No, it’s not a shark from Savannah, but rather a wine from the country in the Caucasus whose soils birthed the grape vine and invented wine making. For too long, Georgia’s unique wine styles and its hundreds of native grape varieties have been hoarded behind the now defunct “Iron Curtain”, and until very recently, were unable to achieve the necessary fiscal “escape velocity” to break free from the gravitational pull of a country that was in financial ruin since its independence in 1991.
With the exception of the highest elevations of the Caucasus Range, the vine is grown in every region of Georgia under a bevy of names that refer to grapes, regions, and even some monikers whose origins have been lost to time This evening’s wine is considered by many to be one of Georgia’s finest white wines from what is likely the country’s greatest wine region, namely Tsinandali from Kakheti in the country’s far east.
Traditional Georgian winemaking, examples of which have only very recently been available outside of its borders, is effected in huge radish-shaped clay vats called qvevri that are buried in the ground up to their necks that are in turn sheltered by a shed. The fruit is crushed and the resultant must plus the skins, the pits, and in some cases, even the stems are transferred in the qvevri which are then closed with a clay cover and sealed with wax, and the wine is left to ferment for months. The final product, due to the effects of the clay itself and the must’s long contact with the vine pomace with regard to whites yield deeply golden yellow wines that are often somewhat cloudy (very traditional wines are entirely unfiltered, but for the sake of saleability, even some producers that use qvevri filter teir wines) and the reds are typically brownish brick red in color, Both the whites and the reds display a fascinatinfg and seductive range of flavors and aromas that no modern, “Western” wines can even begin to mimic.
All that said, this particular Tsinandali wine is made in the modern, western style from the only two grapes that are permitted in the zone: 80% Rkatsiteli (a very cold hardy vine that, almost shocking to some, is grown quite widely in the vineyards of the northeastern U.S.) and 20% Mtsvane (which simply means “green” in Georgian) . Typically, Tsinandali yields crisp wines with floral, apricot and apple flavors and aromas, and this cuvee` closely cleaves to these tedencies.
Georgia’s cuisine is just as unusual and exciting as wines, so of course I matched this clean and polished wine with a first course of a Georgian-style chicken salad with carrots and raisins with a bevy of herbs and spices followed by baked baby eggplants hollowed out and filled with yogurt, Feta cheese and chopped hard-boiled eggs served over a bed of melted spinach with the typical Georgian cornucopia of herbs, in this instnace dill, savory, cilantro, basil and mint.
Teliani Valley Tsinandali 2012
Very pale “white gold” color. Complex, assured but subtle nose of peach, pear, baked apple, malted grains, curacao, white flowers, and honeycomb all underlaid by a salty minerality. In the mouth the wine is medium in body with a crisp acidity that carry forward flavors of fresh apricot, honeydew melon, a touch of grapefruit, almond and freshly cut grass. Long, freshly bitter finish.