‘krasavitsa’ I said to her in Russian. That means beautiful. She continued to ignore me and kept on painting her lips bright red
I was having a bad hair day in Telavi. The hotel was a dump and the girl at reception was concerned only about her lips. Breakfast was inedible and the restaurant that evening served warm wine (they had not chilled the whites and had no ice for a bucket!) and immensely forgettable food.
Yet, all was not gloom.
Niko served a great lunch at his out door restaurant in the Shuamta Forest and Temuri’s wines later that afternoon were an absolute delight.
Four generations of Dakishvilis have been making qvevri wine in the little Kakhetian village of Shalauri. The Rkatsiteli, Kisi, Mtsvane and Saperavi for their 40,000 bottles of wine come mainly from 2.5 hectares of vineyards they own.
A narrow lane with a stone wall on one side led to their small winery. It looked like a family house, a bit larger than average, built of stone and with a red tiled roof. A dog barked and a man in blue jeans came out and said ‘Hi.’ Inside, his shy wife was busy arranging tasting glasses on a table which already had grapes, walnuts, bread and cheese. Georgians, like Russians, never offer you wine without food. Murtaz parked the car and came in with us to look at the bottles lining the walls of the tasting room.
The marani next door had two rows of buried qvevri with brightly coloured wooden lids. Temuri removed the lid from one of them, exposing the mass of brown skins and stems on top of the fermenting wine. He stirred the wine with a long wooden pole and that unmistakable heady aroma of fermenting grape juice filled the room.
We sat down to taste. The qvevri wines all over Georgia are getting better. The winemakers are getting more sophisticated and more attention is being paid to qvevri hygiene. The musty smells and the occasional odd taste we noticed in qvevri wines a few years ago, are no longer obvious as winemakers insist on through cleaning of the inside of the qvevri removing adhered dry pomace and mould.
“Sometimes you get Bret in the qvevri” Temuri said. “It is important to clean the qvevri with lime. It takes a man three hours to clean one properly.”
There is a special occupation in Georgia called “Qvevri Washer.” The washer is lowered in to the qvevri and ‘Lime Water’ made with 3-5kg of lime dissolved in 10-15l of water is used to wash the inside walls of the qvevri. Traditionally, a qvevri brush made from the roots of St John’s wort or the bark of bitter cherry tree is used for scrubbing. The qvevri is then rinsed first with cold water and then hot water at a temperature of 60 degrees centigrade, two or three times.
We tasted the 2012 Rkatsiteli – a fruity orange wine with soft tannins, Kisi 2013 which tasted of dry fruits and nuts and the 2013 and 2011 Saperavi. The reds get 22 days maceration, a month in qvevri and six months in used oak barrels before bottling.
They were all delightful wines.
- Bret or Brettanomyces is a yeast which can produce unpleasant aroma and taste in wine. It can sometimes be found in barrel aged wines
- We had dinner at Merlata Restaurant in Telavi, a short walk from the hotel. They keep goats in the country and produce fabulous goats cheese
- Our hotel was the Old Telavi in the city of Telavi