Georgian wine is considered to be one of the oldest in Europe and in the world. The viticulture, the wine production, and the wine culture in general, originated on the territory of Georgia about 7000 years ago. This is confirmed by the fact that during archaeological excavations in the region of Lower Kartli, grape seeds were found, which date back to the 6-7 millennium BC in the Eneolithic era. This means that already at that time the culture of vine-growing was developed and that it played an important role in agriculture. In addition, the oldest wine cellars were found on the territory of Georgia, which also belong to the Eneolithic era. In these cellars were kept huge earthen “qvevris” (these are special vessels for storing the Georgian wine), which were covered with earth. Based on these facts, we can say that Georgia is a hotbed of the winemaking and the wine culture, and Georgian wines are one of the most ancient.
As mentioned before, qvevris are earthen vessels, which have been used since ancient times for fermentation and storage of the wine in all wine-making regions of Georgia, for instance, Kakheti, Imereti, Kartli, etc. These vessels are similar to amphorae, but without handles. Qvevris are the size of a jug, and there are also the huge ones, with capacity of several hundred or even thousands of liters. Even a person can fit in there. The type of clay the qvevri was made of, and how it was then fired, greatly influences the taste of the qvevri wine. Qvevris are made by hand on a special pottery machine. The process of making a large qvevri takes up to 3 months. Only about 15-20 centimeters are added every day so that the vessel does not collapse under its own weight. The walls of the qvevri are about 4 cm thick. Then the qvevris are kept under the sun for several weeks, and only then they are fired in the oven. Firing a large qvevri takes approximately 4-6 days and the fire must be kept up during all this time. When the qvevri reaches the desired hot temperature, it is covered with beeswax from the inside. The temperature is extremely important, as the wax must penetrate into the pores of the clay and form a kind of a membrane, but so that the air still penetrates inside, since qvevri wine cannot be made without air. The wax is not only waterproof but also has antibacterial properties.
But how actually is the Georgian wine made ? The grapes are harvested by hand in late September and early October. This is a whole event and a holiday for Georgians and it is called “rtveli”. After that, they are sorted out, and separated from the parts of bunches of grapes, which is also done manually. The grapes are placed in a huge wine press called “satsnakheli”, and then they are crushed with feet in special rubber boots. A peculiarity of the production of Georgian wine is that the seeds, when crushing, give the wine a special tart taste and a light bitterness. After that, the juice of the grapes, together with the crushed seeds, flows into the qvevri for the further aging, fermentation and storage. During the fermentation process, a layer of grape skins, seeds and parts of bunches of the grapes rises to the top of the vessel, and when fermentation ends, this layer settles on the bottom of the qvevri, and only after that the qvevri is sealed and left for several months until spring, so the wine ripens in it. Then qvevris are almost completely dug into the ground. Qvevris buried in the ground keep the required temperature. In the spring the vessels are opened and the wine is poured into other qvevris so that the fermentation process goes better and the qvevri wine does not turn into vinegar. When the qvevri wine is ready, it is extracted from there with special ladles. After that, the qvevris are rinsed with water and cleaned with special brushes made of herbs with strong antiseptic properties. For high-quality cleaning of the large qvevris, sometimes it is necessary to get inside. And after the thorough cleaning, the qvevris are rinsed with water again.
As all the qvevris are handmade, so each qvevri has its own unique shape and size, which means that each qvevri wine will have its own unique taste. But other factors also affect the color, smell and taste of the wine. For example, the place where the grapes were harvested, the ripeness of the grapes, the duration of aging, the grape variety, the clay which the qvevri was made from, and even the location of the qvevri in the marani. Moreover, qvevri wine is also called amber wine , because white wines, made in qvevris, have this saturated amber colour.
The qvevris themselves are kept in special wine cellars, called “marani” in Georgian. Such a traditional and unique way of making Georgian wine in huge clay jugs, which have no analogues in the world, was included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2013.
Georgian wines are considered autochthonous, which means that specific grape varieties are grown only on the territory of Georgia. The most common white Georgian wines are : “Rkatsiteli”, “Mtsvane”, “Tsitska”, “Tsolikauri”, “Tsinandali”. The red Georgian wines are: “Saperavi”, “Aleksandrouli”, “Usakhelouri”, “Ojaleshi”, “Tavkveri”, “ Kindzmarauli”, “Mukuzani”, “Pirosmani”, and lots of others. “Rkatsiteli” is one of the most common varieties of the white grapes in the Eastern Georgia. The wine from this variety has a light yellow color with notes of tropical fruits. The taste of this wine is soft, with a refreshing acidity and a long aftertaste. Another variety is “Mtsvane”, which means “green” in Georgian. It got this name due to a bright green color of the grapes. The wines produced from this variery have a refreshing taste and a strong aroma. “Saperavi” is the main red variety . The wine from this variety has a beautiful dark red color, a tart taste and light acidity. Georgian wine is usually served along with meat dishes, salads and desserts.