Posted by: tomciocco | August 17, 2008

GEORGIA ON MY MIND

Yes, every third piece written on Georgian wine or food carries this title, but in light of the events of the last several weeks, it’s just the plain truth. I have had a love bordering on obsession with this unique and beautiful country since I visited in 1985, and seeing these sorts of setbacks is truly heartbreaking. 

Without getting into a recapitulation of either recent or ancient Georgian history, it’s enough to say that over the the last 2000 years or so, multiple Arab, Persian, and Turkish emirs, pashas, and princes have tried to eliminate the Georgians if for no other reason that they were just in the way. Tbilisi has been sacked no less than 19 times, and a few of these incursions caused nearly the entire city to be burned to its foundations.

But since about the year 1800 or so, Georgia has been very uncomfortably locked into “greater Russia”, and indeed it is Mr. Putin that now represents to Georgia what the perfumed and bejewelled royal warlords did a thousand years before. If you’ll allow me an elaborated anthropomorphic metaphor, to Georgia, Russia is a physically powerful, and very shrewd, but ultimately not very wise man for whom it works. This man has had some success in his life, but exaggerates and blusters about what he has accomplished, and is constantly reaching for things that have always eluded him, and that are likely to do so for the rest of his life. The sort of fellow that can even be alright guy provided that you’re properly deferential, laugh at all his jokes, and know your place. Those who can’t or don’t are chewed out, humiliated, browbeaten, shouted down, penalized, and even threatened until they fall in line, at which point the man has a hearty laugh, and buys everyone a drink, and thinks that everything is alright. Well it ain’t, and Georgia has had it, and it’s about time…’nuff said there…

Georgian dinners appear quite often in our eating rotation, but events there this week assured the concoction of a Georgian menu, and so it came to pass. We started with a classic Georgian dish conisisting of so called Japanese eggplants, trimmed and cut lengthwise and then “steam fried” (with just a few drops of oil on lowish heat, covered) cut side down. After cooking the fruits are allowed to cool and then get stuffed with a walnut and spice paste mixed with herbs and studded with pomegranate seeds. I served this as an appetizer with some very nice Turkish pide bread from the Turkuaz bakery in Paterson, N.J. The Georgians make a bevy of completely unique or very hard to find breads, and though pide is not a direct stand-in for any of them, it just “feels” more correct than Arab pita bread for example…

The main course was a pork stew aromatic with coriander, fenugreek, garlic, onions, marigold petals, basil, cilantro, etc. The classic accompanyment to this dish is either elarji or ghomi, both of which are nothing other than Georgian white corn meal polenta, the former with a mozzerella-like cheese melted in, and the latter without the curds. To provide “something completely different” as a foil to the warm, rich, and mellow spiciness of the stew and mush, I made a chilled stringbean, tomato, garlic, and dill salad which in getting the bread warmed, serving this and that, etc., I totally forgot to serve – the untouched leftover is a tresured rarity anywhere…

And so to the wine. Over at Wine Library’s Terroir I wrote a piece about Georgia being the likely birthplace of wine, and lots more about Georgian wine traditions, styles, etc., and I’ll likely get around to a reprise, if not an advancement on that topic here, but for now, and for those of you who don’t know, the Georgians are just as attached to their vineyards and the magical stuff it yields as any Italian or Frenchman or Portuguese, and perhaps even more so. This makes  the flap several years ago over Georgian wine being completely banned from sale in and by none other than Georgia’s old “friend” Russia under the pretense that it much of it was fake, and some of it was tainted and unhealthy vary hard to swallow, but that’s the way it went down, and it hurt the fledgeling commercial wine sector badly. Admittedly the Georgian wine industry still has a long way to go to produce consistent, modern wines, but it was clear to the Georgians then, and should be clear to EVERYONE now, that this maneuver was just one of many deployed to keep Georgia (and Ukraine, Armenia, Belarus, Latvia, etc.) dependent on Mother Russia…

All that being said, it has always been possible to get real and GOOD Georgian wine outside Georgia, but neither with ease or any consistency, so I settled on a Langhe Rosso from Villadoria called “Red Pheasant” which is a 50/50 blend of Barbera and Dolcetto produced entire in stainless steel. I chose this wine mostly because I thought that it would have the stuffing to cope with the spicy food, without trying pick a fight with it, but also because pheasant is a great specialty of Georgian cooks, and is also one of the symbols of the city of Tbilisi…

And so we ate and drank this meal thinking of this wonderful place, their long struggle for independence, and toasts to what I think is its inevitable success. Long live a free, peaceful, and whole Georgia! The notes and the pix:

Villadoria Langhe Rosso “Red Pheasant” 2006

Very saturated crimson color. Nose of black cherry, toasted nuts, licorice, truffly earth, and a slight florality. The wine has a very easy-going balance, a silky texture, good weight, and a surprising elegance that revealed itself in the glass over time, neatly pulling forth flavors of plum, berries, and bittersweet chocolate. This is lot of wine for very little money.

TOM CIOCCO

 

 

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