish and cheese.
- 2018 Sun Wine Mtsvane ($18)
This wine exhibits a honeysuckle bouquet, leading to a pear, green apple, and citrus palate, and is reminiscent of a Riesling. The recommended pairing is chicken, seafood, and green salad.
- 2018 Saperavi ($19)
Saperavi (translation: “to give color”) is made with 100% Saperavi grapes and offers an immediate smoky, cherry bouquet that leads to a fabulous pomegranate flavor. Pair this wine with grilled steak or lamb.
- 2018 Mukuzani ($20)
Grown in the vineyards of Mukuzani, where Saperavi is typically aged in oak casks for about three years, this wine features a rich berry bouquet and slight oak notes. Any hearty vegetable dish, meat and cheese will pair well with this wine.
- 2018 Kindzmarauli ($20)
The more exotic version of a semi-sweet red wine is a Kindzmarauli, which surprises with its sweet pomegranate notes. This wine pairs well with a fudge brownie, cheese, or fruit.
“We are proud of these Georgian wines and believe they truly are indicative of the region and its delicious offerings,” says Mzekalashvili. “The 2018 Mukuzani, in particular, is a welcome alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon.”