Georgia has been producing great wine for thousands of years yet people don’t seem to know much about it. We’re talking about Georgia the country, not the state, where the wine culture is 8,000 years old.
Georgia is nestled between Russia and Turkey and shares borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan. The region is rich with history – written history records indicate early humans lived in the Georgia area around the 12th century BCE, that’s BCE not CE. Even cooler still, 8,000-year-old wine jugs, the earliest wine evidence to date, have been found in Georgia. There is also evidence to suggest the first grapes were domesticated there too. Yeah, we weren’t kidding when we said there’s a lot of history there.
Those 8,000-year-old wine jugs are called doqis and are still used today. The doqi is a clay vessel used to keep wine cool and represents the tradition of hospitality at the Georgian table. Georgians take hospitality, and wine, extremely seriously.
“You wouldn’t be considered a good host if you couldn’t provide your guests with the wine you made. That’s a fundamental part of dining or entertaining,” says Stetson Robbins from Blue Danube Wine Co., an importer of Eastern European wine.
Homemade wine is very common in Georgia. It is fermented and stored in giant clay pots called qvevri, that are buried underground in basements and the doqi is what’s used to transport the wine from the cellar to the table. For Georgians, the doqi symbolizes hospitality, as it is the object on the table that wine is poured from. But the doqi isn’t a special piece of kitchenware you barely touch like the family china, it’s used daily.
“Every day is a special occasion and every occasion deserves a doqi a wine. There’s nothing more important than a meal and a meal isn’t complete without wine,” Stetson says.
This month’s Georgian wine is made from 100 percent Saperavi grapes, which Stetson calls the king of Kakheti. Keeping in Georgian tradition, this wine is simply named doqi after the vessel from which it is served. Saperavi does well in many conditions and makes a style of wine people really gravitate toward. Stetson believes Saperavi is so good it could compete with the big guys like Cabernet Sauvignon, but it’s overlooked.
“Saperavi is among one of the great grapes of the world that hasn’t gotten its due. It’s an overlooked gem,” he says.
The region where these overlooked gems grow is called Kakheti. The area is arguably the most important wine region in Georgia as it’s responsible for three-quarters of the country’s grape production. Kakheti is also the location where the 8000-year-old wine artifacts were found. This, along with other archeological evidence, has lead many to believe this is where wine grapes were domesticated all those years ago and people have been making wine there ever since.
“Kakheti is a place humans have been making wine for so long and has remained very stable and the people have remained dedicated to making it,” Stetson says.
Wine is an essential element in the Georgian culture, and they’ve clearly been doing it long enough to perfect their craft. Even if your table doesn’t have a clay doqi to pour wine from, do yourself a favor and start trying the vino from the place where it all started.