Today’s cellar note takes us to the country of Georgia on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. Georgia lies south of Russia and north of Turkey and Armenia. Azerbaijan lies to the east. This is a region with an ancient history of winemaking dating back at least 8,000 years. Along with that history comes the qvevri, a large, oval clay pot that is used to ferment wine grapes, and a long list of unfamiliar grape varieties. In our limited experience these wines make interesting sipping.
Today’s wine is a delicious example of wine made in a qvevri. It is made using an indigenous grape variety called Kisi. According to the Wines of Georgia website the region is home to more than 500 indigenous grape varieties. The website goes on to state of this uncommon variety:
“Some scientists believe the Kisi grape is a hybrid of the Mtsvane and Rkatsiteli varieties. Kisi vines produce a relatively small amount of grapes, which ripen neither early nor late in the season. While both classical (European) and traditional qvevri wines produced from Kisi grapes have unforgettable aromas and flavors, qvevri wines made from Kisi grapes are characterized by aromas of ripe pear, marigold, tobacco, and walnut.”
Winemaking in qvevri, which are buried in the ground to maintain a uniform temperature throughout the seasons, begins with grapes that are pressed. The juice, skins, stems and seeds that are then put into qvevri. The mixture is left to macerate, ferment and settle for several months.
White wines made in this manner take on an orange to amber color due to the winemaking process and for that reason they are called orange or amber wines in Georgia.
This unique winemaking process gives these wines not only a lovely color, but interesting flavors as well. This wine is an excellent, and delicious, example of an amber wine.
2016 doqi Kisi, Kakheti — crystal clear and bright amber in the glass with generous aromas of earth and iron. Clean pinpoint flavors of iron, earth and sassafras are supported by bright acidity and bit of drying tannins. Even with those tannins, this wine is etherial and it has a long finish. We noticed even more complex and delicious flavors on day two. 13% abv.
This wine will pair with foods rich in umami flavors – mushrooms come to mind – in pasta, pizza or quiche. These have been successful pairings for us with orange wines in the past. These wines work well with grilled meat as well.
For an in-depth article about Georgian wines that will put winemaking there in perspective, read this recent article by Lisa Granik, MW.
Some time back, we stumbled upon a documentary called Our Blood is Wine, about traditional qvevri winemaking in Georgia. The movie takes a look at Georgians still making wine in this traditional way. It’s a fascinating and authentic look this very physical way of making wine. You will come away with a great respect for the natural state of the vineyards, the winemaking process and the dedication of Georgians trying to identify and save their indigenous grape varieties.
Updated January 2021.