Award-winning wine writer Feiring (Naked Wine: Letting Grapes Do What Comes Naturally, 2011, etc.) offers a peek into the Republic of Georgia’s relatively little-known wine culture.
Georgia, a small country bordering the Black Sea, boasts 525 indigenous grapes, 8,000 vintages, and the “longest unbroken winemaking history.” In 2011, the author poured a glass of “amber colored wine with some tannic scratch” for the wine director of famed New York City restaurant Le Bernardin. Though he was underwhelmed, Feiring was impressed by the wine’s unusual character. Soon after, she participated in a conference on natural wines in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. Feiring was seduced by the country, its colors and flavors, and the unusual method of creating wine in large clay pots called qvevri. “Whether or not there was a genetic or spiritual link, Georgia, in the shadows of the Caucasus Mountains, burrowed under my skin,” she writes. The author began championing the wine and the Georgian winemakers’ efforts at retaining their traditional methods against the chemicals, commercialization, and standardization so prevalent in numerous wine regions around the globe. She weaves in a brief overview of the country’s turbulent history under communist rule and its deleterious effects on its wine industry. “It was then,” she writes, “that everything crystallized for me: communism under the Russians and modern-day capitalism were twins separated at birth. Neither fostered or celebrated the individual.” Feiring also discovered that Georgians don’t just eat; they feast with gusto. She describes her experiences with long, rowdy repasts complete with multiple toasts, and she includes Georgian recipes such as Ajarian Chirbuli, a breakfast dish featuring eggs, walnuts, and hot chilies, and Lamb Chakapuli, a slow-cooked stew eaten by Stalin. Throughout, the author chronicles her explorations into Georgia’s varied wine regions.
Feiring’s lively account is a good place to begin for wine lovers seeking a head start on exploring a vastly underappreciated wine-producing country.