They are meditative wines, sumptuous and subtle.
Home to more than 500 unique grapes.
Georgia boasts more than 500 varieties of indigenous grapes—nearly one-sixth of the world’s grape varieties—including endangered vines found nowhere else on Earth. In fact, some vineyards feature living vine” libraries” where visitors can sample rare grapes. Winemakers employ a range of winemaking techniques—from the traditional Georgian method of fermenting wine in clay qvevris to the European process, to a hybrid approach that incorporates elements of each.
Today, more than 70% of wine is produced in Kakheti, making it Georgia’s primary winemaking region. Although approximately 80 different grape varieties are recorded in Kakheti, perhaps the two most important are Saperavi and Rkatsiteli.
Which means that if you’re interested in exploring the unique flavors of Georgian wines, these are the two you should know:
Deep in fruit character, yet brisk with acidity, this gutsy grape presents a unique alternative to everyday reds. The leading red variety in Georgia, Saperavi (sah-per-ah-vee) is indigenous to the country.
Translated literally as “the place of color”, Saperavi reflects a deep, inky and often fully opaque colorIt is one of the few teinturier—red skin and red flesh—grape varieties in the world. This varietal has aromas and flavors of dark berries, licorice, grilled meat, tobacco, chocolate and spices.
Though it can now be found growing throughout Georgia as well as abroad, this white grape variety is believed to have first appeared during the 1st century A.D.
Rkatsiteli makes noticeably acidic but balanced white wines with a full flavor profile and good body. Restrained and refreshing, with crisp green-apple flavors and hints of quince and white peach, Rkatsiteli yields a more complex and fortified wine when made using the traditional Georgian method.
Many high-quality table wines, regional wines, and appellation-controlled wines are produced from Rkatsiteli grapes, using both European (classical) and Georgian (traditional qvevri) methods. Rkatsiteli grapes are frequently mixed with the Mtsvane kakhuri variety.
Continue the journey with a host of indigenous varieties.
Of the 500 grape varieties cultivated in Georgia, approximately 40 are currently in commercial production.
Red Grape Variety
This variety originates and continues to thrive on the sunny, southern, calcareous slopes of the Caucasus Mountains in the region of Rach in western Georgia. The grape requires a longer growing seasons as it ripens later than average. Wines produced from Aleksandrouli grapes are can be dry to or semi-sweet and are typically low in tannins amazingly soft, with aromas of raspberry and black cherry.
This variety, used predominantly for rosé wines, is mostly found in Guria but also widespread in Adjara. During the early period of Georgian viticulture, Chkhaveri vines would have been trained to grow up trees (maghlari). Late-ripening and low-yielding, Chkhaveri grapes are typically harvested in the second half of November. Chkhaveri grapes produce soft, harmonious wines with aromas of white fruits, and moderate to high degrees of alchohol.
Believed to be one of Georgia’s most ancient varieties, Dzelshavie mostly grows in the regions of Racha and Imereti. Wines made from this thin-skinned variety can range from soft and elegant to lively and precise. Often used as a supporting grape in a blend, Dzelshavi is Equally suited for rosé and light-bodied red wines
This variety of red grape from the region of Racha ripens later than average and has an exceptional capacity to accumulate sugars. Frequently blended with Aleksandrouli, these grapes can be made into a classical dry red, as well as naturally semi-sweet wines from Racha – a style known as Khvanchkara.
This red grape variety has been traditionally trained as a maghlari vine, that is a vine to be trained to grow up trees. Widespread throughout Mingrelia (also known as Shounuri), the best examples of this variety are found in the Martvili and Senaki districts. The grape requires a long growing season, with budbreak in mid-April and is generally not harvested until mid- to late-November. This thick-skinned variety can be vinified into semi-sweet and dry red wines with incredible depth of character, and lifted notes of spice and pepper.
Widespread throughout the western region of Imereti, grape genealogy suggests this red grape is a transitional variety between a cultivated and wild vine. It ripens between mid- and late-October. Similar to Saperavi, Otskhanuri Sapere is a teinturier grape, producing wines of a deep, opaque ruby color. In their youth, wines are grippy and structured with high tannins and acidity. Exhibiting flavors of forest fruits, red berries and herbs, these wines have great potential for aging. Otkshanuri sapere is considered to Imereti’s best variety of red grape, and is said to have great potential as the region matures and winemakers develop a deeper understanding of the grape’s nuances.
One of the native varieties of the Karlian family of grapes, widespread in the region of Shida (Inner) Kartli. Shavkapito has a shorter growing season, and can be very reflective of the terroir in which it is grown whether produced in traditional qvevris or by European techniques. When grown at lower altitudes and in flatter vineyards, wines tend to be more full-bodied and intense; when cultivated on mountainous slopes, the grapes produce wines with high acidity, bright fruit characteristics and delicate aromas. With notes of cherry and herbs, the grape can produce red wines, but also rosé and sparkling wines.
A red grape from the region of Kartli, and was once widespread across much of Eastern Georgia, tavkvri does well in both clay and sandy soils. This grape is a high-yielding and tends to ripen mid-September. Extremely versatile, tavkveri can be made into sparkling, rosé, red or even sweet wines. Made by modern or traditional vinification techniques, the grape produces a medium-bodied red wine with notes of cherry, earth and herbs.
This Georgian red grape variety is widespread in the Tsageri district of the region of Lechkhumi in western Georgia and produces optimally on loamy, calcareous slopes. A late-season variety with thin skins, the grape has a tendency to develop very high sugars while maintaining a high degree of natural acidity. Produced by traditional and modern methods, the resulting wines from European methods are lightly-colored with bright acidity and with high-toned notes of violets, mint and pepper.
White Wine Varieties
Named for the color of olive tree leaves, the Chinuri variety is abundant and ripens late in the season. Characterized by hints of wild mint and forest pear with notes of vegetation and fruit, Chinuri grapes are most suited to the production of sparkling wines.
Green or straw-colored wines distinguished by their softness are also made from Chinuri grapes, with Atenuri being particularly well known.
Always the life of the party, spirited wines are produced from this grape, which ripens late in the season.
Characterized by aromas of lime, wild flowers, and spring honey. Goruli Mtsvane is frequently mixed with Chinuri grapes to yield a sparkling wine with distinctive flavor.
Goruli Mtsvane/Chinuri blends are frequently left to ferment with Tavkveri grapes to produce Khidistauri red wine, which is well known for its delicate flavor.
One of the most widespread varieties of white grape in Kakheti during the early 19th century, Kakhuri Mtsvivani became increasingly rare due to diseases such as powdery mildew and phylloxera.
Early to ripen compared to other varieties of grape, Kakhuri mtsvivani is light-bodied, but full of character and boasts distinctive aromas. Amazing traditional (qvevri) wines are produced from the Kakhuri Mtsvivani grape. And it is well suited for coupage.
This white grape variety ripens between the first days of September and the second half of the month. While the Khikhvi vine produces a relatively small amount of grapes, they have great potential to accumulate sugar.
Very distinguished classical (European) wines are produced from the Khikhvi grape, releasing the aroma of exotic plants such as box tree. High quality traditional (qvevri) wines are also produced from Khikhvi grapes, imparting tones reminiscent of ripe fruit or yellow dried fruit.
Over the past several decades, superb dessert wines have been made from Khikhvi grapes as well.
Some scientists believe the Kisi grape is a hybrid of the Mtsvane and Rkatsiteli varieties. Kisi vines produce a relatively small amount of grapes, which ripen neither early nor late in the season.
While both classical (European) and traditional qvevri wines produced from Kisi grapes have unforgettable aromas and flavors, qvevri wines made from Kisi grapes are characterized by aromas of ripe pear, marigold, tobacco, and walnut.
One of Georgia’s most ancient varieties of grapes for wine, this white grape peaks during the second half of September.
High-quality table wines, regional wines, and appellation controlled wines are produced from the Mtsvane Kakhuri grape, which is characterized by hints of vineyard peach, fruit trees in bloom, and mineral overtones.
Believed to be among the oldest white grape varieties in western Georgia, Tsitska ripens late and yields light, straw-colored wines with greenish tones.
Tsitska grapes are considered superior for producing sparkling wines. Characterized by aromas of vegetation and hints of pear, lemon, honey and melon, Tsitska wines tend to be quite acidic and lively.
A defining variety of white grape since the 19th century, Tsolikouri ripens late and yields full-bodied, light straw-colored wines with citrus and yellow fruit, white plum, and floral aromas.
Wines made from Tsolikouri grapes are well suited for aging, and the variety is also used to produce sparkling wine.