Cheers! Wines of the South Caucasus

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.

A wine tasting in Georgia. Photo: Douglas Grimes

A wine tasting at Vino Underground in Tbilisi
Photo: Douglas Grimes

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.

Alaverdi Monastery, Georgia. Photo: Caucasus Travel

Visitors can sample wines from grapes grown in these vineyards of Georgia’s Alaverdi Monastery
Photo credit: Caucasus Travel

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.

An evening at the Pheasant's Tears restaurant in Signagi, Georgia <br>Photo credit: John Wurdeman

An evening at the Pheasant’s Tears restaurant in Signagi, Georgia
Photo credit: John Wurdeman

Ancient methods are used to produce artisanal organic wines at Pheasant's Tears Winery <br>Photo credit: Annie Lucas

Ancient methods are used to produce artisanal organic wines at Pheasant’s Tears Winery
Photo credit: Annie Lucas

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 (more photos and information about a visit to Pheasant’s Tears).

Pheasant's Tears Winery winemaster and co-founder John Wurdeman with Annie Lucas and Douglas Grimes (MIR President and Founder). Photo: Douglas Grimes

Pheasant’s Tears winemaster and co-founder John Wurdeman (left), pictured with MIR Corporation’s vice president and president, Annie Lucas and Douglas Grimes
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

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.

Want to know more about Georgia’s bounty of wine and wine-tastings?
Insider’s Guide to Georgia’s Wine Country


An Alaverdi winemaker using an ancient <i>qvevri</i> method of making Georgian wines <br>Photo credit: John Wurdeman

An Alaverdi winemaker using an ancient qvevri to make Georgian wines
Photo credit: John Wurdeman

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.

Shemakha, Azerbaijan. Photo credit: Devin Connolly

Shemakha, Azerbaijan
Photo credit: Devin Connolly

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.

Sampling Armenian wines at the tasting bar in Yerevan's Wine Factory<br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Sampling Armenian wines at the tasting bar in Yerevan’s Wine Factory
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

The South Caucasus Way

In Georgia, say, “Gaumarjos!” In Azerbaijan, “Sağol!” In Armenia, “Genatzt!” All three are the South Caucasus way to say, “Cheers!”

An al fresco wine tasting in Georgia. Photo: Douglas Grimes

MIR’s co-founder and president, Douglas Grimes, enjoys al fresco wine tasting in Georgia
Photo: Douglas Grimes

Travel to the South Caucasus with MIR

MIR has 30 years of unmatched destination expertise and travel planning experience, hand-crafting tours to Georgia and the South Caucasus since 1986.

You can sample the food, wine, song, culture, and scenery of Georgia on MIR’s A Taste of Georgia: Wine, Cuisine & Culture

Or, travel and tour around Georgia and the other South Caucasus countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan, on one of our 3-country small group tours:

You can also opt to travel on your dates and at your pace on one of MIR’s private independent trips or on a private journey of Georgia, customized to your desired dates and style.

Chat with one of our destination specialists by email or by phone at 1-800-424-7289 to start planning your travels now.


(Top photo: Natural amber Georgian wines. Credit: Douglas Grimes)

PUBLISHED: August 4, 2014

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