Khikhvi: impossible to say, impossible not to love
When in Georgia researching the book, there were a handful of words I learned immediately: “hello” (gamarjoba), “yes” (ki/kho), “no” (ara), and “thank you” (madloba). “Cheers” (gaumarjos) arrived quickly out of necessity but it was followed by peculiar grape name, Khikhvi.
How on earth do you say this name, Khikhvi…? Well, the ‘kh’ is a very hard ‘h’ like the Spanish ‘j’, and the ‘v’ becomes a ‘w’ so it’s like ‘HEE-kwee’ although that’s only somewhat close and in case you haven’t already surmised, this is no ‘Merlot’ nor ‘Syrah’ in terms of being easy to pronounce for the English speaker.
So why am I bothering to mention it? Simply because it’s one of Georgia’s best white grapes. Yes, you may have heard of Rkatsiteli or the Mtsvanes or even Kisi but in my mind, Khikhvi is a truly unsung hero of this Caucasus nation. Unbeknownst to me, it was more famous for being a dessert wine grape due to its ability to concentrate sugar in its low-yielding vines. That’s all well and good but from where I’m drinking, that’s a ripe formula for a quality dry wine as well.
Its homeland is Kakheti, the eastern side of Georgia that holds the majority of the grape production. In typical Georgian fashion, it was decided to have been in existence since the 3rd or 4th centuries CE because well, someone said it was and that’s that. The only truly fact that can be verified about the grape is that it was used throughout the 20th century in the Kardenakhi appellation for this dessert wine production that it became known for.
In terms of taste, I can’t think of any immediate equivalent in Western European grapes. If you like the Catalan Xarel·lo, you will like this grape. Also, if you’re a fan of fine, full-bodied Chardonnay, you’ll like it as well, but keep in mind that it is a very distinct grape from either of these. If you’re a lover of Sauvingon Blanc or Pinot Gris, this might not be a grape for you, but as I always like to emphasize, give it a try!
Its unique flavor profile drifts towards yellow fruit with dried apricot as well as a bruised red apple showing up in the kvevri wines. A tendency to floral notes is definitely quite typical as well but not in an overbearing manner. On the palate, well-integrated medium plus acidity is found in the good examples although in those not up to the same level, they could easily let you down from what you find in the nose. It’s important to note that what I’ve tasted of those making the grape in kvevri has been exceedingly notable and the grape takes very well to this process.
Is there a singular approach to the grape as of yet? To some extent, yes, but there are still many outliers and if you put this in front of me to taste blind, I’d say something awful about your mother before throwing my chair and storming out of the room–only to realize I’d left tasty wine behind that would force me to come storming back in.
Following are a few of the producers making commercially-available wines. Finding them in your market will of course be an adventure but I truly hope you have luck in the endeavor!
Tchotiashvili - Khikhvi 2014
Apricot, yellow peach, orange peel, and a touch of honey. Quite complex aromatically. Orchard fruit much more prevalent in the mouth with young apricot notes. Rich and elegant, touch of astringency in the finish.
100% Khikhvi · 13.1% · 28GEL
Ancestral Wine Cellar - Khikhvi 2014
First harvest of Khikhvi. Light apricot notes, peach skin, lemon peel. Citric in the mouth, fresh, lively acidity, vibrant. Very holistic, full and deliciously good.
100% Khikhvi · 12% · 30GEL
Tradicional Marani - Khikhvi 2015
Deep golden hue. Dried lemon peel, peach, desiccated oranges, marmalade, plump lime blossom note in the middle, light clay notes. Full on the mouth, medium plus acidity, touch of unbridled acids as well, medium finish.
100% Khikhvi · 12.5% · 30GEL
Petriaant Marani - Khikhvi 2015
Bruised red apple, touch of lemon peel, limestone minerality, and some white pepper notes at the back of it. High acidity and full in the mouth. Luscious, involving, elegant wine.
100% Khikhvi · 14% · 25GEL
Avtandil Bedenashvili - Khikhvi 2015
Bit of Muscat notes and green pepper and grassy notes. Light body, medium minus alcohol, clean finish.
100% Khikhvi · 12% · 24GEL
Pheasant's Tears - Khikhvi 2015
Bruised red apple, sage, wild herbs, high aromatic profile. Crisp on the palate, full, tannins well-integrated.
100% Khikhvi · 12.3% · 40GEL