We’re in an age where it’s not just small artisan wineries experimenting with minimal intervention, low sulphur and extended skin contact in white wines. The big guys want to play too. And why not? When the results are as fascinating as Domäne Wachau’s amphora fermented Riesling, I’m all for it.
“Sorry, but this is absolutely nuts!”, says one member of our group during a visit to restaurant/apartment/winery Bina 37, and he’s merely stating what everyone else is thinking. We’re talking with Zura Natroshvili, a medical doctor turned traditional winemaker. Well, almost traditional. Most winemakers don’t install their cellars on the 8th floor of a city residential block.
Tricky things these artisan-made natural wines. Some days they sing, others they sulk. I presented 17 orange wines to a large group of Dutch sommeliers back in May, and although there were gems, many of the classics just weren’t showing their best. La Castellada’s Ribolla Gialla and COS’s Pithos Bianco seemed particularly grumpy, passing muster
Chinuri is one of the more important white grape varieties indigenous to Kartli, and Iago BItarishvili is without doubt its best exponent. His focus on the grape is absolute, inviting comparison to the Vodopivec brothers in Friuli who focus solely on their native Vitovska. Iago makes two Chinuri wines, one with and one without skin contact.
Damijan Podversic’s decision in 1999 to reject his conventional winemaking education, in favour of a more “back to the roots” style, did not sit well with his dad who denied him usage of the family’s ancestral cellar. Since then he’s developed an impressive and tradition style of skin macerated white wines, following in the footsteps of Josko Gravner.
Tasting at a busy wine fair is hard. Where to go, what to taste? Did I miss something mindblowing amidst the crowds? A tall, rather statuesque lady with impressive dreadlocks grabs my attention. I offer my best/only Portuguese “Posso provar os vinhos brancos?”, she retaliates with a stream of Spanish. I catch the word “Galicia” and little else. The owner of the dreads is Laura Lorenzo, Daterra Viticultores, Galicia.
Aleš Kristančič is a man whose reputation precedes him. Movia, the family’s estate in Western Slovenia since 1820, has become one of the most well-known producers from the region, and also a trailblazer for the skin contact style.
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.
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