|Wines from Republic of Georgia blend modern, traditional styles|
|July 27, 2010|
THE PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Drinking wine can bring marvelous surprises, even for enthusiasts who have enjoyed trying new wines for more years than they care to admit. A recent tasting of terrific Republic of Georgia wines, including some now available in Pennsylvania, provided a perfect illustration.
A diverse group of Pittsburghers enjoyed the wines as part of a reception where Batu Kutelia, Georgia's ambassador to the United States, discussed eclectic commercial, educational and cultural topics. As grateful guests learned, no Georgian social gathering could be complete without poetic toasts presented with wines and tasty morsels aplenty.
"Saperavi is my favorite wine without doubt," said Kutelia, the youthful, polyglot Ambassador.
Which begs the question: What is Saperavi?
The deeply colored, red-skinned Saperavi grape plays a prominent role amidst the mind boggling 500-plus varieties cultivated in Georgia. This awesome legacy dates back to 6000 BC, prompting the justly proud Georgians to dub their culture the "cradle of wine civilization."
The region's deep wine roots arise from manifest blessings in terroir. And terroir always begins with geography.
Georgia sits at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, so the Greater Caucasus Mountains divide the country from Russia in the North. The Lesser Caucasus Mountains separate the country from Turkey and Armenia in South. The Black Sea lies immediately to the West.
Generally warm, humid conditions prevail near the sea, while more arid conditions predominate in Georgia's eastern region. But numerous microclimates interspersing both regions support the diverse grape varieties.
In addition, cultural and political influences have played critical roles in shaping Georgia's unique terroir.
For millennia, small, independent farmers preserved Georgia's winemaking traditions. Crushing hand-picked grapes underfoot avoided transferring harsh tannins. The resulting juice drained into cone-shaped, clay urns -- the qvevri -- buried in the earth for cool fermentation.
With initial fermentation completed, ripe stems were returned to the urns which were then sealed tight for secondary, malolactic fermentation. The final wines -- white and red -- attained unique fruity intensity, earthiness and robust, yet supple tannins much appreciated at traditional peasant feasts called Supra.
According to Mamuka Tsereteli, an American University professor who imports Georgian wines, traditional winemaking still exists widely on a non-commercial basis. But more modern techniques also exist as a legacy of the Soviet Union's political domination until 1991.
During the Soviet period, almost all commercially produced Georgian wine was shipped to Russia. In fact, until the Russian imposed embargo in 2006, Tsereteli says, Georgia's commercial wineries sold millions of liters annually with quantity prevailing over quality.
With Russian markets now no longer a primary option, Georgia's producers must export to Western markets. This trend, Tsereteli says, has been a blessing.
"The quality of commercial wines has rapidly improved as Georgia has been forced to export," he says. And much to Ambassador Kutelia's pleasure, export markets have embraced both modern-style wines and hand-crafted traditional Georgian wines.
Try the following:
2007 Teliani Valley Tsolikouri, Lechkhumi, Georgia (Specialty 22819; $10.99): Teliani Valley boasts a modern winery funded, in part, by an investment by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Using indigenous Tsolikouri grapes grown in the northwestern Lechkhumi region, Teliani's winemakers use stainless-steel fermentation to feature fragrant grapefruit and lime aromas with light herbal notes. The modern approach also highlights crisp, clean citrus and pear flavors with tasty mineral notes nicely balancing a round, yet dry finish. Try it with sauteed chicken and mushrooms. Highly recommended.
2007 Teliani Valley Kindzmaruali, Kakheti, Georgia (Specialty 14122; $15.49): Made in the modern style with 100-percent Saperavi grapes harvested late in the eastern Kakheti region, the wine exudes intense, ripe black berry and violet aromas. Ripe blackberry and plum flavors frame the soft, yet well balanced and slightly sweet finish. Sip it with either hard cheese and walnuts or sweet dessert cakes. Highly recommended.
2008 Pheasant's Tears Saperavi "Black Wine," Kakheti, Georgia (available at Potomac Wines and Spirits, Washingon, D.C.; 202-333-2847; $18.99) Made completely in qvevri, this authentic style wine offers impenetrable "black" color and untamed black fruit, smoked game, and tar aromas roaring from the glass. Intense, taught fruit hits the palate with ball peen power countered by mild tannins and refreshing acidity. Try it with roasted lamb. Highly recommended.
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