I am lucky enough to have travelled some in my life, but some travels stick in my memory longer than others. I don’t even have to go back and look through my many photos, they are just there, under the skin. The trip to Georgia (the country), this June was definitely one of them. It just stays with me, I cannot let it go: images come back, smells return all of a sudden, landscapes flash by my eyes. The history of Georgia is fascinating. Traits of the earliest occupation of of present-day Georgia goes back to c. 1.8 million years ago, and the oldest evidence of humans anywhere in the world outside Africa is said to be found in this area. Not only is Georgia the assumed cradle of wine, the country is also a cultural melting pot of food cultures with traces from Caucasian, eastern European and Middle Eastern culinary traditions. Generous tables filled with small dishes remind slightly of meze, but still, this is a world of its own: fresh and grilled cheeses, salads, polenta and meat spiced up with wild herbs, chili, coriander, pomegranate, dill (to my Swedish joy), and much more. And the bread. The bread only reflects the diversity and cultural richness of this country. In Georgia, originally there was no one single word for bread, but around a hundred names for different types, all playing roles in special occasions such as child births, marriages or funerals.
Amber, not Orange wines
But now, to the main point: Georgian wines. Traces of wine have been found in qvevris, clay amphoras, from 6000 years BC. The traditional Georgian winemaking in qvevris was 2013 inserted in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. The best-known Georgian wine regions today are Kakheti, Kartli, Imereti, Racha-Lechkhumi, Kvemo Svaneti, Adjara and Abkhazia. Although a big part of the production today is industrial, many producers still make wine in the traditional way. What now often goes under the trendy definition of “natural wines” is for most Georgian people just ordinary wine making: the fermentation of grapes with no addition of yeast, sulphites or other additives. EVERYONE makes wine in Georgia. Even if just a small plot, everyone has a vineyard with a few vines. Making wine is nothing special, it is an inherent part of Georgian life style. It has not (yet) become an issue of fanciful wineries with expensive tastings, it is not about going to the right wine bar and showing off, rather wine is a part of the daily life. Now, of course times are changing, and the first wine bar in the Georgian capital of Tblisi, Vino Underground, founded by our highly knowledgeable Georgia guide John Wurdeman in 2012, shows signs of a new way of consuming wine for Georgians. Georgian wines will surely be, if not already, the major hype in the wine world in all trendy big cities within short.
Georgian wines are different and perhaps not that easy to get in the beginning. The typical Amber wines are made by a heavy maceration of the skins, seeds and even stems of white grapes, leading to a very rich, tannic and often resin-like flavor. One producer in Georgia strongly warned me to use the often heard name “Orange wine”, which according to him makes people think it is made of oranges, and thus not a real wine. And Amber wines are real wines, it doesn´t get anymore real than this. You just need to dismiss your idea of what a wine “should” taste like and be open to something new, because Georgian wines should not be compared with any others. And though the taste can be difficult, when having an Amber wine together with Georgian food it makes a lot of sense, they are ment to be together.
Drink like a Georgian
The Georgian people we met showed an amazing hospitality, but one warning goes out: during a tasting you have to accept ALL the wine offered (and it is a lot) and you have to finish ALL OF IT, in order not to be unpolite. What in my world has become a normal tool during wine tastings, the spit cup, is inexisting in Georgia. The saying: “drink like a Georgian”, which I had heard already before going there, got materialized during this trip. Somehow, I had thought it was a bit exaggerated and that I, being from the vodka-drinking belt in the north, should be able to handle it. The answer to my preassumptions is NO. Vodka belt or not, in this context I felt like a beginner. So, my advise is: don’t go to a Georgian wine tasting unless you are really thirsty.
A few months have passed and I still have Georgia on my mind. I just cannot forget it. The colorful food, the time-worn buildings with their underground energy, the mix of arabic, eastern European, even viking aesthetics, the friendly people, the post-sovjectic deserted hotels in the countryside. Walking the streets of the hot, busy, chaotic Tblisi and passing through the humid, mountainous countryside where qvevri makers prepare the newly made amphoras with boiling honey. Emerging my self into a hot sulphurbath, horseback riding in the wild nature of Signaghi, having newly caught freshwaterfish prepared over an open fire on a run-down inner yard. It is as if time stands still, and, at the same time, everything is vibrantely alive.
You don´t even have to like wine, there are so many reasons to go to Georgia that you will have no excuse not to.
Ps. When you go, Travelling roots are the people to contact.