Three days in Kakheti doing wine tasting were absolutely fabulous. Since we planned many stops on the way we rented a car which was very easy. There a lots of car rental places in Old Town Tbilisi and since it was a “buyers market” we managed to get it for $100 for three days, unlimited mileage all insurances included.
We drove to Kakheti thru the Gombori Pass making a short stop at the Old Shuanta Monastery and continued to Ilia Chavchavadze House called the Tsinandali Museum. There we took a guided tour with a very un-enthusiastic guide and learned a sad history of the Chavchavadze family one of whose daughters was married to the Russian writer Alexander Griboedov. A very interesting bit of history is that Mr. Griboedov who was a writer and a diplomat was brutally killed in 1829 in Teheran, Iran when the mob stormed the Russian embassy. Apparently storming the US embassy in Teheran had a precedent. Amazing how history repeats itself….
After infusion of culture it was time for infusion of wine. Our first stop was Shumi Winery, next door to the Chavchavadze House. The wine tasting there is free but they force you to go on a tour of the winery so we decided that our time is more valuable and walked away. The next stop was Schuchmann Winery, a very modern and professional operation. We were seated on a terrace with a beautiful view and tasted some nice wines accompanied by heaps of cheese and bread. The setting and the service was definitely on par with Napa. From there we went north and west and made a loop of the area around Telavi stopping in Alaverdi and Ikhalto Monasteries.
In late afternoon we arrived to Telavi, a somewhat disappointing town. We stayed at Tamari Guesthouse. There was some confusion at first because she gave our nicer room to other guests by mistake and those people didn’t say anything hoping to take advantage of her mistake. But she was great, she exchanged the rooms and we got our very nice large room with a terrace and garden view. There was not much to see or do in Telavi. After walking thru town we went to dinner at Bravo. For some reason their review on Tripadvisor wasn’t so good but we enjoyed our dinner and the service very much. The food was great and we tasted some more of local wine and the prices are very reasonable.
The next day even though we didnt order breakfast with her, Tamara gave us coffee and we hung out chatting with her for some time. .
Our first stop was Gremi Fortress from where we continued to Lake Ilia and had coffee in a beautifully situated Hotel Royal Batoni. If we had time I would definitely stay there for at least a day. The view from the terrace is beautiful and the scenery is very serene and relaxing. They also have some live music each night. After the break we drove thru an unimpressive Kvareli and continued to Khareba Winery. There we took a very short tour thru underground tunnels up to the wine tasting station. After Khareba we went next door to Grimelli Winery, another nice and professional operation. Both wineries bring out large portions of complimentary local cheese. All this time we kept saying that this is as good as Napa or any other wine tasting regions we have been to.
Slightly tipsy (or more than slightly) we continued to Lagodekhi Nature Reserve where we planned to do some hiking. We were even debating if we should do a 10 km or a 12 km trail. However, after a pleasant 3 km walk we encountered a very fast and wide river and were unable to cross it. Since it was hot and we were lazy after drinking we just sat there with our feet in cold water enjoying the rest and had no choice but to turn back. Neither one of us was actually disappointed. On the way back we saw a small snake which was enough to freak me out till the rest of the trip.
After the attempt to hike, we drove to Sighnaghi. If I knew ahead of time how beautiful this town is I would skip Telavi all together. Sighnaghi looks like a Tuscan hill town and is equally charming. We didn’t pre-book anything and found Hotel Central right on the main square for 40 GEL. We got a clean small room and the hosts were very hospitable. Mainly, there was free unlimited house wine.
While in Sighnaghi once more we got a taste of Georgian hospitality. There were two Georgian couples from Batumi traveling in Kakheti and once they started taking to us they invited us to their table and we ended up eating and drinking with them till wee hours of the morning. This was a real Georgian experience with wine toasting and glasses clinking, something I was hoping to experience all along.
The next day we stayed in town for few hours to enjoy the views and the quiet just having coffee. After last night neither one of us felt like we can consume anymore alcohol… at least for the next few hours.
It was time to go back to Tbilisi as we were invited to a birthday party. On the way out we stopped at Bodbe Monastery and left Kakheti.
More about the wine:
Some of my wine loving friends asked me to expend the blog and to talk about the wine itself. Well, before going to Georgia I had a preconceived notion that Georgian wine is too sweet. That idea was based on me trying the two most famous Georgian wines: Mukuzani and Kinzmarauli. My trip to Georgia changed my mind completely as we tried several other wines and learned more about them.
First, there is the traditional Georgian wine which is made as follows:
The qvevri, clay pot looks like Greek amphora, is buried in the ground with a layer of lime around the exterior for sanitation and then a layer of beeswax on the inside. Once the grapes are harvested, for both red and white wines, everything (seeds, stems, skins, and juice) is tossed in to the qvevri after being lightly crushed for fermentation and stays there for about six months. This differs greatly from “modern” practices as white wines are pressed off from the grapes immediately before fermentation and red wines are left to macerate just with the skins and some of the stems for several weeks. I am not a fan of the wine made this way as for me it tastes somewhat like a fortified wine.
After the wine is taken out of the qvevri, the remaining solid portion of the grapes is used to make chacha, sort of killer vodka type of drink. I am not a big fan of this either, unless it’s freezing cold and I need to warm up ASAP. Still, vodka is much better. The traditional qvevri method is used for homemade wine and most of the Georgian families make their own.
Second, most wineries now are using both, the traditional qvevri and what they call European, methods. The European method is what we are used to: fermentation stage and the barrel stage. Interestingly, every winery that we went to uses French barrels, notwithstanding the costs, while many respectable wineries in the States moved to the cheaper Hungarian ones. We loved most of the European wines that we tried, especially the Saperavi, which is my favorite Georgian wine now.
Another interesting bit: When a Georgian family is planning a feast, they estimate about four litters of wine per person for the evening. We were assured that the feast doesn’t end until all the wine is being consumed….