4th International Wine and Spirit Fair, Tbilisi.
Today, I went to the last day of a 3 day wine fair in the Capital, and it was great to find out which wines were awarded medals yesterday. Wine has always been a big part of my life, having been brought up on a vineyard in Hamstead Noreys in Royal Berkshire, England, and later taking my exams with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. In my family, it would be ok to be the worst person in the world, you would still be accepted, but to not like wine, would be a sin, and make you an outcast and would be a huge shame on the family! As a kid, I didn’t like the taste of wine, but when I moved to London, I was introduced to some amazing wines, became a wine buyer, and now I live and breathe wine. I tried Georgian wine prior to coming to Georgia, but I didn’t have the same opportunities over the winter, and its really only the past few months that I have started to make connections here within the wine industry and to try proper Georgian wine, not just the homemade stuff that is produced at mainly cha cha based supras. Bad wine in Georgia is terrible, and very unpleasant to drink, but good wine is a real honour and can be drunk in vast qualities like water!
I had already met most of the producers exhibiting at the fair in Tbilisi, and was also at a wine event near Turtle Lake a few weeks ago, so its great to start to be on personal terms with the producers and to receive invitations to visit them at their homes and vineyards over the summer. I am especially looking forward to visiting them during the wine festivities during the harvest in September and October, when communities come together to pick the grapes and to start the wine making process. At the moment, I am bordering on work and play, but its something I wish to pursue properly during my time in Georgia.
The Past and Future of Wine Production in Georgia?
It was fantastic to try so many amazing wines today, but also I felt very sad about the wine industry in Georgia. In some ways, it would be great to keep Georgian wine a secret, but I feel disapointed that Georgia is missing out on a market that it could easily grasp and become the master of. Georgian wine beats so many over priced new world wines, hands down. It is far superior in its quality, production, techniques, and would be really competitive in its price. But, many of the Producers are unable to attend even the International Wine Fair in London, because they are unable to get a visa for travel, and also the costs are relatively huge for Georgian people compared to how strong the pound is.
London International Wine and Spirit Fair (the first year I have not attended in over 6 years!)
At the International fair in London, you will meet producers from all around the world, but sadly, you will miss Georgia with its minimal contribution. Georgia is producing amazing wine, but it is unable to get to its market, because of a political issue or attitude towards Georgians. I know so many Georgians who would love to travel, to take a holiday to Italy, or wherever, they manage to raise the money, and jump through so many ridiculous hoops, only to be turned down and given no reason. Most Georgians do not want to leave Georgia, because they love their country, and are proud to be Georgians. Most who leave for work purposes, return after a few years because they want their children to grow up here, or they miss their family. It infuriates me that so many countries like Canada, for example, will refuse people because they are Georgian and think they will want to remain in Canada for good, even when they on want to have a holiday there or to attend a conference or whatever. These countries are so arrogant in their reasoning, and clearly have no understanding of Georgians. Yes, there is a minority who want to travel and are remaining illegally, but you get that from every country, and it is no reason to turn everyone down.
People in the outside world have such a poor impression of Georgia, and many think it is part of Russia, or that it is a war torn place, full of poverty. But, it makes me sad that the rest of the world is missing out on what Georgia has to offer them. Whether that is wine or in human warmth and kindness, its not Georgia’s loss, but the world’s loss, and some of these stereotypical attitudes really need to be overcome, and it is crazy in this day in age.
Georgia Just Inspires Me on a Daily Basis
Today was a very inspirational day for me, and I am thinking hard about how I can promote Georgian wine outside of Georgia, and to change people’s attitudes to Georgia in general and of Georgian people. It is something that I would like to focus on over the next year, and to put my energies into, especially since I still have contacts in the wine world outside of Georgia. So, today, I would like to dedicate my blog to the Wine Producers in Georgia, and I hope that in some small way, I can introduce other people to Georgia and all it has to offer.
In Georgia, wine and hospitality really go hand in hand, and so I feel that I am in a very privileged situation in my life here, particularly as a guest in Georgia. A little while ago, I was offered a summer post with ELKANA: an organization which “unites farmers from different regions of the country interested in the development of sustainable farming, as well as protection of the environment” (www.ruraltourism.ge). For the next few months, I will be working closely with them to help promote the wine industry, tourism, and sustainability in Georgia, and I am very excited about this opportunity, to put something back into Georgia, and also to help the people I met whilst living in the agricultural region of Samtskhe-Javakheti in south west Georgia. I will keep you posted over the next few months.
Highlights of the Wine and Spirit Fair: Phoka St.Nino Nunnery Cheeses
Ok, so its not wine related, but I highly recommend a visit to the Phoka St.Nino Nunnery in Ninotsminda. The nuns are lovely ladies, and they happen to make the most delicious cheese I have yet to taste in Georgia. And if you are ever visiting Georgia on a wine tour, then it would be a sad affair if you did not stop to visit them at their home for a glass of wine and a piece of cheese. I was impressed at how forward thinking they were, and about how progressive modern day nuns are – you can even find them on facebook (www.facebook.com/phokanunnerycheese)!!
The nunnery is located at a height of 2100m and the nunnery was dedicated to St Nino, because this is the place where St Nino is said to have entered Georgia, following the River Paravani until she reached Mtskheta just outside of Tbilisi. Perhaps one of the reasons why I like their cheese so much, is because it is not your typical, salty Georgian cheese, but is more on a par with European cheese. Which makes sense, when you learn that cheese making methods were brought here by Catholic Missionaries from Europe! The cheese is not for sale as yet, but on the 1st July they will be opening their first shop, where they will sell a range of approximately ten cheeses, dependant on season. They also bake delicious bread, and fruits, and their grapes are particularly delicious!
My Favourite Cheeses
I have three favourite cheeses, from their whole range, and I highly recommend these. Firstly, White Abuli, a soft cheese, which is made from fresh cow’s milk, and is seasoned with poppy seeds, before being conditioned for 1 or 2 months. It has a similar taste to cheddar cheese and chives, or a French soft cheese called Boursin, but is different in texture. It would go very well with some biscuits or crackers, or on fresh bread.
My Favourite of their cheeses, and to die for, is the Cheese Aged in Tree Leaves. It’s a hard cheese, also made from cow’s milk, but then wrapped in leaves and tied up with string, and left for 2-4months. Its not available all year round sadly, only in the summer and autumn. My favourite cheese in the world is Cambozola, and this cheese has a similar taste, and would go nicely with a tapas of meats, breads, fruits, and wines.
My other favourite of the day, was a soft cheese called Georgian Monastic Cheese in a Jar! Its most similar to a feta cheese, although still different. Its made from cow’s milk, cut into cubes, and then kept in brine and then in a mixture of olive oil, pepper, and cumin. Its also very nice with bread, and would go well with a spread of salads. But I suggest you try all of their range, to get an idea of what suits your palate!
Highlights of the Wine and Spirit Fair: Bagrationi Sparkling Wine
As part of my work in the UK, I was privileged to try almost every champagne and sparkling wine that the world had to offer, from entry level to prestige cuvee, and as part of my job I was sent around every champagne house in France to sample their wares. My favourite champagne is Ruinart Blanc De Blanc, from Champagne region in France, but it MUST be consumed with top quality chocolate cake for full effect. It’s a classic champagne from one of the oldest champagne houses in the world. If I am feeling a little more sophisticated, then I would go for the slightly drier Louis Roederer vintage champagne, with its beautifully fine and lingering bubbles. For more mainstream and known brands, then I remain a Veuve Cliquoet girl at heart, especially from a woman’s liberation point of view, because it was indeed Madame Cliquoet who modernised the bottling methods of champagne, invented the stoppers that we use today, and it is because of her that we are able to store and export sparkling wine. In fact, a case of Veuve Cliquoet champagne was recently found at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, still in tact, after the ship that was carrying was sunk and lost, but recently found by divers exploring the wreck. They brought the bottles to the surface and opened one of them, and it tasted fine, despite being on the sea bed for such a long time!! (http://en.rian.ru/world/20100718/159852063.html).
Georgian Sparkling Miracle
And so, it comes as a huge surprise to me, that Georgia produces some exceptional quality sparkling wine, and for far more reasonable prices than the rest of the world. I refuse to call them ‘champagne’ purely because champage only comes from champagne region in France, and its technically and legally wrong to call wine from any other place ‘Champagne’. But in talking about sparkling wine, I am referring to champagne, cava, prosecco, and so forth. The quality of sparkling wine in Georgia is just superb, and I would happily receive a bottle of Bagrationi over a bottle of Dom Perignon any day. I have tried almost every house of sparkling wine in Georgia, and the best by miles is still Bagrationi. The house was established in 1882, and for just 30GEL you can take a tour around the factory where they make and bottle it. The quality of their bubbles is exquisite, their whole range oozes quality, and all of their wines have a good finish, good colour, and aromatic nose. Yet their highest level of sparkling wine, ‘Bagrationi Finest’ (with an orange/yellow label), only retails for around 50GEL per bottle. They make a delicious rose sparkling, which I much prefer to a Laurent Perrier Rose, and my favourite of their range is their sparkling red.
My favourite sparkling red wine in the whole world, is still D’Arenberg from Australia, and made by my George Clooney of the wine world Chester Osborne. Its a much heavier, and tannin based beast than what Bagrationi is offering, but its just a different style. The D’Arenberg sparkling red is a full meal in itself, and it would be difficult to consume without food, or more than a glass or so. But the Bagrationi, you could enjoy on its own, and would easily be able to knock back a few bottles without realising. Its much more delicate and sophisticated, but full of fruit and flavour. Its cruel to compare them really, its like comparing Isadora Duncan as a dancer, with a Japanese sumo wrestler! They are both amazing in what they are designed to do, but they are just different. I am a massive fan of sparkling red wine, and it’s the thing I look forward to most with my Christmas turkey. It is hard to find sparkling red wine in the UK, and when you do find it, it is invariably expensive. But the Bagrationi is less than half the price of the new world sparkling wines, or cava’s.
Wine Lover’s Paradise
I don’t understand, how a country can produce such delicious and top quality wines, yet not be exporting it, as there is a massive niche out there. But, I wonder if it is also because of people’s stereotypes of Georgia?? Its hard to convince Brits to even drink Greek wine, yet Greece (like Georgia) is one of the oldest wine makers in the world. Are people seriously buying overpriced wine from France, or New Zealand, when they could be drinking far better sparkling wines for a fraction of the cost, just because of the snob factor, attitude or prejudice!!! Its certainly food for thought!
Highlights of the Wine and Spirit Fair: Alaverdi Monastery
I have already mentioned that religion and wine are closely intertwined in Georgia, and so my next wine recommendation should come as no surprise to you. Today, I had the great pleasure of meeting a monk from Alaverdi Monastery by the name of Teimuraz Glonti, who also happens to have a PhD and is the ‘Traditional Winemaking Consultant-Enologist’ of Alaverdi Monastery. And I highly recommend their Kakhuri Mtsvane wine.
I should also explain to you at this point, why Georgian wine is so different to the wines you will find in other countries of the world. In short, wine is usually made and is then kept in steel vats, or in wooden barrels to give it its taste, and in general, wine is not often left on its lees (yeast) or in contact with the grape skin, seeds, or stalks for too long. This is not the case in Georgia. Here, wine is made, and then stored in ceramic pots, which are buried under ground, and the wine is left in contact (macerates) within the skins, and with the stalks and seeds. The result is that the tannin comes not from the barrels, but from the stalks, skins, and seeds, and this means that Georgian wine has a lot of tannin, but it is a different intensity and flavour to regular tannins. When you drink Georgian wine, you should not be surprised if your mouth becomes dry and you find your teeth sticking to the inside of your lips! This is just because of the tannin. Also being kept in ceramic jars, under the ground, the wine has a much cleaner taste to it, it is much smoother, and less complicated or less layers to it in terms of taste. Instead, the wine has a much fruitier and pure taste, particularly as wine is drunk relatively young compared to French or Italian wine.
Over 500 Different Grape Varieties!
You may not realise it, but there are over 500 different grape varietals grown in the world, and in Georgia you can find about 425 of them still being grown within the 9wine making regions of Georgia. I suspect that the main reason for this, is that Georgia boasts a wide variety of terroir, from mountains, to coast, to sub tropical, and at different altitudes, and with different soil types and fertility. You will find grape vines growing EVERYWERE in Georgia, even in the streets of Tbilisi, as almost every family is involved in wine making some how, and you will find even small children being accustomed to drinking wine on a daily basis.
Highlights of the Wine and Spirit Fair: Pheasant’s Tears Vineyard
It was also a pleasure to meet today, for the first time, the producers from a vineyard in Khakheti called ‘Pheasant’s Tears’. They are a relatively new company, having established themselves in 2007, and they took their name from a Georgian folk tale which talked about Pheasant and how his tears were magical, and so the best thing a person could drink in the world would be the pheasant’s tears. Like most producers in Georgia, they are using organic and biodynamic methods. They do everything at the winery, so there is no need or impact from transporting the grapes anywhere, and they also harvest the grapes during the night time. My favourite of their wines was the saperavi, a red wine, and was especially impressed by their art work in labelling the bottles. You can find ou more about them here (www.pheasantstears.com).
Highlights of the Wine and Spirit Fair: And finally…
And finally, it was lovely today, to meet a group of foreigners and Georgians from Khakheti, who decided to go into business together and join up their neighbouring vines. They are ahead of the game, and are using all of their combined wisdom to promote their wine around the world, but with a special market in Norway, and Germany. Today they were presented with a silver medal for their wine, and I have to say, that their full range of wines were stunning, and obviously well made. They had two beautifully coloured amber wines, and an immense red which was almost purple because it was so young. Their 2008 and 2009 vintages were exceptionally good, and despite being young, their 2009 vintage has a lot to offer. I was also very impressed with the art work for their labels, which gave a real quirky and personal character to their brand and to their wines, and they certainly have something special to offer. If you are interested in their wines then you should contact Nika Bakhia by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Well, I think that pretty much sums up today’s events! I hope to bring you more news about wine soon…..
…..and in the meantime, you might be interested in reading some other volunteer blog’s about the ‘Teach and Learn Georgia’ programme: (http://teachandlearnwithgeorgia.wordpress.com).