I bought an Argentinian Malbec the day before and had two bottles of Il Censo’s 2012 Praruar chilling in the refrigerator. But this label promised woody tannins mellowed in clay pots. Seduced like a kid by the December Toys R Us catalog, I sprinted to the checkout.
My seducer was a Georgian wine, specifically Pheasant’s Tears Saperavi, which seemed as rare as a crisp autumn morning. You can swing by your local bar for a Spanish Rioja but ask for something from Georgia and the bartender is more likely to serve you sickly-sweet sweet tea. That’s a shame because Georgia has been producing wine since roughly 4000 BC. Back then, Georgians poured their fresh-pressed grape juice into large amphorae, called qvevri (kwev-ree), and buried them underground to ferment for up to 50 years. Although modern production techniques now dominate, several producers continue to age their wines in the traditional manner. UNESCO deemed this process an intangible cultural heritage in 2013.
But say your bartender doesn’t bat an eyelash when you request Georgian wine. Instead, they offer you a choice between Tavkveri or Mtsvani — if you’re okay with a white wine this evening, that is. Rather than be surprised, you could ask if they had a Shavkapito or even a Rkatsiteli (one of the oldest grapes on earth!). Still, these indigenous varietals offer only a small sip of Georgian wine culture.
If you came to my house that Sunday, we’d have taken our first sip. First I’d apologize for the too-small glass (no chance of aerating the wine). But we’d stick our noses in anyway and inhale the wood like we were supposed to. I also detected alcohol-spiked Ribena or prune juice (not that I’d admit to the latter). You’d laugh and then describe a head of oak and a retro-aroma of black pepper. Who’s laughing now?
Then we’d drink. You’d snigger again when I said the wood smell was definitely oak. But that wouldn’t stop me from telling you how this oak got cloaked under a velvet parachute of blackcurrant and had the texture of fruit punch left out of the fridge overnight, but without the cloying aftertaste. I knew it sounded ridiculous but it felt true. You were no better. You described an inky violet cloud that overshadowed a bunch of margiolds crossing the Black Sea on a raft made from smoked cedar!
We sipped through half the bottle revising our descriptions along the way. If someone barged in on us, they’d have cringed and begged for a Coors Lite. But we’d keep drinking, pleased that we could glimpse the truth of Pheasant’s Tears Saperavi and, with it, Georgian culture.