Article by Nino Gugunishvili
Georgia boasts 8,000 years of winemaking tradition and is now referred to officially as the birthplace of wine, or the “cradle of wine.”
This news was officially confirmed by the findings of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of United States of America, (PNAS) in 2017, following research conducted by a team of international experts led by Patrick McGovern, an archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania,
The traditional Georgian winemaking method is all about Qvevri, that amphora-shaped clay vessel which is buried to its neck and in which wine is fermented at a steady temperature of 13-15°. Qvevri is on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. A little-known fact beyond Georgia’s borders is that, while in Kakheti, the biggest grape-growing region of the country, those vessels are called Qvevri, in Imereti region they are more commonly called “Churi.”
Moving from the vessel to the vine, the Where.ge team decided to compile a list of Georgian grape varieties to help you as you travel and explore the country; there are many varieties to discover, taste and savour across Georgia and these are some of the best-known, from over 500 grape varieties that are cultivated in the country.
Rkatsiteli – (რქაწითელი) is the major white grape variety in Georgia. It originally comes from Kakheti, but is also produced in the region of Kartli. According to winesingeorgia.com, the Rkatsiteli white grape variety is known to have existed as far back as the 1st century A.D.
“When vinified in the European style, Rkatsiteli offers subtle floral aromas with notes
of citrus, quince and apple. If vinified in Qvevri, the wine is typically more powerful,
moderately tannic, with crisp axidity,” (Georgian Wine and Tourism Guide, 2016,
2017). Rkatsiteli wine is best served with cheese, fish, fruits and vegetables.
Mtsvane Kakhuri (კახური მწვანე) meaning “green” from Kakheti, “imparts fresh white peach, floral, citrus and tropical aromas with a light mineral undertone. It is quite dark and will show more apricot and stone fruit character when vinified in Qvevri,” (Georgian Wine and Tourism Guide, 2016, 2017). Mtsvane Kakhuri is referred as the lightest and most aromatic table wine among the Kakhetian white grape varieties.
Goruli Mtsvane (გორული მწვანე)
Goruli Mtsvane is one of the best-known among the Georgian white grape varieties, and, as its name shows, it is predominantly found in Gori, Kartli region, although the Racha, Meskheti, and Imereti regions also cultivate it. With its unique spectrum of tones, Goruli Mtsvane variety introduces a vivid, lively taste, to make a wine that perfectly pairs with salads, fish and poultry.
“One of Georgia’s lighter-bodied wines, Goruli Mtsvane wine is best drunk when young and fresh, when it’s floral, lime and subtle honeyed notes are crisp and most vibrant,” (Georgian Wine and Tourism Guide, 2016, 2017).
Chinuri is originally from the Kartli region of Georgia, but is also grown in Kakheti’s Gurjaani and Telavi areas. Its name, according to various sources, comes from the word “Chini” or “Chinebuli” which means ‘excellent, very good, perfect’ in Georgian. “Chinuri wine has floral and herbal aromas, including hints of mint, pear and other yellow fruit,” (Georgian Wine and Tourism Guide, 2016, 2017).
Khikvi is often regarded as one of the oldest grape varieties in Georgia, coming from the Kakheti region. As some Georgian winemakers say, Khikhvi is an extremely interesting one as both dry and dessert wines can be produced from it. Khikvi has a balanced taste and great aging potential and its wines have floral notes of boxwood, wild flowers and yellow fruits.
Kisi, like Khikhvi, is among the rarer of Georgian white grape varieties coming from Kakheti. Its European-style wines having a more floral aroma, while Kisi fermented in Qvevri tends to have a “more apricot, mango, lime, orange and walnut character,” (Georgian Wine and Tourism Guide, 2016, 2017).
Kisi and Khikhvi wines both pair well with seafood, salads, goat cheese and steamed fish.
Tsolikouri comes from Georgia’s Imereti region. Pale yellow in color; it’s one of the major grape varieties to be found in Georgia. Tsolikouri wines produced in the European manner are said to have “subtle notes of yellow fruits, melon, mineral and a light floral lift,” (Georgian Wine and Tourism Guide, 2016, 2017). Tsolikoouri wine is wonderfully paired with cheese, vegetables, fruit and fish.
Saperavi is undoubtedly one of the most popular grape varieties in Georgia, producing a wine, deep red in color, which tends to be described as having “cherryish, smokey and spicy” aromas. “Regardless of how it is produced, this tenturier variety gives wines that are inky, often fully opaque, with aromas of dark berries, liqourice, grilled meat, tobacco, chocolate and spices,” (Georgian Wine and Tourism Guide, 2016, 2017).
The Aleksandrouli red grape variety comes from the Racha region of Georgia, and is a variety characterized with a good balance of alcohol and acidity, while the grapes are usually harvested when the level of sugar in grapes is 21-22%. Aleksandrouli is said to be best for table wine production due to its pomegranate taste.
The Tavkveri grape originated in Kartli but is also cultivated in Kakheti. Wine produced from it in both Georgian traditional Qvevri and European styles is often made into Rosé, sparkling, or dessert wine. Tavkveri in Georgian means “hammerhead,” named so for the shape of the grape itself.
Shavkapito is also from the region of Kartli, with wines produced from it boasting berries, vegetal and herbal notes.
“Light in color, high in acidity, it is great when used for rosé sparkling wines,” author Sarah May Grunwald writes in her ‘17 Grape Varieties to Look out in 2017’ article on Winelist.
Ojaleshi is among the oldest wine varieties in Georgia from the Samegrelo region of the country. Its name refers to the word “Ja” in Mengrelian dialect meaning ‘tree’ and “Oja - leshi” as the ‘grape wine growing on a tree.’ The other version of the story has the name coming from “bja” meaning ‘sun’ in Mengrelian, and referred to the vineyard, “ojaleshi” meaning ‘a sunny place.’ The variety has also been grown in the mountainous villages of the Guria region.
The wine produced from the Ojaleshi grape variety is usually semi-sweet to sweet, has a dark ruby color and fruity tones.
The Chkhaveri grape variety comes from the Adjara region, though Chkhaveri wines are also produced in Guria and Imereti.
“Be they still or sparkling, dry or semi-sweet, Chkhaveri wines are a vibrant pink, with fresh flavors of red berries, cherries, forest fruits and baking spices,” (Georgian Wine and Tourism Guide, 2016, 2017).
Usakhelouri comes from Lechkhumi, in the western part of Georgia. This grape variety, which translates in English to ‘a grape with no name,’ is used to produce genuinely semi-sweet table wines.