Suz Does Georgia
We have quite the travelers at the shop! Susan, our Wine Director was recently in the country of Georgia with a group of wine professionals. Why were they there? To find cool wines for us, of course! “We were there as a group with the intention of finding new wines to bring into the U.S. We’re hoping all of the wines that we really liked on the trip we’ll be able to get in the States!” Georgian Toast (the importer from whom we receive our Georgian wine) owners Kosta and Sergei organized this trip for Susan and two other wine professionals to get them further pumped on Georgian wine. It totally worked because Susan is completely obsessed with Georgia, its history, its culture, and its wine. Here’s her trip in her own words. My interjections are in bold.
A quick glossary:
Kosta - owner of Georgia Toast and organizer of this trip
Sergei - owner of Georgia Toast and organizer of this trip
Gabby - wine buyer, Sake sommelier, trip participant
Michael - wine buyer, trip participant
Zura - our Georgian driver, Catcher of Rabbits
Georgian Toast - Kosta and Sergei’s Georgian importing company
Tbilisi - Georgia’s capital city
Qvevri - terracotta vessels buried underground and used for aging wine
Favorite winemaking experience
One of the most special things about Georgian wine is that Georgians are still aging wine like their ancestors did over 8000 years ago in qvevri, which are clay vessels buried underground. Every single marani (Georgian for wine cellar) we went to had an aging facility of qvevri, and they’re all buried. You’d walk into the cellar and there were open holes, or covered, qvevri depending on the time of the fermentation process. One of the more special wine experiences was getting to try the wine directly from the qvevri. I don’t know where else in the entire world you can do that!
Did you feel in touch with history at that point?
Definitely. They are doing literally everything they did thousands of years ago! There is this renaissance of modernity in Georgian winemaking as well which is a beautiful thing to see. It was very interesting to see the old techniques used in Georgian winemaking versus the new techniques, and then the old and the new coming together as one, which is really helping the Georgian wine industry in general. Georgians are advancing their winemaking techniques in order to keep with up with the modern wine industry. That’s one of the reasons I’m sure we’re seeing more and more Georgian wine in the US market and also throughout the world. It’s finally being exported.
What was one thing that surprised you?
I was so blown away by Georgian hospitality. Every vineyard we visited would have a full-on lunch ready for us. The Georgian hospitality is just above and beyond. The toasting culture was also a surprise. I didn’t realize how sincere and authentic toasts could be until I was in Georgia. I mean you have wedding toasts in the States and you have some heartfelt toasts with friends. But in Georgia, they take their toasts very, very seriously, to the point where if you’re at a formal dinner, or a supra (a traditional Georgian meal), someone at the table is assigned as the Tamada, who is the toastmaster. That person, traditionally a man, is then given the responsibility to lead toasts throughout the evening and filling your glass with amber wine. There is no speaking when the Tamada is toasting and the Tamada can also assign you, Kiri, to say some words. Once a toast is given you all cheers ‘Gaumarjos!’ in unison and you have to drink your entire glass of wine without stopping.
Oh so there is someone who is the MC of the evening.
There this one dish called khachapuri that is soooo good! It’s essentially bread filled with Georgian cheese. It differs in its shape and how it’s prepared regionally but the best khachapuri was in the coastal city of Batumi in the region of Adjara, which is in western Georgia on the Black Sea. We had khachapuri for breakfast at this unassuming café, a little bit modern, so you wouldn’t think you’d get really good khachapuri, but it was the best thing ever! We were shown that café by Kosta’s amazing Georgian friend, Ednari, who gave us a walking tour of Batumi that afternoon. The Adjarian khachapuri was extra cheesy, [and] this one had an egg, and then you take a stick of butter and you swirl the butter around the inside of the bread. Then, you mix in the egg with the cheese, eat it all, and then you’re in a food coma. So that was a really good meal.
And then we had a really special meal at Iveri Vineyard outside of Batumi on third day that we were there. Winemakers Rostom and Marina Beridze hosted this unbelievable spread of all traditional Georgian dishes overlooking their vineyards at sunset. In Georgia, there are around thirty-five to forty traditional dishes that you can basically find at all Georgian restaurants, and that are served at Georgians’ home dinner tables. The dishes don’t really differ that much except for some regional differences. There was this one dish called chakapuli, which is a stew of meat and herbs, that I became obsessed with, and tried to make back here at home, but it wasn’t the same!
So our Airbnb in Tbilisi was on a busier street. Right around the corner, there was this very small street side café. You order your coffee from the sidewalk and they had really great espresso and Caffé Americano. The coffee culture is definitely reminiscent of Italian coffee culture where you have your cappuccino in the morning, or an espresso at the end of a meal.
Is it a big coffee culture?
I feel like it was because Georgians drink A LOT of wine and you need a little coffee to wake you up (we laugh).
I had a few negroni and they were pretty solid. I only had to teach one Georgian bartender how to make a negroni.
(I laugh) So it was a good trip?
It was a good trip.
Favorite non-wine activity
One afternoon, Kosta took us up on a hike into the hills of Tbilisi, the main city of Georgia. So we ended up hiking up to a monastery called the Tabor Monastery of the Transformation. It started off in the old city center, then we were walking through a residential area, and then suddenly we were in this field of poppies overlooking Tbilisi. We ended up at this monastery and [we were] able to go inside, light candles, and have a moment of respite. It was something nice to do outside of the wine tastings.
One morning we went to the sulfur baths in the Abanotubani neighborhood of Old Tbilisi and that was really cool. The sulfuric water is warm and really therapeutic. It was like going to a spa that smells like sulfur and there’s a sauna, a cold pool, and a hot tub. Afterwards we all had massages and it completely cured any hangovers. It was really cool. Oh! And then while we’re waiting for massages outside of the sauna, they give you tea, which you would have loved. It’s a very light black tea and there are these delicious Georgian cherries they put into the tea. You drop a cherry into your tea and you have a little bit of this sweetness.
At what moment did you almost decide to stay in Georgia forever?
It was probably sitting under a shady tree at Chubini Wine Cellar. We had had an afternoon of drinking Chubini’s amber wine out of this old WWII shell, a bomb shell that Tornike Chubinidze’s (owner of Chubini Wine Cellar) father salvaged during the war and had made into a drinking cup. So, Tornike passed around this literal bomb full of wine and you’d have to finish it. The Tamada is the only person who can fill the glass and he does not go lightly.
I imagine not.
I just didn’t want to leave Chubini and I didn’t want to leave Georgia! (Susan laughs) We had musical instruments, and we were playing guitar, singing, there was an accordion, and we were under this tree overlooking Tornike’s vineyard and his cellar. His father grilled trout for us, and we had this whole spread of cheese, bread, eggplant, and tomato and cucumber salad. Cucumber and tomato salad is at every single meal, and so good. It’s with dill and walnuts. Definitely a special afternoon. It was beautiful weather out.
How drunk were you guys?
Oh we got pretty drunk, to the point where the end of the night consisted of chasing wild rabbits around in a field (we start laughing).
Why did you do that?
To catch them of course! (A couple minutes of laughter where I don’t understand what we’re saying.) And then our driver Zura ended up catching a rabbit.
There were a lot of pets running around, dogs and cats. And I guess one of these rabbits was Tornike’s pet, so then Zura ended up catching this rabbit. It took hours! And by that time it was pitch dark! I thought we were going to be at Chubini for a visit and lunch, so a few hours. I think we spent like 6 or 7 hours there. I wish it were forever.