The Georgian Surprise!
Written by Shachi Joshi
July 5, 2017
As a child, playing Find It If You Can, I would call out, ‘Georgia!’ and watch my friends running their fingers over the world map, looking at me quizzically. My favourite part was showing them that nestled between the Black Sea and Caucasian Range. A few weeks back, while at a wine tasting, our host spoke about the rare exquisiteness of Georgian Kakhetian wine. I wanted to know more, about this wine, this country and its culture. As I delved deeper, I discovered eight thousand year old wine in traditions handed down centuries. Archaeological evidence shows us that the Georgians were making wine as far back as the Stone Age. Wow!
Gaumorjos Georgia! (The toast is to Georgia!)
Wine is an integral part of Georgian rituals and celebrations; oral traditions and songs. In some Georgian homes, the cellar is the holiest place in the home. The wine consumed is produced by families for their own use.
Georgia has over 520 indigenous distinct varieties of grapes, not found anywhere else in the world! Their wine is made in a traditional way; after the harvest, the grapes are crushed and is fermented, including the skin and seeds. Grape harvesting is called ‘rtveli’. The grapes are cut and placed in a cylindrical shaped vessel ‘godori’, they are then pressed in a wooden sieve dish ‘satsnekheli’ and then Ch’ach’a (grape skins, stalks and pips) along with the grape must is poured into a kvevri. A kvevri is an enormous egg-shaped terracotta vessel used to make, age and store wine. It is buried in the earth, protected by the consistently cool temperatures of the ground. This produces its distinct flavor and aroma. After a time of fermentation the kvevri is sealed shut by the winemaker which allows all of the solid remains of the grapes to sink to the bottom. In a few months, the kvevri is opened again. The famous Kakhetian Kvevri Winemaking method, allows the grape must to be fermented, aged and stored in contact with its Ch’ach’a for 5-6 months. Traditional wine making in Georgia involves alcoholic fermentation using natural yeast without any chemical or technological intervention.
In Georgia, the most noted Red wine is ‘Saperavi’ and the popular Whites are ‘Mtsvane’ and ‘Rkatsiteli’. Georgian Red wines are discernibly stony and often incredibly tannic, while its white wines are thin but refreshingly citric. Other noted wines are Red – Napareuli, Tvishi, Kindzmarauli, Akhasheni, Kvareli, Mukuzani and White – Tsinandali, Gurjaani, Vazisubani, Manavi, Kardenakhi, Tibaani, Kakheti.
Georgian wine making is not only limited to traditional family run wineries or industrial vineyards, there are several monasteries that produce wines too. Most of the monasteries have their own wine cellar (Marani) or museums where they have preserved records of ancient wine making techniques. The sacramental wine that is used during religious ceremonies is called as ‘Zedashe’
Supra – The Traditional Georgian Feast
Local families who make their own wine, have drinking horns that are a cherished part of the traditional Georgian social and family life. Toasting is a very important ritual at a Georgian table. The Georgian toast-making tradition is one of the most flamboyant drinking rituals in the world. A toastmaster, or Tamada, is a mainstay at feasts called ‘Supra’. The Tamada draws upon a vast knowledge of toasts, folklore, songs and poetry about winemaking. Georgian toasts are like speeches or stories, in which the speaker says something personal about an important, emotional theme. There is also a lot of humour and warmth followed by singing and dancing and of course, the feast.
The Georgian cuisine is a unique adventure; from Khachapuri, the warm, gooey cheese-stuffed bread pie filled with cheese to KhinkaliDumplings, traditional Georgian dumpling with a variety of different fillings, mostly spiced meat, herbs and onions to Pkhali, a paste made from spinach, walnuts and garlic to Churchkhela, a sweet made from strings of walnuts dipped in tatara which is a confection made from boiled, pressed grape extract.
Georgia also has more than 250 types of cheese! It is so popular that there is one famous quote in Georgian “If you don’t have Kveli (cheese in Georgian) at home, then you are dead”. Thus, clearly the Supra is unimaginable without Kveli. Imeruli cheese from Georgia’s Imereti region is soft and tender; Guda cheese from the mountain region of eastern Georgia is rough and slightly sharp flavoured and is usually made from sheep or cow milk and is aged in sack made from sheep’s skin for weeks. This method of cheese making was invented by the shepherds in the mountains of Georgia.
Dance and Song
Dance and song are an integral part of Georgian culture. A Greek historian, Xenophon (approx. 3rd BC) has mentioned that some Georgian tribes went to war singing and dancing. Georgian folklores have preserved both the Pagan and Christian epochs. Georgia has a ‘dancing dialect’ which means that each region has its own special manner of dancing and singing. Songs such as Chakrulo are linked to the cult of the grapevine. The song, Mravaljamier which means ‘Forever More’ is sung at every Supra and festival and is about being happy since destiny has given us the opportunity to enjoy life. A polyphonic hymn written by King Demetre I of Georgia, who lived from 1097-1156 CE, dedicated to Mother Mary, compares her to vineyards:
“You are a vineyard newly blossomed
Kind and obedient, planted in Eden’s garden,
You have the scent of Paradise,
Blessed by God, there is no one better than you,
You are the sun shining bright…”
So, as I go in search of underground kvevris, exquisite wines and flamboyant supras, I invite you to join me, Ts’avedit Georgia (Let’s Go to Georgia)!