Georgia: The Wine


Wine in Georgia

You’re scared, aren’t you? I can tell. You’re scared because you’ve read the title of this post and you know I’m going to have another bash at writing about wine. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, I’ve spent some time thinking about the answer to that question and I’ve come up with several possibilities:

1. I will look like a total idiot.

2. You’re not interested because you come here for the food stuff and you don’t know that much about wine.

3. I will look like a total idiot.

Putting options 1 and 3 aside for a moment, let’s deal with number 2. You’re into food, so you’re probably into drinking wine. If you’re anything like me, you drink the stuff like a fish but you find the world of wine frankly terrifying. Why so scary, wine world? Hmm? There are lots of reasons why I personally find it scary, which include but are not limited to: the fact that there is so much to know and I know so little of it but, mainly, the fact that many people I have met in the wine world are terribly pompous, condescending snobs who use their chosen subject area as a passport to twatsville. Apparently, not knowing everything there is to know about wine makes you a total LOSER. Who knew? These people are the equivalent of school bullies; they use their advantage (be it strength, popularity or in this case, wine knowledge) to make other people feel stupid because they are ultimately insecure about their own self-worth. Deep breaths, deeeep breaths.

Anyway my point is that it is coming into contact with those sorts of people that destroyed my confidence from the very beginning and I therefore just gave up. There’s too much to learn! I can’t possibly taste anything properly! What if I say the wrong thing? FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE WHICH WORD ON THIS BOTTLE IS THE NAME OF THE GRAPE?!


I’ve since taken 3 ‘school of wine’ courses at my local (amazing) wine shop, Green and Blue in East Dulwich which, quite honestly, brought me back from the brink. Kate Thal (the joint owner) runs them and she is the most down to Earth, non-snobby wine person one could hope to meet. She saved me, man. So, I know a lot more about wine than I did before. I’m still scared, though. Nothing puts the shivers up my spine like the thud of an enormous list on white linen. That’s the point where I start frantically looking for the sommelier then beg him/her not to rob me blind.


So, as I wrote before, I got invited on a wine trip to Georgia recently. They invited two food bloggers amongst the (very lovely and brilliant and the opposite of those above) wine people, I imagine because they understand the divide too and they want to bridge it. I actually know quite a lot of wine people nowadays and they are the complete polar opposite of those crusty old men (I’m sorry, but it always seems to be men); the people I know now just tell me things like, ‘it’s all down to personal taste’, ‘you can’t get it wrong’ (slight lie, that one, trust me), and ‘just because someone else gets fear and insecurity on the nose, it doesn’t mean you have to’.

Anyway, the wine. So the wine in Georgia is natural, right. Do you know what that means? Natural wine sends the wine world a bit loopy, basically. They get well wound up about it. The idea with natural wine is to intervene as little as possible during the wine making process, with the ultimate aim of producing something that is much more representative of the place in which it was grown (there’s a word for that last bit which escapes me…cheeky grin). It’s supposed to be more, um, expressive.

Apparently, Georgia was the first country to start making wine; they’ve been doing it for 8000 years. The way they do it is really interesting, though. No barrels for them. They get these massive clay pots called qvevri, and they bury them in the ground. Then they whack everything (juice, skins, stems) in there, seal it up with clay and let it all separate out. The wine is then drawn off the top very carefully using a special jug on a stick. They use a really old grape variety called Rkatsiteli which comes out freakin’ orange! Then there’s another one, which is red and called Saperavi. They’re both native to Georgia. The first time I tasted the orange wine, I was quite taken aback; that stuff is just totally unlike any wine I’ve ever tasted; kinda funky but, you know what? I got into it. By the end of that trip I think we were all a bit Georgian.

Georgia is a post-Soviet state and its people are trying to re-build their country. Part of this means re-discovering traditional methods of producing wine. I found it fascinating, even despite my insecurity telling me I couldn’t possibly be as interested in the wine as I was in the food. I urge you to seek out some Georgian wine, because that stuff will make you have a good old think about natural wine and wine making, if you’re at all interested. The RAW natural wine fair is happening on May 20th and 21st in London (buy tickets here). I’m going to be there. If you see me, come and say hi. Just don’t ask me anything too technical…

Vineyard in the Caucasus


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  • Avatar
    Reply Fiona Beckett April 16, 2012 at 8:12 am

    Great post. As good a description of natural wine as I’ve seen. Keep going 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply Max @ Pub Diaries April 16, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Life it seems is full of the pompous know it all. Beer not as much so but they are there and I rarely write about taste as a result. I’ll often to say “yep, liked it, seek it out”.

    The knowledge we perceive in others however is sometimes bluff or tempered with an unwillingness to try something that doesn’t fit their idea of how things should be. Case in point – Lebanese wine. I was at a tasting in Dulwich when a reasonably knowledgeable Gent refused to try it. “oh no no one simply couldn’t… What would people say if I offered Leb-a-nese (hushed) wine… Oh no no no”

    I say write on because I learnt something and now thinking where I can buy Georgian wine.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 16, 2012 at 9:33 am

      Refusal to even try it! URGH.

  • Avatar
    Reply Neil Davey April 16, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Know what you mean about a certain type of wine buff / writer / “expert”. I once got shouted at by a very respected (admittedly tipsy) MoW when I described a wine as reminding me “of a really good single malt”. “NO IT DOESN’T!!” she bellowed.

    I used to do some work with a wine importer and help them with tastings. We stopped giving out tasting notes at certain events because you’d always get someone utterly terrified that they “can’t get the elderflower”. The best lesson I got came on one such evening.

    “Yeah, but do you like it?” asked my colleague.
    “Er, well, I can’t get the elderflower and it says here ‘elderflower notes.'”
    “Yeah but do you like it?”
    “Er… no, not really.”
    “Then try this one instead…”
    “Yes, but it says ‘elderflower’ and I’m not getting it at-”
    “Mate,” said, my colleague, with a consoling arm around the guy’s shoulder, “it’s wine, it’s not a ****ing exam.”

    I think you’re right, and there is more dangling sphericals written about wine than food, although it’s a close run thing. People will always declare something “the best” or announce how it tastes of this and that and maybe it does to them. That doesn’t mean we all react the same way, have the same points of reference or the same ability to isolate particular flavours and recall them days, weeks, months or years later. It’s my palate, my rules. End of.

    But yes, it’s a confidence thing so just laugh it off. If they get arsey or pretentious (or probably both) that’s because they’re generally arsey or pretentious (or probably both). I just laughed at the bellowing woman, shrugged, and says “well, it does to me” and carried on drinking and enjoying it. And to be fair she did at least have the good grace to apologise next time our paths crossed.

    Drink what you like, but like what you drink. After all, it’s wine, not a ****ing exam.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 16, 2012 at 9:34 am

      Awesome comment, Neil. Also, I will respect you forever for the phrase, ‘spherical danglers’

  • Avatar
    Reply amanda Russell April 16, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Really interesting, want to know more, want to go now!

  • Avatar
    Reply Paul April 16, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Well, that post was great fun. A great rant, a bit of travel and some really interesting facts. Really want to try some of that multi-coloured Georgian wine now

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 16, 2012 at 11:24 am

      Cheers, Paul! Try it…you might like it…

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    Reply Russ April 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Great post Helen, and great comment Neil. Only place I’ve seen Georgian wine on the menu was at Trojka in Primrose Hill. Can’t remember much about it I’m afraid, but it, along with the food, was reasonably priced (unlike a lot of the surrounding gaffs) so worth popping in to try.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 16, 2012 at 12:13 pm

      Cheers, Russ! Thanks for the tip off…

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    Reply Catherine April 16, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Great post, v interesting and I loved the pic of the wine and the violet. Want to try natural wine, it sounds like it shouldn’t give you a hangover but it never works out like that does it?!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 16, 2012 at 2:09 pm

      No, it bloody doesn’t!

  • Avatar
    Reply Andrew Friedhoff April 16, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    Great post. I agree with Fiona Beckett, I particularly like your definition of natural wine.

    I also find the wine world rather intimidating but in a different way. My fascination with wine and where it’s from etc makes me hungry for knowledge and I soak up greedily. I’m a geek basically!

    However I find the tasting part intimidating. What am I smelling/tasting? Am I missing really obvious elements? How can people pick out so many elements from a wine? In tastings I sometimes get that look from the patient expert who reassuringly says that it’s all down to personal taste but whose eyes are saying to me in my crazed paranoia ‘oh dear, clearly doesn’t have the nose/palate’. Anyway, I found Jancis’ article quite reassuring – http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a201204102.html.
    Guess I should finally commit myself to a wine course like my housemate Graeme Semple did twice and you did 3 times!

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 16, 2012 at 2:10 pm

      Ah, Graeme’s housemate! I did the first school of wine with Graeme you see…or was it the second. Hmm, it’s a bit of a blur! Thanks for your comment, and the link.

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    Reply Sally - My Custard Pie April 16, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    It’s strange that the same people who would turn their nose up at a highly processed food product from a large producer would reject the wine equivalent of an organic, cave-aged, artisan cheese. Shocked by the comment about rejecting Lebanese wines…..do these kind of people still exist in such numbers in the wine world?!
    Thanks for putting Georgia firmly on my radar and I enjoyed this account of wine as much as I always enjoy your frank and refreshing writing about food.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 16, 2012 at 2:11 pm

      I dunno if they do still exist in large numbers to be honest. Perhaps! I think mostly they’re probably dying out as a species. Survival of the fittest and all that.

  • Avatar
    Reply Robert April 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Haha! I totally agree with you on wine snobs. I just think of a word that rhymes with bankers…

    Oh thinking about it. It’s only one letter difference. Sorry I do know not all bankers would prostitute their grannies for a quick profit.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 16, 2012 at 2:20 pm

      Hmm I just can’t think what word you might be referring to Robert…

  • Avatar
    Reply Lizzie April 16, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Excellent post, and you know my thoughts on wine wankers. I’ll call it jammy if I bloody well want to, alright? HUFF.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 16, 2012 at 4:51 pm

      I once got myself into a LOT of hot water with ‘confected’ because someone told me to say it AS A SODDING JOKE.

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    Reply The Grubworm April 16, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    I always reckon it boils down to whether you like a wine or don’t, shouldn’t really matter past that. And as different people taste different things, coming up with flavour analogies is an approximate science at best. So I agree, best not have have truck with the wine snobs, and instead join the more inclusive wine lovers for a drink 😉

    Georgian wine sounds really interesting, I’ve only ever tried it at a Georgian joint on the Holloway Rd, and thought it wasn’t half bad. I’d certainly be up for giving it another go, and this post has made me want to go hunt it down.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 16, 2012 at 6:14 pm

      Wahey! Love how everyone is agreeing with me…

  • Avatar
    Reply Jean-Donald St Claire de Montgolfier April 16, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    Frankly, I think you’re a bit of an embarrassment to this ‘blogging’ profession. Surely if you’d paid the slightest attention during your upbringing you’d have learnt, at the very least the basic crus and grasped the essentials of how and why to taste.
    I’ve come across your kind at some of the events at which I’m expected to attend. Spouting ill informed twaddle and trying to persuade the rest of those present that your, frankly infantile, opinions are as worthy of attention as those that actually understand the subject.
    Without wanting to sound condescending, I suggest you return back to your sandwiches and leave the wine drinking to those a trifle more adult and mature than yourself.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen April 16, 2012 at 8:38 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment, J-D St. C de M. Although I have absolutely no IDEA who you are, I can feel the wisdom and superiority of your personality shining through your written word. It’s touching me, man, touching me. To be honest, I now feel embarrassed. I bow before your wisdom. I bow right down and give it to you like the professional that you are…oh wait…

  • Avatar
    Reply Ellie April 17, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Thanks, Helen, for this refreshing take on wine! It’s so nice not to read a stuffy report on the flavour profile of a 1996 Wendouree Cabernet Malbec or the rising of Classic Cuvée Vintage English sparkling wine.
    What most ‘wine professionals’ forget is that wine isn’t some exclusive alcohol category any more, and around 70% (possibly more) of wine is bought at supermarkets (oh, the horror!) for ‘normal’ people to enjoy at home, and is reasonably priced enough for people to be able to try different varietals, without the horror of mispronouncing something from an epic wine list in a restaurant, paying £30 for the bottle, then realising it’s not for them.

    As for the assertion from Mr J-D St. C de M that you’re far too immature to be writing about wine – I write wine articles for highly-circulated trade magazines on a monthly basis, while enjoying the asinine churn of such programmes as Take Me Out and The Only Way is Essex and sitting at my desk eating Nerds, listening to Now compilations.

    I love all of your writing and your passion for what you write about – don’t be perturbed by some cantankerous wine charlatan, they know a lot less than they let on.

  • Avatar
    Reply Fletcher April 17, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    Vagabond in Fulham have a Georgian tasting next Thurs. I’m in. And, to keep me right on theme, I’ve been drinking a Lebanese wine tonight. Ch Musar is just about a house wine for me. Buy in bulk from Waitrose when they have their, periodic, 25% off. A lot of bottle variation but everyone a winner. Although tonight it, worringly, set out with a vinegary nose it settled down and was on good form.

  • Avatar
    Reply Donald Edwards April 18, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Great news about Vagabond doing a tasting, hopefully they’ll have some of the Sokoli or Nika Andatze wines (off the top of my head the ones that are available over here) – Hope you enjoy it.

  • Avatar
    Reply Piers April 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    A good article, and I think probably a lot of people share your feelings. But they needn’t. I’ve been into wine since uni thanks to a fairly active and welcoming tasting group. I’m probably what you’d call a wine fart now. But as you say, it shouldn’t be intimidating – everyone wants to drink wine for fun, not as some kind of academic pursuit. And yes, there’s loads to learn, but a little bit of effort at the start (e.g. maybe comparing a few different grapes from the same place and finding out how they’re different – using the Casillero del Diablo wines would be a fairly good way to do this), and you suddenly start getting somewhere.
    Sommeliers in restaurants who look down on you if you don’t know everything about wine are just dicks – it’s their JOB to help people.

    @Ellie, I completely agree about most wine being bought in supermarkets, and that wine is not just for the few. Sadly most of the stuff at c£7 is just mass-produced rubbish. If you go to someone like the Wine Society, you can spend less, get more interesting wines, and they’ll give you tasting notes etc if you want to learn. And you get to give your money to someone nice, rather than a massive business, which I would guess a lot of people who read this site try to do with their food buying (when they can at least).

  • Avatar
    Reply Paul Wakefield April 19, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Came across your blog in connection with Isabelle Legeron. Fiona Beckett is spot on as usual – a very amusing and insightful post, and a great all round blog that I’ll follow.

    There’s also another Natural Wine Fair on the same weekend as RAW. The term Natural Wine seems to be causing all sorts of people to be spitting blood instead of wine at the moment. Since last year’s Natural Wine Fair, the UK world of “Natural Wine” has already split in two. The good thing is there are twice as many producers appearing in the two events, the bad thing is getting from one to the other and home again. Too much for one Sunday.

    http//therealwinefair.com is in Southampton Row. There are some really good Georgian wines at both venues along with a whole lot of other great wines. Last year’s event ( organized by Isabelle and Doug Wregg – now in opposing camps ) was fantastic and incredibly well attended by a mostly younger crowd. This is what wines used to taste like years ago before winemakers started adding foreign yeasts and interfering too much in the process. Maybe J-D St C de M will turn up and learn a thing or two, although I suspect he’s just a figment of some spoiler’s imagination, and is corked.

    There is no mystery to wine, it’s all about smell and taste, and most people are good at both and have their own opinions.

  • Avatar
    Reply Tales from the Tiny Kitchen April 22, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Whenever anyone tries to educate me about wine, I feel a mist coming down and I can’t focus. It’s just too much to take in, and I get terribly nervous and end up forgetting every bit of information instantly. I know I’m not alone!

  • Avatar
    Reply Sharmila April 23, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    Awesome post, and how I generally feel about wine too. I’ve tried to just ignore people thinking I’m a div and just get on with enjoying the stuff, although I’d love to learn more and work out why I like what I like.

    On a different note, I have a spare ticket for RAW, so if anyone wants it, please let me know!

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    Reply Kati December 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Hi Helen, I know this is quite an old post… but any chance you can give details on this (and any other recommended markets/restaurants) in Tbilisi? I’m going in April – can’t wait!

  • Avatar
    Reply Helen December 11, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Hi Kati, I really recommend the main food market in Tbilisi http://helengraves.co.uk/2012/04/georgian-food-part-1-markets/

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