What makes Sakartvelo (Georgian) wines so difficult
Before heading on trip to Georgia (country, not US state…) I started to read up more on the various regions and wines to have a better idea of what I was heading in to. Of course that left me finding not enough information and so I ended up writing a new book on Georgian wines.
As often stated, the country has been producing wine for 8,000 years and has over 500 native grape varieties. For anyone trying to wrap their head around all the more popular European grape and region names, this is not welcome news…
I soon gave up as I realized that somewhere along the line, someone acted out a linguistic vendetta towards the Georgians and transliterated the Georgian names into the weirdest concoctions you’ve ever seen, specifically with the over-abundance of the letter ‘v’ which is sometimes actually a ‘v’ and other times a ‘u’. This can be no easier seen in the fact that we have the name of Georgia completely an utterly wrong in English as it’s actually Sakartvelo. That’s not as hard as it sounds as it’s actually pronounced ‘sakartuelo’ which goes to show how ridiculous this whole ‘v’ thing is.
Added in to this fun is that the US state of Georgia produces wine as well and at some point, even if it’s never recognized at a UN level, in the wine trade we should really refer to Georgian wines as Sakartvelo wines as they as certainly worthy of being un-confused with those wines from the humid South of the United States. In fact, let’s start doing that right here and now.
I’ll be writing more about other aspects to Sakartvelo wines so I’ll take a moment to clarify a few things for whomever might be reading this and doesn’t want to tie their brain in a knot like I did when trying to figure out how the hell these names. Well, beyond the easy ones like the red Saperavi and Aladasturi grapes or the white, Kisi and Chinuri grapes.
This is the most important word of all as it’s the Kartuli ena (Georgian) word for wine! But it immediately shows how silly this ‘v’ is as the word actually sounds like, ‘guino’. You might think, “Gee, that seems a lot like ‘vino’ in Spanish, Italian, Croatian, etc.” when it’s actually the other way around and the consensus today is that ‘wine’, ‘vino’, and all other derivations of the word originally came from Sakartvelo which is pretty damned cool.
This is the name of the now rather famous amphorae in Sakartvelo although the exact same clay containers exist in Armenia where they’re called ‘Karasi’. This name looks impossible to say but it’s really not that bad: “kuev-ri”. The question as to why two v’s were used is bizarre but not as bizarre as the hopefully soon-to-be lost spelling with a ‘q’. That apparently came about due to the ‘q’ on the English keyboard being the same letter as the ‘ქ’ on the Sakartvelo keyboard. I actually had someone show me this, so I can verify that it’s true. Supposedly, John Wurdeman of Pheasant’s Tears was also pushing for it as he liked the shape of the ‘q’ more than the ‘k’. I’ve only heard their secondhand so I don’t know if it’s true or not and I’d put more faith in the first explanation.
The far eastern region of Georgia with 70% of the wine production, thus an important place to know. In this case, it’s the ‘h’ that’s confusing as the ‘kh’ is mean to signify a hard ‘h’ like the ‘jota’ in Spanish, thus this is really just, ‘kaheti’. For some reason in Russian it’s ‘kahetia’, but in Kartuli ena that trailing ‘a’ isn’t there.
A white grape that’s been a workhorse of the region for some time. That’s an onerous name, but there’s no reason it should be that difficult to say as from all I can tell, the ‘r’ is essentially unvoiced. It’s like someone saw it there in Kartuli ena and decided to drag it along for the ride like your mom making you take your little brother out with your friends to party. The ‘ts’ is like the end of ‘cats’ so in the end it sounds like ‘kats-i-te-li’ which to me sounds nearly Italian although an Italian told me it sounds like something rather rude in Italian.
A relatively common white grape, it’s sometimes it’s written ‘mtsvani’ but that’s incorrect. This is a bit more of a tongue twister as that ‘ts’ sound comes in to play again and yes, the ‘m’ is indeed said. To make it a bit easier, try to say, ‘mitts-va-ne’ as it’s very, very close to the actual pronunciation.
I kinda threw this in here for shits and giggles because it’s not commonly found but it pulls in all these hard to pronounce and badly-spelled items. In short, this has the hard ‘h’ at the beginning but altogether it sounds, like ‘hwi-kwi’. It’s not that hard to say once you get your head around it–and you ignore the impossible to understand version in the Latin alphabet. Makes a pretty tasty wine though and I hope it continues to be re-cultivated.
This is just for starters as there’s a great deal more to delve in to but if you encounter these grapes in your local market (and you very well might as exports are rapidly growing) you’ll have some idea of how to say them… I hope.
Álvaro Palacios - L’Ermita 2016
Very light red cherry, raspberry, tea leaves, dried fennel, light touch of anise, bay leaf, dried flowers, touch of fig compote, truffle. Exceptionally light and delicate on the palate, very very fine red fruits, integrated tannins, plush with a slightly buttery, velvety aspect, very long finish.
85% Grenache 14% Carignan 1% "Others" · 15% · 1160EUR
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
Álvaro Palacios - Les Aubaguetes 2016
Linear plum and dark cherry notes, powdery cocoa, orange peel and blossom, raspberry at the base along with minor vanilla and dark spice touches. Delicate on the palate, light touches of dark fruit, good wealth of tannins yet held in check, medium plus acidity, very long finish. Needs much more time in the bottle.
77% Grenache 21% Carignan 1% Grenache Blanc 1% Macabeu · 14.5% · 455EUR
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
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
Domaine of the Bee - Cuvée 2015
Ruby with minor garnet rim. Rich red fruits with an underpinning of ripe plum, orange peel, licorice, cocoa. Broad, round tannins with a touch of toast and sweet cocoa in a long finish. Manages to stay very light on the palate despite the higher alcohol.
50% Grenache 50% Carignan · 15% · 25EUR
Aquila del Torre - Primaluce 2015
Bruised yellow apple, bit of fig compote, chalky mineral notes, and hazelnut. Light oxidized touches that work to embellish the wine. Rich palate that carries lovely texture with the age of the wine.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13.5%
Domaine Augustin - Adéodat Blanc 2016
Lemon and white peach, strong kick of salinity, and toasted notes. Very fleshy and full on the palate, peach notes more prominent as well as Meyer lemon, medium plus acidity and a lengthy finish.
100% Grenache Gris · 14.5% · 20EUR
AA Badenhorst - Secateurs Red Blend 2012
Forest bramble with ripe red fruit, touches of cherry, ripe red plum, tiny bit of prune, cumin, anise, black licorice, wet cement mineral note, underlying fig jam. Crisp medium plus acidity, medium tannins, medium plus length, medium alcohol, overall medium plus body that’s ripe and lively but super fresh and balanced at the same time. Bit of rugged wildness to it but doesn’t get out of hand. Easy to drink but with just enough underlying complexity so that it stays interesting.
56% Syrah 27% Cinsaut 6% Grenache 4% Cabernet Sauvignon 7% "Others" · 13.5% · 12EUR
Domaine Treloar - Motus 2015
Dark ruby, minor rim. Big, mighty bouquet of red cherry and other brambly forest fruit, vanilla, almond blossom, orange peel, and cocoa. Rich and full on the palate with a wealth of tannins still integrating, leading into a crunchy, lingering finish.
80% Mourvèdre 10% Syrah 10% Grenache · 14% · 14EUR