Georgian Amber Wine

Unveiling The Heritage Of Georgia’S Qvevri Crafted Wines

Georgia, celebrated as the 'birthplace of wine', boasts a winemaking history that spans over 8000 years. This rich heritage is embodied in the Georgian amber wine, a unique product of the country's ancient traditions. Central to this tradition is the Qvevri, a clay fermentation vessel that is not only rare but also recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi is home to an 8000-year old Qvevri, evidence of the country's longstanding winemaking history. This Qvevri, unearthed in Georgia, contained remnants of ancient wine grape pips and compounds dating back to 6000 BC, as confirmed through scientific methods like mass spectrometry and chromatography.

The Art Of Making Amber Wine In Qvevri

The making of Georgian amber wine in Qvevri is an art form preserved by a handful of modern Georgian winemakers. Christy Canterbury, MW, and current Campaign Ambassador for Wines of Georgia, notes that only 5% of Georgian wine is made in Qvevri. This includes both red and white grapes, but the term 'amber wine' specifically refers to skin-contact wines made with white grapes, named for their distinctive golden color. Georgian winemakers avoid the term 'orange wine', emphasizing that their wines are truly 'amber'. The process involves harvesting local white grapes like Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane, and Kisi, slightly crushing them, and then fermenting them in a Qvevri with their skins, stems, and seeds. The sealed Qvevri is then buried underground, a method that imparts a unique character to the wine.

Variations In Qvevri Winemaking And Regional Differences

The Qvevri winemaking method varies not only in the duration of fermentation but also in the types and sizes of Qvevri used. Lado Uzunashvili, Chief Winemaker at Mukado Wines, explains that while amber wines are typically fermented in Qvevri for about six months, red wines, due to their higher tannin content, are macerated for a shorter period of 30 to 45 days. The size of the Qvevri can reach up to 6 feet tall, and different types of clay are used depending on the winemaking region. For instance, cooler regions like Racha tend to use less skin contact compared to warmer regions like Kakheti, affecting the flavor profile of the wines.

Tasting Profile And Serving Suggestions For Georgian Amber Wine

Georgian amber wine, characterized by its unique flavor profile, typically presents dry notes with hints of golden apple, honey, nuts, and a subtle savory blend of orange zest and herbs. Some varieties may exhibit a slight oxidation, adding to their distinctive character. The uniqueness of each Qvevri wine stems from numerous factors including the grape variety, Qvevri size, the clay used, and the temperature of the ground where it's buried. These variables ensure that each bottle offers a distinct tasting experience. Serving these wines at the correct temperature, between 55-65 F (around 13-18 C), is crucial. Unlike rosés, amber wines demand a warmer serving temperature, similar to red wines. In Georgian wine culture, serving temperature is taken seriously, often indicated on the wine bottle's label. Food pairing for amber wines typically mirrors that of red wines, due to their structured palate. In Georgia, they are commonly paired with dishes like spicy lamb, steak, fatty fish, and hard cheeses, enhancing the culinary experience.

Seeking And Enjoying Rare Amber Qvevri Wines

Finding Georgian amber wines made in Qvevri can be a journey worth undertaking for wine enthusiasts. Given that only a small fraction of Georgian wine is made in Qvevri, and an even smaller portion as amber wine, these wines are somewhat rare. They are, however, available in fine wine shops and online in the U.S., with prices ranging from $18 to $65 per bottle. These wines typically indicate on their label that they have been made in Qvevri, often including a description of their taste. The experience of savoring an amber wine is twofold: not only does one get to enjoy the unique flavors and surprises each bottle holds, but also partake in a piece of the world’s oldest winemaking tradition.

Understanding Georgian 'Amber' Vs 'Orange' Wine

The term 'amber' wine is preferred in Georgia over 'orange' wine, as it more accurately represents the wine's color and composition. The misconception of 'orange' wine often leads consumers to think of orange flavorings or juice, which is not the case. Georgian winemaking tradition involves maturing white grapes with their skins, stalks, and pips in a Qvevri, a process dating back to the 6th millennium B.C. This method, involving several months of fermentation, imparts the wine's unique characteristics and its distinctive amber hue.

Prominent Georgian Wineries And Their Amber Offerings

Georgia's amber wine scene is enriched by the contributions of several notable wineries, each bringing their unique approach to this ancient winemaking style. Schuchmann Wines, located in the village of Napareuli in the Kakheti region, is renowned for its high-quality amber wines produced from grape varieties such as Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane, and Saperavi. Pheasant's Tears, based in the town of Sighnaghi in eastern Georgia, is celebrated for their traditional winemaking techniques, resulting in wines with bright, fresh flavors. Teliani Valley, positioned in Tbilisi, and Tbilvino, in the town of Kvareli, both contribute to the diversity of Georgian amber wines with their range of offerings. These wines, known for their depth, complexity, and bright fruity flavors, are crafted using a blend of modern and traditional techniques.

Georgian Orange Wine: A Global Perspective

Despite its historical roots and unique production methods, Georgian amber wine is often grouped under the broader category of 'orange wines'. This global trend includes offerings from various countries such as Canada, Australia, Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia. However, Georgian amber wine stands distinct in its production process and flavor profile. It's not just a wine; it's a representation of Georgia's rich winemaking heritage and a testament to the endurance of traditional methods in the modern age.

Conclusion: A Journey Into The Heart Of Georgian Winemaking

Georgian amber wine, with its deep historical roots and unique production methods, offers a distinct and enriching experience for wine lovers. From the ancient Qvevri to the meticulous winemaking processes and the diverse taste profiles, these wines are more than just beverages; they represent a journey into the heart of Georgian culture and history. As an integral part of Georgia's winemaking legacy, amber wines not only cater to the palate but also to the soul, connecting drinkers to one of the oldest wine cultures in the world.

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