George, a dragon and a terracotta Qvevri

George, a dragon and a terracotta Qvevri

Published by Francis Elms on 3rd May 2023

Who do you go to if you need a dragon slaying?

It's not a question asked very often these days, but, in the 4th century, according to legend, George (who was from Turkey) was your man for the job.

Did you know that England wasn't the only country to have St. George as patron saint?

Yes, Georgia, the tiny ex Soviet republic bordering the Black Sea in the west, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan to the south and Russia to the north, has a love affair so great with George that they celebrate the saint on two days each year!

May 6th and November 23rd are major feast days in the country and the local wines are much favoured for drinking on these special occasions. With a proven archaeological history of winemaking going back 8,000 years, Georgia can lay claim to be the origin of wine. 

The traditional method of production has involved the use of large clay/terracotta pots, called "Qvevri", often buried in the ground and large enough to climb (or fall) inside. Whether working with red or white grapes, the skins are left in contact with the juice during fermentation for long periods of time. White wines morph into "amber" or "orange" styles and have the tannin and texture of a red. Chewy, with a dried fruit character, they have flavours often associated with oxidised/fortified wines such as sherry.

View all Georgian wines at Frazier's

Many wineries still use this ancient winemaking technique and form a large part of the natural wine scene. Unfined, unfiltered and cloudy, these are quality wines with a market all to themselves. Some winemakers, elsewhere in the world, have copied this method to great effect and have many loyal followers for their wines.

Sebastien David, originally from a Loire winemaking heritage in France, in conjunction with Vazisubani Estate, has produced a stunning 98/100 point "orange" wine in Georgia. The tasting note from Stephan Reinhardt gives an indication of just how good this style of wine is:

"Sébastien David consulted on Vazisubani Estate's 2018 Vin de Géorgie Primitif, which is a radiant orange blend from Georgia based on Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes that macerated in qvevri for 180 days. The orange color is legendary in its radiant brilliance, and the deep, elegant and concentrated nose displays the most beautiful (and clear) dried apricot and peach aroma imaginable and it is paired with yeasty and spicy notes such as mustard seed but also notes of dried dates and figs, a touch of caramel and porcini. The palate starts finessed and elegant and develops an intense and beautifully balanced texture with seductive fruit, and this all is structured by a complex of very fine tannins and elegant, perfectly integrated acidity. This is the most beautiful orange wine I have ever had, and if you ever want to argue against this beautifully colored wine category, you can't do it seriously without having tasted this Primitif—which would be weightless if it wasn’t that concentrated, intense and gorgeous. The fruit is beautiful from nose to tail, and the finish is very long and seemingly sweet but that’s due to the perfect ripeness, balance and extract of this orange legend. Absolutely adorable."

Unfortunately, this beauty is not available to buy in the UK. I know, they keep all the good stuff for themselves.

Teliani Valley is a winery in Kakheti founded originally in 1990 by a group of enthusiastic, young winemakers in a converted car workshop with the more experimental "Winery 97" following in 1997, and these wines combine traditional Georgian winemaking with modern and innovative techniques. The "Kakhuri No. 8" is an award winning example of the amber/orange style which everyone should try as an alternative to Sebastien's wine.

There are over five hundred indigenous grape varieties planted in Georgia, many in the Kakheti region in the east of the country. 75% are white and 25% are red. Around 40 varieties are in commercial production spread over 50,000ha of vineyards.

Not all wine made in Georgia is for the locals and wine geeks of all persuasions, and export markets are more likely to snap up the likes of modern Saperavi reds, some oaked, some not, which are more suitable for an international palate. The blackcurrant, mulberry and cherry flavours are all important along with balanced, velvety tannins.

Frazier's has taken on a range of wines from the Georgian Wine & Spirit Company consisting of two Saperavi reds; the "Tamada" and the single vineyard "Vismino", alongside a fresh, dry white using the Kisi grape and, unusually, a semi-sweet red from the Ojaleshi grape which can even be paired with chocolate cake.

Philippe Lespy, formerly Head Viticulturist at First Growth Château Mouton-Rothschild in Bordeaux for over eight years, is in charge of the winemaking at GWS and brings a reputation for the finest wines to Georgia.

As for food matching, "Chakapuli", a traditional Georgian lamb/tarragon/plum stew, is a recipe well worth trying, but you might want to try a simple, grilled steak in a green pepper sauce with a bottle of Saperavi. Just be careful not to ask any passing dragon to light the grill. You might get something you weren't quite expecting.

Dial 999 for the fire brigade!

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