What you should know about Ramaz Nikoladze is that he eats chillies whole, listens to punk and has a great former stray cat that he once drove 3.5 hours to the vet, who slept on our bed and whose name we said wrong for days until someone finally asked who we were talking about. He lives in Nakhshirgele in a country where guests are delivered from God but where we were delivered with luggage.
Ramaz also makes wine: a no skin saline wave of pineapple, sorry Tsitska; a 3 month all skin, no stem Tsolikouri (hot peach globs of jam on brown toast drunk with sun steeped tea); a wild strawberry-bodied, minty blackberry minded Aladasturi from grapes he buys from old man Didimi, and the burning glow orb 3 month all skin, all stem Tsitska-Tsolikouri that we three bottled x 500 over two days juggling patchy electricity between a pump the size of a sewing machine and the freezing A.C.
It has a fleshy chew like mosquitoes scarring your ankles
But it’s the Tsitska-Tsolikouri ’15 that reminds me of his wife Nestan’s cooking. Of outdoor kitchens with neatly stacked bowls and tomatoes the size of two fists. Of pots always bubbling and sitting on the step waiting for the smell of leftovers for breakfast at 2 p.m. Of wine poured fast and warm from fat glass jugs at night knocked back even faster while bugs hit the lights or at lunch: sweaty eyes, sweating glasses and brutal humid winds in the afternoon hanging low at our place on the step spitting watermelon pits cold from the fridge.
It tastes like long poached fruit, almost copper pot burnt and like heat caught in skin or red rock. Like dried bunch blue Fenugreek and heavy clumps of dark vine choking clay. It has a fleshy chew like mosquitoes scarring your ankles while they rub mushrooms in the dark cooked in garlic and coriander fresh ground by a handsome generation-worn stone. It’s got scratchy stems and elephant-foot skins sparring under melting ricotta unity. Hot broke-apart cornbread grit steaming and tangy green tomato pickle in cold fridge jars acidity with a hint of napkin-wrapped spices and Ramaz’s chillies bit hole.
And I had to smile, swirling a glass in a fancy bar as far from Nakhshirgele as Brooklyn last month, when I thought of the ‘15s we bottled coming out into this other world, their contents possibly more or less 750 ml and their labels probably bubbly or skew. I wondered if anyone would notice.