Sipping and swirling in Georgia: The birthplace of wine

Wine is the lifeblood of lesser-travelled Georgia, a country that boasts an 8000-year viniculture legacy

You’re forgiven if you conjure images of sweet southern peaches when you hear the name ‘Georgia’. But from now on, perhaps you will cast your mind across the continent to the Caucus mountains and think of grapes instead, as you discover the country of Georgia, Sakartvelo —  The Birthplace of Wine.

Georgia proudly stands as the cradle of winemaking, boasting an unrivalled vinicultural legacy that spans over 8000 years. It’s a place where every sip tells a story deeply embedded in the Georgian identity, with winemaking at the heart of history, culture, and tradition.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Georgian whose family doesn’t have a vineyard. Fresh off the plane, I was welcomed in true Georgian hospitality with a bottle of homemade Saperavi (red wine) from my driver’s family vineyard. And you’ll find this is commonplace; not only does everyone make wine or have family that do, but they know the grape, the vine, and the region intimately.

It won’t take longer than 15 minutes, from tour signs to menus and casual conversations, to realise that wine is the lifeblood of Georgia. And regardless of intention, you’ll leave a little richer, both in history and tastes, as you take a vinicultural journey through millennia.

Wine through millennia

From street vendors to commercial distilleries, the millennia-old technique of qvervi is still a staple of Georgian winemaking. Qvervis are large egg-shaped clay pots buried underground for fermentation, introduced during the Persian occupation in the 6th century BC.

This ancient method harnesses the grape skins and stems, crafting robust, full-bodied wines and revolutionising production. Then, as early adopters of Christianity during the Byzantine Empire in the 4th century AD, wine played a pivotal role in religious rituals and practices.

Each century and empire embedded itself in the rich fabric of Georgian history, with wine through the millennia as a focal point.

Supra: a celebration beyond the glass

This is no more evident than in the Supra, an ancient tradition where wine is the guest of honour. This elaborate and symbolic meal is guided by a Tamada, or toastmaster, who leads toasts to health, peace, ancestors, and more, weaving a tapestry of storytelling and fellowship. The Supra is not just a meal; it’s a cultural ceremony that embodies the Georgian spirit of hospitality and kinship, and no trip to the ‘Birthplace of Wine’ would be complete without attending a Supra yourself.

Embarking on a wine tour in Kakheti

Thanks to Georgian hospitality, receiving an invite to a Supra from a new acquaintance wouldn’t be unheard of. But booking a wine tour through the Kakheti region is a must for those not leaving anything to chance!

Here, wine tours provide an immersive experience, allowing visitors to participate in grape harvesting, wine tasting, and even traditional qvervi making. These tours often culminate in a grand Supra after just enough wine is consumed to ease conversation and foster a deep connection with the Georgian way of life.

Wine tours are an all-day or 2-day affair, and we recommend a premium company like Eat This. Designed for the discerning traveller, their tours blend the authentic with the luxurious. With VIP-level service and expert guides, these small-group tours (up to 7 for scheduled tours and more for private) offer intimate encounters with winemakers, unique culinary experiences, and a personal journey into the heart of Georgian culture.

For those wishing to extend their stay in the region, Tsinandali Estate, from the Raddison Collection, invites you to explore Kakheti’s authentic charm and elegance from an exclusive vantage point.

Pick your grape

With your newfound appreciation and expertise, the only thing left is to pick a favourite, which can prove difficult when there are 500 varieties of grapes in Georgia. Will it be the robust, full-bodied Saperavi or contrasting Rkatsiteli, a lighter, aromatic white wine? Don’t discount the distinct and complex flavours of Kisi, an amber wine, or the semi-sweet red from the Kindzmarauli micro-zone, renowned for its perfect balance of sweetness, acidity, and rich berry flavours.

For the brave amongst us, who like their alcohol strong and straight, it must be a Cha Cha! Likened to grappa or brandy, Cha Cha is distilled from the grape, colloquially known as ‘Georgian Vodka’ and packs a potent punch, with an alcohol content between 40-60%.

Gaumarjos! A toast to the birthplace of wine

Whichever you choose, you’ll be taking home history in a bottle, becoming a part of this enduring narrative. A connection that transcends borders, inviting you to partake in a heritage that has been lovingly cultivated for thousands of years. So, as the Georgians do, raise a glass and proclaim ‘Gaumarjos’ – a celebration of victory and life –as you toast to the Birthplace of Wine.

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