During the recent International Wine Tourism Conference in Tbilisi, Georgia, and the pre- and post-conference media tour, I became quite well acquainted with (not to mention a huge fan of) qvevri-made wines. A qvevri (pron. kveh-vree) is a clay vessel that is buried in the ground which can be of varying size, from a few litres to a few thousand litres, in which grapes are fermented into wine. Styles of qvevri-made wines vary just as much as European-style wines. Some are made with the intact grape clusters, others have been destemmed and crushed, some will have only a portion of whole berries, others only ferment the juice. Some of my favourite wines made in qvevri are referred to as “amber wines”, made with the white varietals as whole grapes, or a mix of grapes and juice (not just the juice pressed off, as most of us are familiar with here and elsewhere in the world for whites) which allows for up to 6 months of skin contact, and produces amazingly complex delicious amber-coloured wines: white wines with some tannic structure. It seemed to be an acquired taste for some, and others never acquired it, but I loved them from the start!
I had two amber favourites of the trip, one was the 2013 Mtsvane, made by Nikoloz Antadze from the Kakheti region. It spent 6 months on the skins, and had some Rkatsiteli stems added as well (they were riper than the Mtsvane stems were). The wine was pale orange with a watery rim. There was a hint of mushroom on the initial sniff, with some pepper and citrus in a complex nose. It was dry, with medium-plus acidity and medium-minus tannins. It was complex, elegant and well-balanced, with flavours of white pepper and citrus on the palate, and a long finish. The other wine was the 2005 Kakhetian Royal from Kindzmaruli Marani Winery. It is a blend of Rkatsiteli, Kisi, Mtsvane and Khikhvi grapes. It was a medium amber colour with dried fruit, fruitcake, prune and raisin on the nose. It was dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus tannins, flavours of raisins and dried apricots and a very long finish – delicious!
I was also introduced to many new varietal names, and only a few of them are easy to pronounce, although I did become more familiar with them as the days went on. I quite enjoyed many of the Georgian pronunciations, with rolling Rs and the guttural kh combination that sounds a bit like Scots, i.e. Loch. Some of the white varietals include Goruli Mtsvane, Kakhuri Mtsvane, Rkatsiteli, Kisi, Tsitska, Tsolikouri, Chinuri, Krakhuna and Khikhvi. The red lineup included Saperavi (similar to a Syrah, but a bit lighter-bodied), Shavkapito, Tavkveri and Otskhanuri Sapere. I think all in all I tried about 16 new varietals, although apparently the ‘Zigu’ wine at Shumi Winery was made with a field blend of 294 Georgian varietals, plus 94 European varietals. Then it was fortified with chacha (grappa) and brandy – delicious! Also, one blend at Pheasant’s Tears Winery, Tibaani, claimed to be made of 400 varietals – I wish I had the list for the Wine Century Club! I loved the vast majority of the wines I tasted in Georgia, and my particular favourites were always those that had been made in qvevri, rather than those that were made in a European style. I just wish more were available here in BC!