The Georgian Supra


Georgia, nestled between the Black Sea and the wild Caucasian Mountains is a beautiful country. It is hard not to fall in love with this ancient land where wine originated 8000 years ago. Georgians love their food and wine and have elevated eating and drinking to a fine art. They call it the Supra. Recently, UNESCO added the Supra to its ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage List.’

In Georgia all meals are treated as grand affairs. In summer they are usually held outdoors, on vine covered terraces or open balconies. The table is laden with food and drink, and there is a great deal of eating, drinking, talking, laughter and happiness. A Supra is a more formal meal conducted by a toastmaster called a Tamada. Copious amounts of wine are consumed – it is not unusual for a man to drink a litre or two of wine in one session. The wine is of course natural, free of additives and alcohol levels are moderate.

An outdoor lunch with a winemaker’s family in the hills of Ambrolauri

In Georgian, Supra means tablecloth. There is a festive supra called a Keipi, and a sombre supraKelekhi, that is held after burials. Both would be led by a Tamada, elected by the guests or chosen by the host. A tamada must possess rhetorical skill and be able to consume a large amount of alcohol without showing signs of intoxication. Toasts are made with only wine or brandy – toasting with beer is considered an insult! At a Supra, you drink only after the tamada has made his toast and has taken his drink.

Niko Pirosmani’s painting of a Supra. A tamada holding a kantsi (horn) and introducing a toast at a keipi (festive supra)

A Kantsi (horn) for wine (at Twin’s Wine Cellar, Kakheti)

Statue of a Tamada in  the Georgian capital Tbilisi modelled on a 7th century bronze figure from the city of Vani

My first Supra was in 2011 at a peasant winemaker’s house in a remote village in the Koreti region of northern Georgia. As always, wine was made in a clay amphora called Kvevri buried in the garden. It had been sealed the previous year with foot-trodden grapes together with their skins and stems. We sat at a log table in a shed and drank the wine out of terracotta cups and ate Georgian bread with salty cheese and cured meats. The winemaker acted as the Tamada and made lengthy speeches in Georgian none of which I understood. At the end of the long session, it was my duty as tradition demands, to make a speech and a toast to thank him for his generous hospitality. I did that in rusty Russian which fortunately, he was able to understand.

My first supra in 2011

The Supra I attended in 2016 in more luxurious surroundings at Pheasant’s Tears (run by John Wurdeman & Gela Patalishvili) in the walled, hilltop town of Signagi in Kakheti was a more elaborate and polished affair. There was a professional Tamada, polyphonic singers with traditional Georgian instruments led by John Wurdeman’s wife Ketevan and vivacious dancers. We drank excellent Pheasant’s Tears wine and ate lovingly prepared traditional Georgian food. The Tamada spoke in Georgian but there was a translator to hand. As always there was a lot of joy and laughter and eating, drinking, singing and dancing continued late in to the night.

Tamada making a toast

Traditional Georgian instruments

Ketevan leading the singing

Another toast!

 

(My Georgian tours were arranged by Living Roots of Tbilisi)

 

 

 

 

Comments

  • “Very interesting indeed. Thanks for sharing!” – Mal Dias-Keragala, Colombo, Sri Lanka (via Facebook), 24 April 2017

 

 

 

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