Georgian wine – For those who love the Caucasus

Western Europe is widely regarded as the centre of the wine universe but none of the nations there are actually its spiritual home. (Much as the French would love to labour the point.)

For that, you’d have to travel east to the other side of the Mediterranean, an area few people are likely to associate with wine these days, perhaps because the Soviet era all but wiped out commerce with these countries during the Cold War. Or maybe because too many people had bad experiences with dodgy Bulgarian wine in university.

But Georgia is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world; viticulture in the South Caucasus dates to between 9,000 and 7,000 years BC.

Despite this, not much has made it to the UK’s shores over the years. But this is changing. In fact, there is an entire wine society dedicated to Georgian wine, if you’ll believe it.

While the options aren’t quite as wide-ranging as those from the big wine markets, there are enough bottles available in the UK to satisfy anyone’s curiosity.

For a true experience of what Georgia has to offer – one that doesn’t cause you to black out and wake up in a bath tub full of ice the next morning with a suspicious scar where you kidney ought to be – opting for a wine made from the saperavi grape is a good start.

Indigenous to Georgia, this grape’s name translates to “paint dye” in English – which is to say if you spill any of it on your crisp, white jeans, count on never wearing them in public again (but you wouldn’t wear crisp, white jeans anyway, unless you think you belong on Made in Chelsea).

Saperavi produces full-bodied, dark wines with lots of fruit and acidity. Often having plummy flavours, this is a grape that can be made into wines that have a lot of longevity in the cellar.

Examples of these wines are limited on the high street but available. Then there is the Georgian Wine Society. Based in Oxford, the website lists 13 reds, nine whites and one rosé for those people out there who aren’t afraid to admit they love the pale pink stuff (ahem, guest blogger Sara Benwell). Wines are sold either by the half or full case.

Wines to try:

Tbilvino Saperavi 2010 (£9.99, Laithwaites or £11.49 at the Georgian Wine Society)
This is a wine I recently bought to share with a friend during a time when I wanted to try something completely different and was pleasantly surprised. Showing a deep purple colour, the wine is loaded with dark fruits, blackberries, cherries and plums and, while having medium acidity and tannins on the palate, is not short of fruit either. There is also a spicy edge to the wine in the way a Rhone syrah might.

I wasn’t sure what my friend would make of it, but after one sip he turned to me and said, “Wow, that’s actually very nice.” That’s about the extent of his tasting notes, unfortunately.

Orovela Saperavi 2004, (£15.19, Waitrose Wine Direct)
Another full-bodied wine with blackberries, cherries, tobacco and chocolate aromas, there is some vanilla in here from oak treatment and rounded tannins.

This is an edited version of a blog that also appeared in Ella Mag as part of my wine of the week series.

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