Gaumarjos! Georgia, as mentioned in these pages recently, has a wine history that dates back to ancient times. The tamada, or toastmaster, has long played an integral role in the ritual of wine drinking. A tamada is similar to a master of ceremonies, and his job is to introduce each toast during feasts and other celebrations.
A bronze statue of a tamada from the 7th century BC was discovered and its replica now sits proudly in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, as a symbol of both the past and present. In modern Georgia, both the tamada and the ancient art of wine production using qvevri (clay pots) continues. For wine lovers it is an opportunity to take a sip of the past.
Cheers, or, as they say in Georgia, gaumarjos!
Saperavi is one of the best known varieties of red grapes closely identified with Georgia. It is characterised by an intense deep red colour, high acidity and firm tannins. Think of it like a cabernet sauvignon, with the warm fruit-forward juicy fruit of a grenache.
Shavkapito, a rare red variety, was recently rediscovered and saved from extinction. There are about 10 hectares in production in the Kartli region of eastern Georgia. According to master of wine Jancis Robinson, shavkapito produces "red-fruited wine with a smoky flavour, even without the influence of oak".
Kakheti, in the eastern part of the country, is responsible for about three quarters of Georgia's wine production. It has a continental climate, with hot, dry summers and bitterly cold winters. Vineyards are framed by the imposing Caucasus mountains in the north. During the summer months a cool breeze blows through, moderating the high temperatures and helping the grapes maintain acidity.
Badagoni Alaverdi Tradition Red 2007
Winemaking has been undertaken in monasteries since ancient times and at the Alaverdi Monastery the wines are still made by monks. They consider wine to be a gift from God and prayers are said when the grapes are pressed at the beginning of the winemaking process and again at the end, with the opening of the qvevri.
Black cherry, savoury, meaty, oxidative notes. Full bodied and mellow with ripe fruits. Showing maturity and ready to drink. HK$760
Pheasant's Tears Shavkapito, Kartli 2010
There are only two producers making wines from the shavkapito grape. Their produce is made with minimal intervention from the vineyard to the cellar. Made in the qvevri with no oak ageing, this is as natural as wines come.
Sour cherry, some earthy notes, licorice, wild sage, tea leaves. Medium body with high acidity, integrated tannins and finishing fairly long. A very comfortable wine to drink with moderate alcohol levels. HK$330
Teleda (Orgo) Saperavi 2007
Owner Temuri Dakishvili is a fourth-generation winemaker. Having trained in Germany, Dakishvili now runs the family-owned 2.4-hectare vineyard. His wines are made in qvevri with minimal intervention.
Fermentation starts naturally with ambient yeast. The grapes are macerated with skins, seeds and stems for 14 to 18 days in clay qvevri. Skins and solids are then removed and the wine is left to mature for another six months.
Rich ripe black currants, plummy, meaty, savoury notes. Full body, sweet ripe black fruit, well-integrated tannins and finishing long. HK$420
The wines are available from Ghvino Trading ghvino.com.hk