I’m a huge fan of Georgian qvevri wines – that’s to say, wines made in the 8,000 year old traditional manner, where grapes, skins and sometimes stems are piled into a 500 – 2,000 litre clay amphora-like vessel, buried up to its neck in the ground.
The challenge has always been how to get hold of them. A tiny amount is imported into the UK, even less to the Netherlands where I currently reside. And what little there is often ends up languishing on restaurant lists, as it’s mostly too pricey to be easily sold in shops.
But times are changing, awareness of the wines seems to be increasing (admitedly from a very low base), and one adventurous Dutch wine merchant “Andere Wijn” has hugely expanded their Georgian range.
Tbilvino is based in western Georgia’s Kakheti – the country’s most important wine region. A product of the modern age, Tbilvino was conceived in a post-communist world – their first commercial vintage was 1999. They’re pretty successful, producing around 3 million bottles a year, most of which are sold to Russia, other ex-soviet countries and China – well established markets for Georgian wine.
Since 2010, Tbilvino markets a small range of wines made in qvevri – currently a Rkatsiteli and a Saperavi, with a Kisi just about to be released. The “Qvevris” Rkatsiteli has made it onto the shelves of Marks and Spencer at the bargain price of £10, in an M&S branded guise.
The spiritual and traditional nub of Georgian winemaking is the qvevri – a clay, amphora like vessel buried in the ground and described by Josko Gravner as “a womb for the wine”. Wellmade qvevri white wines can be revelatory in their freshness, intensity and uniqueness. Qvevris have become hip, and producers all over the globe are buying them up. But sometimes you need to go back to the source, to find a winemaker who really knows how to make the style sing. Gogi Dakishvili is just such a chap – head winemaker at Schuchmann estate in Kakheti, Georgia.
Valais, Switzerland isn’t the first place you’d expect to find a Georgian qvevri, but Amédée Mathier has no less than 20 of them. Since 2008, his estate Albert Mathier et Fils (he’s the extant “Fils”) has been making two amphora, or rather qvevri matured wines, one white and one red. Sorry, I mean one orange and one red!