There’s plenty of exciting Georgian grapes yet to be explored. Considered the birthplace of wine, there are 525 recognised Georgian grapes with over 425 regularly grown – and that’s not including the wild grapes that are yet to be named.
There are five main wine regions in Georgia, with 18 Protected Designations of Origin recognised by the international wine community, and below, you’ll find four main wine regions visited this year, which are unique to each other in terms of climate, soils, grapes and history.
Let’s take a look at what there is to know about the major Georgian grapes in four major regions of The Republic of Georgia.
Georgian Grapes and Wines
On the eastern part of western Georgia, Imereti is one of the most diverse regions for Georgian grapes, ranging from humid sub-tropical in the Lower Imereti and ending up at 2850m high on alpine meadows. Seventy percent of the Imereti region is mountainous. The Black Sea provides a warm, moderating influence in the winter.
Traditional winemaking with qvevri is used here, which are called churi in Imereti. Here, after fermentation, the wine is left in churi for about 2 months, after the pulp is removed it is transferred to the barrels. The wines here have higher acidity than in Khahketi, which benefits the quality of white wines from here. There is one Imereti PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) called Sviri PDO, which can be a blend of Tsitska and Tsolikouri, although sometimes it has Krakhuna added. The result is a moderate alcohol wine with creamy fresh fruit and a perfumed finish.
Tsitska white grape
Grown in the cooler Upper Imereti, and often seen blended with Tsolikouri as Tsitska-Tsolikouri. The Tsitska offers high acidity, with fresh lemon, honey and melon characters. As mentioned above, it is one of the grapes in the Sviri PDO blend.
Tsolikouri white grape
In the 19th century, Tsolikouri was the defining white grape of Georgia and the second-most planted grape after Rkatsiteli. It is considered one of the longest-ageing white wines in Georgia. More full-bodied than high-acidity Tsitska, which it is often blended successfully, it can shows character of citrus fruit, white plum, yellow fruit and floral notes.
Krakhuna white grape
One of my favourite white wines in Georgia is indigenous to Imereti; a full-bodied white wine reminiscent of an unoaked white Rhone variety. It can be made in the traditional or international style successfully, although I enjoyed it the most with less than 100% time in churi. As a grape variety, it has moderate to high yields and can accumulate sugar easily while also retaining acidity. Higher alcohol, a fuller-body with smooth glycerol feel when made in stainless steel, it shows tropical fruits, apricot and honey notes.
Otskhanuri Sapere red grape
Another gem from Imereti. A beautiful ruby colour, medium weight, the tannins can be rough but older versions have a rich and deep elegance.
Aladastouri red grape
Another red grape from Imereti that has tremendous potential. As a dry qvevri wine, there are crunchy raspberry and black cherry characters much like a young Piedmontese red. Despite its thick skins, the wine has a light colour.
You can smell the dry heat of continental Turkey down here on the southern border of Georgia. Considered one of the ancient winemaking sites, vineyards are traditionally grown in the valleys of the Mtkavari River. Although 900m is the lowest altitude at which vineyards are planted, so it is still very high altitude viticulture with long hours of sunshine. This is one of the driest regions of Georgia, with harsh winters and frost.
According to Georgian researchers, many Georgian grapes could have originated here, such as Saperavi. Natenadzes’ wine cellar – who considers himself a cultural historian rather than winemaker – is one of the only ones to produce wine on the terraces here.
Meskhuri Mtsvane white grape
Mtsvane means “green”; and so, this is the green wine from Meskheti. (See Mtsvane Kakhuri).
Kartli surrounds the capital of Tbilisi, which derives from the old Georgian word meaning “warm town”. Continental in climate with hot summers and cold winters. Vineyards are grown at 750-800m above sea level. The PDO is Atenuri PDO, which was already known in the Middle Ages for quality wines, in particular, sparkling wines from Chinuri. Wines are made both in traditional qvevri and international styles.
Chinuri white grape
Outside of Georgia, the white grape Chinuri reputation rests on the wines of Iago Bitarishvili, who makes qvevri amber wines from this high acidity grape. Since 1998, his wines are responsible for introducing many wine professionals in Western Europe to amber wines made in qvevri. Traditionally, the late ripening Chinuri’s high acidity has been used to make a natural sparkling wine where the must taken to Ateni Gorg to a high and cold location for a long cool ferment. The PDO permits the Georgian grapes, Chinuri, Gori Mtsvane and the French, Aligoté.
Tavkevri red grape
This was once all over eastern Georgia, but is now found mostly in its home of Kartli. As a young, dry wine it has fresh flavours of red fruit (raspberries, strawberries), floral (rose) notes.
Kakheti has about 65-70% of Georgia’s vineyards and produces 80% of its wine. Bordering Russia and Azerbaijan, the Caucasus Mountain range provides cool breezes that flow south over the vines. The main growing area is in the Alazani Valley. It is home to 14 of the 18 PDOs, including Tsinandali PDO (on the right bank of the Alazani River, it is a white blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane Kakhuri), Kindzmarauli PDO (a naturally semi-sweet red), and Mukuzani PDO (a full-bodied, dark-coloured Saperavi red from the micro-zone on the right bank of the Alazani River).
Traditional Wine Making in Kakheti
Kakheti has its own historically distinct winemaking process that is unique in the world of wine. The grapes are first pressed in a Satsnakheli (wine press) and then, grape must is poured into the qvevri for ten days with stirring four times per day. The stirring provides an even fermentation that can last between 25 to 40 days. The skins, stalks and pips then sink to the bottom. After malolactic fermentation, the qvevri are covered and sealed.
Saperavi red grape
Saperavi is the ambassador for Georgian redwine around the world. It can be found across Georgia, but it’s home is in the Kakheti region. High quality reds with potential for ageing, they are one of only a few grapes with pink flesh (most grapes have clear flesh). The wines are high in tannin, colour and acidity and they need time to develop in the bottle. Masses of potential, but not convinced by the heavy Mukuzani PDO – yet. Hugh Johnson recommends Saperavi as a good alternative to Medoc reds.
In 2013, when I visited the Biesina experimental vineyard in Marsala, Sicily they were cross-breeding Sicilian grapes with Saperavi to study the DNA for future climate change. Then there’s the Saperavi clones in Australia, which are also good in drought conditions. There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to the future of Saperavi.
Rkatsiteli white grape
Where Saperavi is the ambassador for the reds, Rkatsiteli is for Georgian white wines. Often see as a traditional qvevri amber wine, and also made in an international style.
Mstvane Kakhuri white grape
One of Georgia’s ancient grape varieties, which in the scheme of grape history, could make it one of the world’s oldest varieties. Often blended with Rkatsiteli, it provides aroma and delicacy in the blend. It is increasing in popularity as a qvevri style wine. Aromas of stone fruit, orchard flowers with good minerality.
Khikhvi white grape
This white grape works well made in an international or qvevri winemaking, and as a sweet wine. Originally described in the third to fourth century, the vines are naturally low yielding but produce grapes that ripen with good levels of sugar.
Kisi white grape
One of my favourite Georgian grapes for amber wine, which some consider to be a hybrid between Mstvane and Rkatsiteli. When made in a traditional Georgian qvevri, the wine becomes by complex aromas of pear, honey, tobacco and walnut, and of course, incredible textural tannins.
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