The Tasting Panel magazine

June 2013

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Page 96 of 162

OFF THE BEATEN PATH Birthplace of Wine WINING AND DINING IN THE HISTORIC NATION OF GEORGIA by Max Jacobson I PHOTO: MAX JACOBSON An 8,000-year-old qvevri (amphora) from the dawn of Georgian wine. t's a glorious spring evening in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, and several wine enthusiasts and journalists are seated at a table in the wine restaurant Azarpesha, named for a long, curved silver tasting ladle traditionally used in this country of more than 500 grapes varieties, many of which are possessed of unpronounceable names such as Rkatsiteli, Khvanchakara and Kindzmarauli. Soon the tamada, or toastmaster, a bear-like man named Lorsab, will pour wines from Pheasant's Tears, in Georgia's Kakheti region, a winery owned by an American painter named John Wurdeman. Wurdeman makes his wines in a traditional Georgian manner, using the clay amphorae known as qvevri, lined with organic beeswax and buried in the earth. The table is laden with food for a Saperavi is a red so Georgian feast; among the dishes are dark its name comes sulu a tomato cucumber salad, sulufrom the Georgian guni cheese, Megreli khachapuri word for "black." (cheese bread baked in a wood oven and served warm), marinated mushrooms and chikmeruli (baked chicken with garlic sauce). Wurdeman's wines, such as white Mtsvane and red Saperavi, are delicious, the Mtsvane redolent of vanilla and exotic spice, the Saperavi a red so dark that its name comes from the Georgian word for "black." There are hints of currant and almond unfa with each sip, and both wines have a rather unfamiliar, indefinable quality that seems made for the foods. At intervals, Lorsab and two of his friends, sing polyphonic Georgian songs, introducing each one with a hearty "gaumarjob," Georgian for "cheers." Georgian claims to be the birthplace of wine. Viticulture here is almost 8,000 years old, and many enologists claim that vitis vinifera is native to this mountainous land in the Caucasus. Lado Uzunashvili, fluent in English, makes wines at Château Mukhrani, which produces a terrific red blend called Réserve du Prince, a killer grappa ("chacha" in Georgian) and delicious Muscat dessert wine. Lado lived and worked in Australia in the '80s and '90s, and uses French oak for his premium varietals. 96  /  the tasting panel  /  june 2013 TP0613_080-119.indd 96 5/23/13 5:30 PM

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