Like music and art, wine can be expressed in many different forms. And when it comes to taste and genres, we all have our own preference. If you like to drink wine, your palates need to constantly evolve. Learning to appreciate qvevri wine is about learning to follow changes, avoid being dependent upon your biases and predilections doing the tasting.
Last week at the Georgian Wine Festival, I was shocked when someone commented that the wine was not as good as Amarone as he was taking small sips from a Burgundy glass filled with amber wine. He basically compared Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to Calvin Harris’ club music. Frustrated with the winetalk I told him, “dude, you come to the wrong show!”
I have been in the Georgian and natural wine business for more than a year now. There are many self-proclaimed wine connoisseurs that are stereotypical wine drinkers who do not understand the notion and practice of qvevri/natural wine. Qvevri wine style: using large clay pot buried deep underground to keep wine made at home was there for thousands of years in Georgia, Turkey, Armenia and Iran.
Therefore, conventional tasting notes like oaky, leather, crème de cassis and aging simply do not apply to most qvevri wine, which is rarely interfered with aromatic oak. Unlike luxury wine aimed at wealthy men, qvevri and natural wine does not have extravagant tasting notes and marketing terms - not to mention a hundred-point scale by the celebrity critics.
The Festival showed that Hong Kong has tried to make an effort to bring in new flavors to spice up the dull wine market, but Hong Kong is accepting this new trend at a very slow pace. In other words, it’s very hard to convert local conservative knowledgeable drinkers to qvevri wine fans despite their curiosity triggered to join the avant-garde movement.
For those who are not familiar with our wine selections and found them qwerty in taste (cannot describe in words) at the Festival, let me break it down for you to help you better understand why qvevri wine doesn’t taste like your regular Lafite and DRC.
Here are our favorite under-the-radar amber and red Georgian wine and their background check:
Grape: Tsitska and Tsolikouri - Tsitska brings lemony acidity, Tslokouri, depth and texture
Appellation: Nakhshirgele, Georgia
Color: Haze amber - 3 months with skin contact in qvevri. Only 3000 bottles produced a year
Tasting Notes: Plenty of silky feel to palate with a symphony of sweet fruit. Tannins kick in from mid-palate, a big grip to finish. Incredible freshness and structure here. Orange and spice, earth and savoriness. Epic!
Grape: Krakhuna - Indigenous to the Imereti region of western Georgia. It
is reminiscent of a dry, Loire Valley Chenin Blanc (albeit with some skin contact)
Appellation: Imereti, Georgia
Color: Light amber - due to only a few days skin contact in qvevri
Tasting notes: Tastes like sea-fresh sashimi of Anjou pear, Honeydew soda breeze and the water reflections bouncing off the underside of your straw hat on.
Tbilvino Napareuli Red (NOT qvevri/natural)
Appellation: Kakheti, Georgia
Color: Deep violet - oaked, no through qvevri
Tasting Notes: Smooth and sophisticated. This dark cherry colored wine reveals a blend of aromas of berries, oak, bilberry jam, dried spices (e.g. thyme) and ripe red sour plums. Pleasantly acidic. It's not a natural wine but good enough to whet your appetite!
Grape: Otskhanuri Sapere
Color: Medium-bodied Red
Tasting notes: Intense flavors. Very dry, tight and clean fruit. Good structure, refreshing acidity. Medium-bodied with flavors of cherry, plum and berries. Premium quality.
Qvevri VS. Natural VS. Orange Wine
Can be pale, amber or red. At harvest time the grapes are crushed – either by foot or now more usually using a hand or mechanical crusher – and pumped or allowed to fall by gravity into a clean qvevri. The winemakers who grow their vines without herbicides and pesticides rely on wild or spontaneous yeasts that live in the grape skins to trigger the first, or alcoholic, fermentation. No ‘selected’ or factory-produced yeasts or other chemical ‘correctors’ are used. Sometimes a tiny amount of sulphite to ward off bacteria may be added, but it’s far less than is common in ‘conventional’ winemaking. Many avoid it altogether. During fermentation, the cap is punched back down into the must using a long pole with sticks running crosswise through its end. The secondary, or malolactic, fermentation follows the first as the wine’s tart, malic acids (as in apples) are converted to softer-tasting, lactic acid (as in milk). (Source: Tasting Georgia)
The use of this unregulated term refers to only to the winemaking process after grapes are mature, not the way the grapes are planted, grown and harvested. It tastes wild because nothing is introduced to the tanks (or amphoras, or concrete eggs) or barrel other than the wine must. That means there are no rectifications in the form of added acid or sugar to control alcohol content, no enzymes, and it is fermented with only indigenous, or naturally occurring yeast that appears on the grape’s skin for what is referred to as “spontaneous fermentation.” (Source; Upscale)
The juice is left to macerate and ferment on its skins, pips and possibly stems (just like red wine), you end up with a wine that looks orange – or any of a variety of hues ranging from yellow to luminous orange, or even amber and shades of rust. Gerogia has been making wine in the same way for thousands of years using large clay pots buried deep underground. (Source: Raw Wine)