We are heading to the birthplace of wine and the world’s cradle of viticulture for the next installment of rare varieties. Do you know it? I’m talking about Georgia! In case you’re not familiar with this country, Georgia shares a northern border with Russia. The Black Sea lies on Georgia’s western coast. While Aizerbaijan sits to the east of Georgia with Turkey and Armenia to the south. Now, I already featured Armenian wines for my rare varieties series, including Haghtanak, Voskehat, Areni Noir, and Kangun. Considering their neighboring ancient winemaking histories, I expected Georgian and Armenian wines to taste similar. Yet the Georgian wines were unique in their own right and I’ll soon share why. So, let’s kick off our Georgian rare varieties journey with Tsolikouri and a white wine from Teliani Valley, one of the country’s 20 PDOs. But first, here’s a bit on Georgia.
The History of Wine in Georgia
Georgians were making wine as far back as 8,000 years ago. Archaeologists discovered remains of grape seeds and vines which had been sealed in ancient clay winemaking vessels proving as much. According to the Georgian Wines website, winemaking began in Georgia 3,000 years before written word existed and 5,000 years before the Iron Age. That’s ancient history!
Due to the country’s geographic location, Georgia has succumbed to a multitude of adversaries throughout history. The Greeks, Romans, Persians, Turks, and more have all invaded Georgia. Contentious powers still threaten the country even today in the 21st century. Georgians were often forced to abandon their vineyards as they were constantly fleeing their homeland for safety. Consequently, they developed a practice of saving saplings to cultivate vineyards of their indigenous varieties wherever they ended up. This practice prevented native Georgian varieties from going extinct and exemplifies the fortitude and resilience of the people of Georgia. Furthermore, this feat is all the more impressive with the recognition that over 500 unique varieties exist in Georgia today.
The Georgian Terroir
The skyscraping Caucasus Mountain range comprises the border between Russia and Georgia. The peaks of the Caucasus Mountains tower as high as 4,000 – 5,000m above sea level. These mountains extend south into Georgia, claiming one third of the country’s terrain. Thanks to their great height, the Caucasus Mountains protect Georgia from the cold air on its way from the north. As the mountain range reaches west towards the Black Sea, the elevation declines. This allows warm, moist air off the Black Sea to work its way east into Georgia.
The Georgian climate ranges from lush and subtropical in the west to alpine and even desert-like as you head east. Because of its vicinity to the Black Sea, western Georgia has a humid, subtropical climate and often sees year-round rainfall. Alternatively, eastern Georgia ranges from a moderately humid to dry climate. Soils vary throughout the country. Though you can expect mineral rich soils near the Black Sea. Additionally, Georgia has fourteen main rivers and 25,000 smaller rivers, which all do their part to carry mineral-rich deposits throughout the country. This is why you’ll find limestone caves and cave cities all over Georgia.
The Variety: Tsolikouri
Tsolikouri is an indigenous variety to western Georgia and planted prominently in the western half of the country. This Georgian white wine has risen to popularity since the 19th century. The name is a term of endearment, as Tsolikouri translates to “my wife’s wine.”
The clusters of Tsolikouri are typically medium in size, conical, sometimes winged, and moderately compact. Tsolikouri is considered a late-ripening variety as harvest tends to occur in late October. Luckily, this variety is resistant to many fungal diseases, which is all the more important in a humid climate. However, Tsolikouri is susceptible to frost.
Tsolikouri wines are medium to full-bodied with characteristic aromas of citrus, florals, and yellow fruits. You’ll find this variety in both fresh and oaked styles, the latter of which are better for aging. Tsolikouri also produces sparkling wines in Georgia.
The Winery: Teliani Valley Winery
Teliani Valley Winery is located in the Kakheti Appellation in southeastern Georgia. Established in 1997, Teliani Valley Winery is one of Georgia’s largest producers. They’ve been available in the American market longer than most Georgian producers and have received the best scores from Wine Spectator of any Georgian winery to date. Teliani Valley Winery cultivates vineyards in their namesake valley on the same estate that once produced wines adored by the Russian Emperor.
Teliani Valley Winery, Tsolikouri 2018
- The grapes for this wine were sourced from a different region in the Tvishi micro-zone of Lechkhumi at higher elevations in the Caucasus Mountains
- Medium intensity straw color
- Medium-minus pronounced aromas of lemon zest, green apple and pear
- Medium-bodied with super lively, zesty acidity, yet round on the palate
- Medium length finish, but the green apple and pear notes carry through
Tsolikouri is a great match for salty, fresh cheeses like feta or paneer. This wine is an ideal pairing for lighter dishes like a quiche with goat cheese and fresh herbs, crispy goat cheese poppers, oven roasted chicken and potatoes seasoned with fresh thyme, chicken piccata, and scallops basted in butter and fresh parsley.