Friday, November 15, 2019

Tour, Extensive Tasting and Light Lunch at Tchotiashveli Estate, with Owner/ Winemaker Kakha Tchotiashvili - Georgia Wine Tour 2019

Pictures: Tour and Extensive Tasting with Owner/ Winemaker Kakha Tchotiashvili and a Light Lunch at Tchotiashveli Estate - Georgia Wine Tour 2019 Kakha Tchotiashvili is an artisan winemaker with an established marani in the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia. He is focused on reviving ancient local varieties, and makes natural wines according to local traditions. His wines are made without any additives or chemicals in the vineyards or wine making. His wines are all produced in Qvevri; buried clay earthenware amphorae. All are fermented with wild yeast and bottled unfiltered. Kakha is a perfectionist, and he pays special attention to the vines and wines in all stages of vine growing and wine making. This allows him to produce precise and clean flavors from ancient methods. The production is limited, and the winemaker personally inspects each bottle before numbering it and releasing to wine lovers.

Kakha Tchotiashvili took us on a tour of his small estate, including the marani with the qvevris. The Tchotiashvili Estate is one of those wineries in Georgia where you do not see an stainless steel, concrete or wooden tanks nor to you see any barrels. All you see is the top of the qvevris burried in the soil. Following the tour, we enjoyed an extensive tasting of Kakha Tchotiashvili's wines. There was also a light Georgian lunch.

Annette and I spent a week in Georgia, the small country that used to be part of the Soviet Union, located between the Black See and the Caspian See. The area is considered to be the birthplace of wine. Research indicates that wine has been made in Georgia for 8000 years. There are over 500 indigenous grape varieties in Georgia. Traditionally, wine in Georgia has been made (fermented and aged) in amphoras burried in the ground.

This was a group-tour of the Collegium Vini, an association of wine lovers in the Frankfurt/ Germany area, of which we are members. The tour was organized by GEORGIENREISEN. Co-owner Tea Totogashvili was our guide. The focus of the tour was on culture and wine.

See here for an overview posting: Georgia Wine Tour 2019: Discovering the Birthplace of Wine

Pictures: Arriving

Wine in Georgia

Georgia is located in an area that is considered to be the birthplace of wine. Research indicates that wine has been made in Georgia for 8000 years. There are over 500 indigenous grape varieties in Georgia. Traditionally, wine in Georgia has been made (fermented and aged) in amphoras burried deep in the ground.

Georgia is a small, Christian country with a difficult history. In particular, it was part of the Russian Zsar's Empire. During that period the influence of French winemaking and French cuisine was important. More recently, Georgia was part of the Soviet Union. During the Soviet Union period Georgia was the chief provider of wine for the whole country.This was essentially low-cost mass wine shipped in tanks to all regions of the Soviet Union and bottled there. There was no commercial qvevri winemaking during the Soviet Union period. The commercial sector was dominated by huge stainless steel tanks to produce sweet-style wines.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union and various conflicts between Russia and Georgia, the Georgian wine sector has been adjusting to the new market conditions. The production of inexpensive, often sweet-style wines for Russia and other neighboring countries remains important.

At the same time, the amber wine revolution has discovered Georgia and Georgia has become an important player in the natural wine scene, including in New York, Berlin, London etc. But quevri wines account only for 3% of Georgia's wine exports. Still, they account for 100% of the buzz.

Tradionally, both red and white wine have been fermented and aged in quevris, burried in the ground for temperature control purposes. Basically each family in Georgia has a quevri where they make there wine in this ancient method. Typically, quevri wines are no-sulfur wines with natural yeast only. Whole-bunch fermentation is the rule. 

While the buzz is about the hard-core qvevri winemaking where the grapes are fermented with their skins, pips and stems and aged for an extensive period in a qvevri, you also find winemakers that combine the traditional Georgian approach with modern approaches like aging in barrels or fermenting in qvevris but without skins, pips and stems. In fact, there is a whole range of quevri winemaking. 

Interestingly, not once went a winemaker with us to the vineyard and we did not have one single-vineyard wine in Georgia. In general it seems that vineyard issues are on the backburner in Georgia.

Pictures: Tour

Qvevri Wines – Different Techniques
Wine Trail Travellor, Terry Sullivan

Qvevri are earthen vessels crafted from clay, fired, coated on the inside with beeswax, often coated on the outside with cement and buried in the ground. Sizes range from one liter to thousands of liters. Compared to other winemaking vessels, qvevri are relatively inexpensive. For example, two qvevri craftsmen in Georgia charge about one dollar per liter. An oak barrel is 225 liters and if it is a French oak barrel can cost $1,000 or more. A 225 liter qvevri would cost $225 plus shipping.

Oak barrels are often used from three to five years. Qvevri are often used for hundreds of years. This ability to reuse a qvevri for centuries makes it the most economical vessel for making wine. We have visited winemakers that are still using qvevri crafted two centuries ago. We discovered that there are different winemaking protocols for making qvevri wine.

Some winemakers place whole grape clusters in the qvevri to ferment and age. The more popular practice is to press the grapes in a wood press using your feet. The grape juice and the chacha (skins, seeds and stems) are placed in the qvevri with the juice to ferment and age. Other winemakers use modern destemmer to destem the grapes and place the juice and chacha into the qvevri. Some producers add all the chacha to the qvevri while others add only a percentage of the chacha to the juice in a qvevri. Then there are a few producers that press the grapes and only add the juice to the qvevri.

Fermentation is done with the native yeasts. We asked if there were enough yeast to ferment the juice if only juice were added to a qvevri. The winemakers using this technique said the always had the juice ferment. After fermentation the techniques also vary. Some winemakers rack the wine into another qvevri without the chacha. While other winemakers seal the original qvevri letting the wine on its chacha. They usually let the wine on the chacha for six months. After which they may rack to another qvevri to help with clarification.

There isn’t one protocol that all winemakers making wine in qvevri follow. As a result, the wines will show different colors as well as aromas, tastes and tannins. A white wine made from only the juice in the qvevri will be a yellow color and probably floral and fruity with no tannins. A white wine fermented and aged on its chacha for six months will be an dark gold or amber color, have more intense aromas and tastes and have mild to bold tannins.

Consumers that want a qvevri made wine for a reason such as a white wine with bold tannins, need to know about the producer and the procedures the winemaker followed.

Pictures: Marani

An Exploration of Georgian Qvevri Wines Using Tchotiashvili as the Benchmark
PART II: Serendipity strikes 18 October 2017

...Tchotiashvili is a small, boutique winery, producing stellar and archetypical orange wine. Kakha Tchotiashvili has recently taken over from his father and his efforts over the last decade have made his family’s (quite unpronounceable) name synonymous with quality and elegance. Production is less than a thousand cases a year, and Kakha hand labels, numbers and signs each bottle.

In 2016, I brought home four bottles of Tchotiashvili’s Kisi, thinking it the best Georgian wine I had ever tasted. And yet in May of 2017, Tchotiashvili was not one of the vineyard visits I had scheduled with James and Lydia. My logic was I had already tasted its wines and needed to explore new outlets. And yet on our first day driving from Telavi (the main urban gateway into the Kakheti region), while passing by some derelict villages and dirt roads on our way to the rather touristy Twins winery, we happened to see a small brown sign with the word Tchotiashvili and a picture of grapes and Qvevris. I yelled at our driver to stop. Inside the gate, there was a traditional farmhouse sitting near the road on a small piece of flat land. Was this unassuming place really where such ethereal nectar was produced?

Even though we had no appointment, the winemaker himself came out to greet us and took us into the winery where we saw buried Qvevris, tasted what is usually termed a barrel sample, or in this case was a clay-pot sample (i.e. wine still in the process of maturing inside the Qvevri), and then were ushered into the wood-panelled tasting room where a feast of persimmons, squishy cheeses, fresh bread and classic Georgian salad of tomatoes, walnuts and cucumbers awaited us.

How did they know we might be coming? And how did they know to roll out the red carpet for us? These are unanswerable mysteries that belie some of the mysticism of Georgian hospitality.

Pictures: Vineyard

Serendipity is a word not usually applied as a tasting note, but it suits the 2014 Tchotkiashvili Khikhvi. It was what Kakha started us off with. Khikhvi can achieve great concentration and power like a fine dessert wine. This bottle contained an elegant, slightly floral wine, combining savoury notes with aromas of jasmine tea, nuttiness and a delicate mouthfeel. Based on my studies, I suspect that this is probably what the best ‘ancient’ wines tasted like – combinations of the florality of young ripe grapes with the savoury nuttiness and the robustness that comes from oxidative Qvevri ageing.

The note of over-steeped ‘herbal tea’ was present in all Kakha’s orange wines. The 2015 Mitsvane was more floral, lighter, more summery and lacking the savoury complexities of the Khikhvi - this is characteristic of the grape. We then moved onto the 2015 Kisi, of which I had so fallen in love with the 2014 vintage. The 2015 was marvellously rich and yet quite floral as well. (Conversely, I found Kisi without clay-pot ageing, such as at Danieli, very green, tropical, herbaceous and acidic.) To my mind, Qvevri ageing balances the innate florality of the grape - coaxing out its potential richness.

Despite being bone dry, the 2015 Tchotkiashvili Kisi was as full-bodied and unctuous as a Sauternes (and with a surprisingly similar flavour and colour profile). Aromas of poached pear, white flowers and honey on the nose, mixed with a waxy fattiness on the palate. And yet just as Sauternes finds an exquisite balance between sweetness and an acidic backbone, the richness of the Kisi was offset beautifully by the tannic mouth-filling finish.

Pictures: Light Lunch

As I have explored other orange wines, I have always returned to my tasting notes from Tchotkiashvili as benchmarks for each varietal. Kakha’s wine making technique allows the grape and the classically Georgian/Qvevri flavours to emerge. Another excellent and roughly comparable Kisi is that made by Mr Dakishvili of Vinea Vitea, the 2015 exhibiting notes of white flowers, Jasmine tea and honey – all classically Georgian notes.

Yet, if Tchotiashvili’s whites were a good benchmark against which to judge all other Georgian wines, I feel this less so about his reds. They were delightful, but less paradigmatic – varietal characteristics were partially masked by winemaking techniques. The Qvevri-aged 2014 Saperavi had less fruit and less harsh tannins on the palate when compared with the clay-pot sample of the 2016 vintage, but maintained a sour blackberry/cherry taste coupled with a syrupy heaviness, which to my palate characterises Saperavi. A delectable example of a non-Qvevri Saperavi was the Naperuli 2014 from Danieli. It had seen six months of oak staves - the wine tasted of sour red fruit, balanced by meatiness and undergrowth. Saperavi can be too heavy and laced with an overly tart fruitiness. When handled by less skilled winemakers or in overly hot years, the wine presents as stewed, baked, overly fruity and too alcoholic, similar to the weaknesses of various Latin American and Southern European wines when produced cheaply or in overly hot years. Conversely, the best examples balance the sour fruit notes with tannins, savoury or saline notes. Qvevri ageing and a cooler fermentation temperature is just what Saperavi needs to achieve greatness.

More time in the Qvevri has similar effect on reds as it does on whites: adding those savoury notes, bestowing a unique ‘fine yet chalky’ structure to the tannins and imparting what I term a ‘bricking’ taste. These were all in evidence in a 2013 Saperavi which had been aged in both barrique (small French oak barrels) and in Qvevri. This wine was exceedingly elegant and layered – more European in taste - and hence not archetypically Georgian to my palate. Oak ageing smooths the tannins making them seem more velvety and adding to the roundness of the wine, whereas Qvevri ageing seems to integrate the tannins differently, making them more gripping and prominent on the finish.

I believe Sapervi is at its most interesting when made in the natural Qvevri method. A useful benchmark is perhaps the 2015 Vita Vinea Saperavi, which combined the classic sour blackberry/cherry taste with notes of cocoa powder and black olives. This wine was classic Sapervi in that it was full-bodied with a long finish; notes of stewed red fruit mingled with the delicate tannins in a harmonious way. The long zingy aftertaste of one sip entices you to take the next.

The best clay-pot-aged Saperavi I’ve ever had was the 2014 ‘Qvevris’ Saperavi produced by TbliVino. It combined the black olive character present in the Vita Vinea with a unique savoury meatiness and tremendous concentration. It was reminiscent of an excellent Bandol.

Of tremendous intellectual interest was the 2016 Tavkveri. This is a classic Georgian wine type, which is rarely exported. Unlike the other varieties previously discussed, Tavkveri originates from Kartli (central Georgia). It is brighter in fruit and much lighter in colour and body than Saperavi. Tchotkiashvili’s Tavkveri was low in alcohol and had notes of strawberry and bubble gum on the nose, akin to those of a Beaujolais or Chinon. Yet, in contrast to those wine styles, Tchotiashvili’s Tavkveri had not undergone carbonic maceration, its strawberry/bubble gum notes were from the variety itself, not the winemaking process. However, Tchotiashvili 2016 Tavkveri, thanks to its Qvevri aging, had firm, but extremely delicate, tannins and far more savoury notes than any Beaujolais. Back at GVino a few days later, Guram served me blind a 2015 Alapiani Marani unfiltered Qvevri-aged Tavkveri. It had the same bright red fruit, fine tannins, but this time a nose of cocoa powder and hazelnut - absolutely divine.

Tavkveri, then, is Georgia’s answer to the quest for an elegant summer red that can be served lightly chilled. And where some might find even pricey Beaujolais or Loire Valley Cab Francs ‘too fruity’ or ‘mono-dimensional’, the Qvevri ageing and complexity of the Tavkveri grape forges a truly balanced and complex wine. Its tannins are the most delicate and fine of any Georgian Qvevri-aged wine (white or red) I have ever experienced. Its flavour profile combines seeming opposites harmoniously.

Much Georgian wine is flavourful, balanced and yet relative inexpensive. The Qvevri method is extremely labour intensive, and yet it produces distinctive wines that score well on the value proposition and invigorate the palate. At its best, Georgian wine offers a unique blend of tannins, fruitiness, oxidative-nuttiness, body and typicity. Every time I open a bottle from this Easternmost outpost of Europe, I feel I am tasting our shared Western heritage.

Pictures: Tasting

The Wines

Kakha Tchotiashvili's vineyard area totals 12 hectares. He produces 45000 bottles annually.

Kakha Tchotiashvili: Our company "Satsnakheli" produces 100% of natural, highest quality elite wines. The technology of family wine making passed on from generation to generation together with already traditional dedication to wine making, and our own vineyards located in unique geographic zone, as well as the technological lines produced by the widely known brands and the scientific approach gives us the opportunity to produce premium wines in rather smaller quantities.

2018 Tchotiashvili Ilia's Second Vintage Kisi-Mtsavane Dry White Wine

Qvevri wine, aged in used barrique

2018 Tchotiashvili Khikhvi White Semi-dry

Qvevri wine, aged in used barrique

2016 Tchotiashvili Kisi Dry Amber Wine

Qvevri wine, 7 months on the lees

2017 Tchotiashvili Chitistvala Dry Amber Wine

Qvevri wine, 6 months on the lees

2016 Tchotiashvili Khikhvi Dry Amber Wine

Qvevri wine, 7 months on the lees, 2 months in barrique

2017 Tchotiashvili Tavkveri Khikhvi Natural Red Qvevri Wine

Qvevri wine, 3 months on the lees, 2 months in used barrique

2017 Tchotiashvili Saperavi Dry Red Wine

Qvevri wine, 4 months on the lees, then in another qvevri

schiller-wine: Related Postings - Georgia Wine Tour 2019: Discovering the Birthplace of Wine (Published and Forthcoming Postings)

Georgia Wine Tour 2019: Discovering the Birthplace of Wine

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