Hi Wineaux Friends and welcome to my latest obsession: wines from the Republic of Georgia. Yep, that kind of obscure country that is smushed in between Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan and about the size of Maine. My obsession stems from this: Georgia is the actual birthplace of wine – going back to 6000 BC! It’s so freaking long ago I can’t even find a recognizable historical reference, but they were making wine before the Pharoahs made their mark in Egypt. And they’re still making wine and guess what? It’s freaking delicious and you want to try it!
I’d been curious about Georgian wine for a while, but the wines can be hard to find in the U.S. (not for long, mark my words). My curiosity hit a high while visiting friends in London in May, and they had a bottle of Mtsvane-Rkatsiteli blend in their fridge! What the what? Crack that baby open! It was crazy – I got honey, marshmallow, candied pineapple on the nose. On the palate, it was crisp and dry and mouthwatering. Game on – I had to find more Georgian wine!
Then, lo and behold, Income Tax, one of Chicago’s hot new restaurants in the Edgewater neighborhood, hosted cookbook author Naomi Duguid for a Persian dinner – paired with Georgian wines! I was like, “What?! Persian food, whatever, sure I like it, but GEORGIAN WINES? Sign me up!” Four wines were poured (three below; keep reading for the fourth!) I rate them with stars ♥ = I like it. ♥♥ = I really like it. ♥♥♥ = I love it. And ♥♥♥♥ = I love it so much I could marry it.
- ♥ Vartsikhe Marani Aladasturi 2015: The grape is Aladasturi and this was a lighter bodied red wine, slightly reminiscent of Pinot Noir but more rustic. Full disclosure: it was loaded with Brett, and I did not care for it. Brettanomyces is a bacteria that can get into wine, sometimes from old barrels. Tons of Bordeaux wines have it and sometimes winemakers even add a touch of it – which is fine, as it can add an earthiness, but too much of it and I’m out. It is redolent of fresh Band Aids (not even kidding – literally, if you stick your nose in and imagine the smell of a Band Aid … that is Brett). It can also smell like a barnyard – think hay and horse shit. Yep. But onward, because I have wine crushes on the next three!
- ♥♥♥ Vartsikhe Marani Tsolikouri 2016: Now we’re talkin’! This crisp white wine was beautiful – aromas of honey syrup, citrus fruits, cake frosting (in a good way, not a sweet way) and walnuts. With sexy, smooth tannins, this is one of the most unique and appealing wines I’ve had lately and I want more! It was paired with a very delicate lamb broth poured over chickpeas with Sun Gold tomatoes. Beautiful.
- ♥♥♥♥ Tchotiashvili Saperavi 2015: Beep beep! If you like Cabernet or Cabernet Franc, get on the Saperavi bus! This is the signature red grape of Georgia and mark my words, it is gonna be huge in the U.S. It was deep, dark red, sporting some serious blackberry and black plum notes, with a hint of black pepper spice and smooth tannins. It was paired with a lamb kebab and it was perfection. As the four hearts indicate – yep, I’d marry this wine.
- ♥♥♥ Tchotiashvili Rkatsiteli Amber 2013: This was a crazy white paired with dessert (a sponge cake situation with pistachios). Rkatsiteli is the signature white wine grape of Georgia and this one was aged on the skins, so had a lot of color and oddly, almost nothing on the nose. But then. You take a sip and you get a very dry, very crisp wine with notes of nuts and honey. I loved it.
Independent Spirits in Chicago carries the Tchotiashvili Saperavi and they will special-order the others if you like. It’s really fun to try these super Old World wines and it was awesome to have them expertly paired with a perfect dinner.
Wine Dork Note: One of the coolest things about Georgian wine is how they make them. They have these underground pot-bellied amphora (like vats) made of clay called qvevri, where the wine ferments and ages before bottling. Many winemakers still use these today, and they definitely characterize the wine – big tannins form in those qvevri, because winemakers often dump in whole clusters of grapes — seeds, stems, skins – everything and let natural yeasts ferment the wine. Cool! (Photo credit, to the right: Kelly Doss.)