Discover the Secret Birthplace of Wine
Georgia is generally considered the ‘cradle of wine’, as archaeologists have traced the world’s first known wine creation back to the people of the South Caucasus in 6,000BC. These early Georgians discovered grape juice could be turned into wine by burying it underground for the winter.
Georgians are rightly proud of their rich and historic winemaking culture, and as traditional methods enjoy a renaissance, the qvevri – an earthenware vessel used to store and age wine for thousands of years – is becoming the unofficial symbol of the country, found on everything from tea towels to t-shirts. Though only around three per cent of Georgia’s wines are made in these qvevri, they remain a romantic ideal that celebrates the country’s history.
History & Stories
According to Greek mythology, Jason and the Argonauts ventured into Georgia on their quest for the Golden Fleece but found wine first. As it is written, they were stunned by the sight of grapevines on the occasion of their arrival in Colchis. At the kings palace, they even discovered a well, which was flowing over with wine. It´s a small wonder, they kept on searching for the Fleece, instead of just enjoying what they already had discovered.
It is widely acknowledged, that the ancient Greek civilization introduced cultivation of grapes and the knowledge of winemaking to the Mediterranean region. But as the myth of Jason and the Argonauts suggests, the source of the Greek knowledge might lay in the Caucasian region, Georgia could actually be the cradle of winemaking.
Cradle or not, Georgia is home to one of the oldest winemaking traditions known to mankind. Tools, grape pits and amphorae (Qvevris)have been excavated in the valley of Alazani (Kakheti), which date back more than 4000 years. Close to the city of Vani, grape pips were found, which derive from the variety of Rkatsiteli, which is still largely cultivated today. All of this shows Georgia to be the country with the earliest proof of cultivation of Vitis Vinifera, the common grape vine.
Techniques & Traditions
Not only is the history of Georgian winemaking very long, moreover the ancient traditions and techniques survived. Even nowadays, the Georgian way of winemaking differs from Western European techniques in three ways:
1. When making white wines, usually skins and juice are separated first, then the juice is fermented, resulting in a crisp, fresh, fruity wine. In Georgia however many white wines (though not the major part) are fermented with the skins. As the skins hold extra flavours and the so-called tannins (astringent and bitter plant polyphenolic compound), the wine gets richer, more structured, deeper in colour and can ripen longer.
2. Fermentation and ripening is traditionally processed in amphora of clay, which are dug in the ground. This can be compared to the western European method of using wooden barrels (barriques) for ripening, but the result is different. Such Georgian Qvevri-wines have an earthy taste to them, complimenting the tannic structure and the fruitiness into an utmost unusual compound of flavours. (Check out the Qvevri – Wine of Tbilvino, it is inexpensive and really well done. On sale at Smart Supermarket).
3. If the before mentioned methods don´t suit your taste, maybe the Georgian semi-dry and semi-sweet wines will. There is a huge variety of white and red wines, so you have to go out there and try them to discover what you like best. Decent sweet wines are produced by not allowing the fermentation-process to fully convert the sugar of the grapes into alcohol. Of course there are many examples where the wine has been additionally sweetened after fermentation. Those are easy to spot. First of all, your palate will tell you, because the additional sugar sort of covers the fruitiness and structure of the wine, it will not taste refreshing, but will tire your palate. Secondly, your head will tell you, because of the hangover next morning. So it’s better spend two or three Lari more to be sure of quality.