“The best Georgian wines may, I suspect, prove to be some of the most influential produced anywhere around the world over the next decade.” Andrew Jefford, Decanter
Georgia – the grapes are alien, method of vinification is 8000 years old, the producers with unpronounceable names you have never unheard of and the wines are unlike any you have tasted before!
PHEASANT’S TEARS, KAKHETI REGION
Pheasant’s Tears, the project of John Wurdeman and Gela Patilishvili, produces natural wines from Georgian varieties and owns several vineyards that are farmed organically. All of their wines are made in qvevri – earthenware jars buried entirely in the ground used for fermentation and storage up until bottling in accordance with ancient Georgian winemaking traditions. They focus on rare varietals such as Tavkvevri, Shavkapito and Tsolikouri (amongst many) and preserving an expression of unique terroir. They even make a grape archivist’s dream blend from a 400 different varieties – go smoke that, Châteauneuf-du-Pape!
- 2013 CHINURI (NO SKIN CONTACT) £8.22
- 2012 KISI £14.28
- 2012 SHAVKAPITO £15.06
- 2011 TAVKVEVRI £14.64
- 2013 TAVKVEVRI ROSE £13.02
RAMAZ NIKOLADZE, IMERETI
Two white Georgian grape varieties are planted in Ramaz’s beautiful, tiny, wild vineyard: Tsitska and Tsolikouri. Natural winemaking methods are used in both the cellars and the vineyards and the qvevri are buried in the open air.
- 2012 TSOLIKAURI £17.88
ALAVERDI MONASTERY, KAKHETI REGION
The Alaverdi Monastery Cellar dates back to between the 8-10th centuries. The Monastery is located in the Kakheti region of Eastern Georgia. Winemaking in Qvevri (clay vessels used for fermentation and storage of wine) is part of an ancient Georgian tradition. This historical cellar was rehabilitated in 2005, from which period the monks of Alaverdi continue to grow ancient Kakhetian grape varieties in their vineyard and make natural wines in an authentic Georgian style.
“The monastery was originally founded in the 6th century by St. Joseph of Alaverdi, who is buried in the chapel which was twice destroyed and rebuilt; its foundations are now 11th century with frescos from that period inside. Bishop David wants to create a wine academy here based on the traditional Georgian winemaking practice. In the eleventh century there was a working winery in the monastery grounds with clay vessels that could ferment 2000 and 4000 litres. The idea is to restore the 11th-century wine cellar and make it operative again.”
- 2010 RKATSITELI KVEVRY £17.88
- 2011 KHIKHVI £24.42
- 2011 SAPERAVI £30.90
“Imereti (ancient Colchis) is one of the historic pillars of Georgia. There are many vineyards south of Kutaisi, the country’s second city. This region is more humid than Kakheti and many of the vines grow on pergolas. Viticulture is organic and the variety is Krakhuna, indigenous grape of Western Georgia. Dimi is a non-AO dry white wine from a small area of long repute. Dimi is made by one large winery and some local growers, most notably Didimi, whose Krakhuna though Qvevri-made, is pale with a nose of a nice, mineral Riesling-like and a fresh, explosively fruity palate.”
- 2012 DIDIMI KRAKHUNA £17.88
Extrovert Gaioz Sopromadze makes aromatic light-bodied wines from aboriginal Georgian grape varieties such as Chkhaveri, Aladasturi and Tsolikouri in the western region of Imereti. These are traditional, rustic wines to be drunk copiously by the jug.
“Another Georgian wine from a micro-estate (if that’s not an exaggeration) of 0.7 ha producing all of 340 bottles. Or too few to count. This is from the aboriginal Chhakhveri which can be spelled in a variety of ways, sounds like a sneeze and tastes like a breeze. Chak, as I will call it for short, ripens in November and normally makes slightly sweet onion-skin hued rosé. From fifty year old organic vines on heavy clay soils, this is fermented on indigenous yeasts in the qvevri and bottled with nowt taken out. A red to the jug, for the jug and by the jug.”
- 2010 CHKHAVERI £12.24
The tasting was held on Wednesday 7 January 2015 at the Masonic Hall in Harrogate, starting at 7pm. It was followed by a two course supper. 23 Members and 2 guests attended the event. Tickets cost £32 for members of the HMWS and £37 for guests, inclusive of supper.
Mas Coutelou – Puimisson, Languedoc
“Jean Francois Coutelou (known to his friends and customers as Jeff) is undoubtedly one of the most enigmatic and dedicated winemakers we have ever had the pleasure of meeting. From numerous small vineyards situated around the village of Puimisson, midway between Béziers and Faugères, he fashions a number of different red and white cuvées. Although Jeff shuns the local appellations and even IGP’s (preferring to market his wines simply as “Vin de France”) he makes some of the purest, freshest and most delicious wines you are ever likely to encounter – and resolutely charges very fair prices for them. Which means, unfortunately, that they invariably sell-out within days of being bottled.
With full organic certification since 1987 (and therefore one of the first to be certified in the region) Jeff also incorporates many biodynamic farming and winemaking practices, together with a very low (and sometimes no) use of sulphur in the winemaking process. I almost hesitate to use the word “natural”, since I am not generally a fan of that particular movement, but have no fear – these wines are not only fresh and pure, they are also rock solid and worthy of keeping….. if you can resist, that is!
We first heard about Mas Coutelou from a long-standing customer of ours named Alan March, who also happens to be a friend of Jeff Coutelou. Alan has since relocated to the Languedoc for a year and is actually working at the estate, and has been instrumental in helping to secure for us an allocation of Mas Coutelou wines (with hopefully more on the way in the New Year). I will shortly be writing an extensive blog article about our June 2014 visit to Mas Coutelou. Meanwhile, may I point you in the direction of Alan’s truly excellent blog, amarchinthevines, which chronicles his year spent living and working in Languedoc. A worthy read for any lover of the region.” – Leon Stolarski