Cheers! Wines of the South Caucasus
Fine wines flow freely all over the South Caucasus. Georgia – a fabulously beautiful country that claims to be the place where the wine grape originated – stands out with its long and pleasant tradition of viniculture (winemaking) which leads, of course, to the pleasure of wine-drinking.
Subtle Signs of Grapevines
The signs of grapevines throughout Georgia are pervasive. Georgians originally were sun worshippers, believing the sun’s chosen plant was the grape vine. St. Nino, who brought Christianity to Georgia, was said to have made a cross of grape vines bound together with her hair, symbolizing the sun’s rays. The winding characters of the Georgian alphabet resemble the trailing growth of the vine, and this motif is found in Georgian architecture throughout the country.
Georgia’s Fine Wine Country
Georgia’s wine country, the Kakheti region, is the most important wine producing area of the region. Here you can take a tour of the Pheasant’s Tears Winery, producing organic wines from varietal grapes that grow well in the Kakhetian micro-region. The name of the winery comes from a Georgian legend in which the hero claims that it takes a “wine beyond measure” to make a pheasant cry tears of joy.
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At Pheasant’s Tears, you can sample wines in the 250-year-old tasting hall and travel down to the village of Tibaani to see where the grapes are grown. You can also visit the cellars where the wines are macerated in huge ceramic vessels lined with beeswax. Called qvevri, these clay jugs have been used for winemaking for over 6,000 years in this part of the world.
In the Telavi region, a historic winery still produces the dry white Tsinandali wine. Tsinandali Village is best known for the family estate of Alexander Chavchavadze. A 19th century Georgian aristocrat and poet, Chavchavadze kept an estate that was a center of the intellectual life of the time. Here he and his father founded the first and foremost winery in the country.
Making Wine in Azerbaijan
In Azerbaijan, Shemakha was a renowned grape growing and winemaking district through most of its history. Present-day Shemakha is known not only for its sweet wines but also for its finely woven carpets.
Spirits of Armenia
Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, boasts the Yerevan Brandy Factory. From 1953 until 1991, Yerevan Brandy Factory was the sole brandy distillery in all of Armenia. Although that has changed and the original complex has split into the Yerevan Brandy Factory and the Yerevan Wine Factory, the factory still produces brandy to the rigid national standards that so impressed Winston Churchill that he allegedly ordered 400 bottles per year. Visitors can take in the onsite museum or sample some of the wares at the tasting bar.
The South Caucasus Way
In Georgia, say, “Gaumarjos!” In Azerbaijan, “Sağol!” In Armenia, “Genatzt!” All three are the South Caucasus way to say, “Cheers!”