The oldest evidence of human winemaking comes to us from the country of Georgia and dates to about 6,000 BC. Eight thousand years later, Georgia has a healthy wine industry and claims to be “The Cradle of Wine.” Wine permeates every branch of human activity in the mountainous country in the Caucasus, at the far eastern edge of the Black Sea. The oldest archaeological evidence of wine making comes to us from Georgia, remains of pips (seeds) from cultivated grapes. What’s more, the pips seemed to be sheltered in the remains of clay jars, evidently earlier versions of the qvevri clay fermentation vats that traditional Georgians use today. The idea is to push everything into the qvevri, grape bunches, skins, and stalks, and wait for nature to take its course. This is not the kind of thing you do with Cabernet or Pinot Noir, but with Georgian varieties like Rkatsiteli and Saperavi. These two varieties, white and red respectively, have colonized much of eastern Europe.
Georgia has much in the way of modern winery equipment, but a significant portion of its wines are still fermented in qvevri, partially because the mystique of tradition appeals to international markets. Small operations might have only a qvevri or two, but large winemakers maintain them in phalanxes, buried to their rims in the ground.
Georgian wines are most commonly blends of two or more grapes. Prominent white wines include:
- Pirosmani is a semi-sweet white wine made from a 40% Tsolikauri, 60% Tsitska blend.
- Tsinandali, a blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes from the sub-regions of Telavi and Kvareli in the Kakheti region.
- Tvishi, is a natural semi-sweet white wine made from Tsolikauri in the Lechkhumi region.
- Mtsvani, a dry white wine made from Mtsvani.
- Alaznis Veli, a white semi-sweet wine made from the Rkatsiteli, Tetra, Tsolikauri and other grape varieties.
- Anakopia, is a white semi-dry table wine made from the Tsolikauri grape in the Sukhumi and Gudauta districts in Abkhazia.
- Tbilisuri, a pink semi-dry wine produced from the Saperavi, Cabernet and Rkatsiteli grape varieties grown in east Georgia.
- Khikhvi, a vintage white dessert wine made from the Khikhvi grape variety grown in Kardanakhi.
- Saamo, is a vintage dessert wine from Rkatsiteli.
- Gelati, a white dry wine made of the Tsolikauri, Tsitska and Krakhuna grape varieties cultivated in Western Georgia.
- Kakheti, a white table wine made of the Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grape varieties cultivated in Kakheti.
- Bodbe, a white from Rkatsiteli
- Dimi, a white made from the Tsolikauri and Krakhuna grape varieties grown on small areas in Imereti (Western Georgia) by the old local technique consisting in fermenting the grape pulp to which grape husks are added.
- Gareji, a dry white wine made of the Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grape varieties cultivated in Kakheti.
- Ereti, a dry white dry wine made from Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes
- Shuamta, a dry white dry wine made from Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes
- Alazani, a mid-straw colored semi-sweet wine made from 100% Rkatsiteli.
Georgian red wines include:
- Akhasheni, a naturally semi-sweet red wine made from the Saperavi grape variety grown in the Akhasheni vineyards of the Gurdzhaani district in Kakheti.
- Khvanchkara, a high-end, naturally semi-sweet red wine made from the Alexandria and Mudzhuretuli grape varieties cultivated in the Khvanchkara vineyards in Racha, Western Georgia.
- Kindzmarauli, a high quality naturally semi-sweet wine made from Saperavi from the slopes of the Caucasian mountains in the Kvareli district of Kakheti.
- Mukuzani, a dry red wine made from 100% Saperavi in Mukuzani, Kakheti.
- Ojaleshi, a red semi-sweet wine made from the grape variety of the same name cultivated on the mountain slopes overhanging the banks of the Tskhenis-Tskali river
- Pirosmani, a naturally semi-sweet red wine from Saperavi
- Saperavi, a red wine made from the Saperavi grape variety grown in some areas of Kakheti.
- Usakhelauri, a naturally semi-sweet wine, produced from the Usakhelauri grape variety cultivated mostly in the Zubi-Okureshi district in Western Georgia.
- Apsny, a naturally semi-sweet red wine made of red grape varieties cultivated in Abkhazia.
- Lykhny, a naturally semi-sweet pink wine made of the Izabela grape variety cultivated in Abkhazia.
- Mtatsminda, a pink semi-dry wine produced from Saperavi, Tavkveri, Asuretuli, Rkatsiteli and other grape varieties grown in the Tetritskaro, Kaspi, Gori and Khashuri districts.
- Aguna, a pink semi-dry wine from Saperavi, Cabernet and Rkatsiteli grown in east Georgia.
- Sachino, a pink semi-dry wine from the Aleksandreuli, Aladasturi, Odzhaleshi, Tsitska, Tsolikauri and other grape varieties cultivated in west Georgia.
- Barakoni, a naturally semi-dry red wine made from the unique Alexandreuli and Mudzhuretuli grape varieties cultivated in western Georgia on the steep slopes of the Rioni gorge in the Caucasian mountains.
- Salkhino, a liqueur-type dessert wine made from the Izabella grape variety with an addition of the Dzvelshava, Tsolikauri and other grape varieties cultivated in the Mayakovski district (western Georgia).
- Alazani, a light red, semi-sweet wine made from a 60% Saperavi, 40% Rkatsiteli blend.
Georgian fortified wines include:
- Kardanakhi, from Rkatsiteli.
- Anaga, a madeira-type wine made from the Rkatsiteli, Khikhvi and Mtsvane grape varieties.
- Sighnaghi, a port type wine made from Rkatsiteli grown in the Sighnaghi district in Kakheti.
- Veria, a fortified vintage white port made from Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane, Chinuri and other commercial grape varieties grown in Eastern Georgia.
- Lelo, a port-type wine made from the Tsitska and Tsolikauri grape varieties grown in the Zestaphoni, Terjola, Baghdati and Vani districts.
- Marabda, a port-type wine made from Rkatsiteli.
- Kolkheti, a fortified vintage white port made from Tsolikauri, Tsitska and other white grape varieties grown in Western Georgia.
- Taribana, a port-type wine made from Rkatsiteli cultivated in Kakheti.
Georgia in total has eighteen appellations registered with the EU. The region of Kakheti in the east produces 80% of the country’s wine, mainly from Sapreravi, Rkatsiteli, and Mtsvane. It has a number of sub-regions. Kartli in the center is a cooler region than Kakheti, producing lighter wines, sometimes sparkling. Imereti and Racha in the west have their own characteristic light white grape varieties, most prominent being Tsitska and Tsolikouri, which may be blended with each other. Higher in elevation is Racha-Lecdhkhumi, with its local reds Mujuretuli and Alexsandrouli from which semi-sweet and sweet wines are made. The coastal trio of Samegrelo, Guria, and Ajara are minor producers.