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. But times are changing and one adventurous Dutch wine merchant “Andere Wijn” has hugely expanded their Georgian range.
It started with a seemingly innocent question from Oscar Quevedo: “Simon, do you know how to make an orange wine?”. Oscar isn’t stupid of course, he knew damn well I’d have something to say on the subject. We were sat in the tasting room at Quevedo, a port and still wine producer in the Cima Corgo
I’m not sure that I have heroes anymore – and those I once had were certainly not wine writers. That said, if I did, and if they were, Hugh Johnson OBE would be a candidate. Several of his books are on my shelf, and his writings have accompanied my entire journey into wine over the last 25
White, red and rosé wines can have bubbles – so why not orange? It hadn’t crossed my mind that such a fascinating sub-genre might exist, but it does. Ernesto Cattel might well have been one of the first to bring it to market – his Costadilà estate on the Northern slopes of Valdobbiadene was founded in 2006, to showcase the more traditional face of Prosecco.
This is Grüner Veltliner, but not as you know it. Martin Diwald fermented it in open plastic tubs, on its skins for 7 days. The result – Zündstoff – was destined for a blend, but turned out to be so delicious that it’s been bottled in its own right.
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.
Definitions are tricky things – often cumbersome, frequently inconvenient, sometimes merely hard to pin down. By way of example, I’m slowly refining my personal reference point for what constitutes orange wine and what doesn’t – particularly fraught, as there’s nothing in the way of a legal definition, and indeed the term was coined as recently as 2004, by wine importer David Harvey.