Travel Photos: A Taste of Georgia’s Remarkable Food, Wine and Folk Traditions

Travel Photos: A Taste of Georgia’s Remarkable Food, Wine and Folk Traditions

What could be better than feasting and toasting your way across a country you’ve heard glowing reports of for years? The little country of Georgia has everything a traveler could hope for – highly valued and gently-used historic sites, warm and wonderful people, gorgeous mountain vistas and some of the finest food and wine on earth.

I had the good fortune to join a handful of others traveling there on MIR’s A Taste of Georgia: Wine, Cuisine & Culture, in October of 2014.

Highlights of the tour include:

  1. Toasting Tbilisi
  2. Hospitable Hosts
  3. Georgian Feasts
  4. Pheasant’s Tears
  5. Mtskheta Highlights
  6. Svaneti Highlands
  7. Seaside Batumi
  8. Personal Favorites

1. Toasting Tbilisi

The tour began in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city. We explored the old part of the city, shopped at the Dry Bridge outdoor market and got to know each other over wine-tastings and fantastic food.

The First Wine-tasting
Our host, natural winemaker John Wurdeman, explained the traditional method of making Georgian wine. He told us, “In the Georgian language, you don’t ‘make wine,’ you ‘put it on its feet.’” With respect and care, like you would a beloved child.

The group chatting during our introduction to Georgian wine.<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Before the first glass of wine, the group was a little reserved
Photo: Mariana Noble

That first day, it took a few glasses of wine to “wash us clean of the weather-stains of cares” (to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson), but soon we felt like long-lost friends. As wine critic Olivier Magny says, “At the end of the day, what matters is never the wine, it’s always the moment; it’s always the people.”

First Feast
We found this to be true at our first full Georgian Table feast, a parade of pleasures that included natural wine, fabulous food, heartfelt toasts and wild, stirring songs from a small polyphonic choir. A passerby, drawn by the singing, wandered in and spotted one of our travelers, remarking that he looked like he came from Svaneti, a mountainous region in northwestern Georgia that we would visit later. He brought a gray Svan wool hat and set it on our traveler’s head like a crown.

<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Crowned as an honorary Svan at the feast
Photo: Mariana Noble

A few of the appetizers from our first feast.<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

A communal bowl of appetizers was just the beginning of our first lunch
Photo: Mariana Noble

2. Hospitable Hosts

The group was led by two congenial entrepreneurs – painter, singer, story-teller, natural winemaker and all-around Renaissance guy, John Wurdeman; and the brilliant, resourceful, multi-tasking dynamo, Ia Tabagari.

Group Leader John Wurdeman<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Group Leader John Wurdeman
Photo: Mariana Noble

John stands in front of an ancient qvevri (pronounced kwevri), the earthenware vessel in which Georgians have been fermenting and storing wine for thousands of years. This natural method of winemaking is recorded on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and John is at the forefront of a movement to revive it in Georgia.

Group Leader Ia Tabagari<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Group Leader Ia Tabagari
Photo: Mariana Noble

The supremely overqualified Ia Tabagari co-led our tour. Aside from being smart, funny, compassionate and knowledgeable, she has managed important inbound tour companies, consulted with the World Bank, USAID and the Georgian Department of Tourism, and spends a lot of her time focusing on developing sustainable tourism in Georgia (when she’s not riding horses at her horse camp.)

3. Georgian Feasts The name of the tour, A Taste of Georgia: Wine, Cuisine & Culture, tells you everything you need to know about the itinerary. Photos are better than words here.

Tiny crispy trout pulled out of a nearby stream, fried in butter and served up, stream-to-table<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Tiny crispy trout pulled out of a nearby stream, fried in butter and served up, stream-to-table
Photo: Mariana Noble

Georgia’s natural amber wines are as lovely as they are complex.<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Georgia’s natural amber wines are as lovely as they are complex
Photo: Mariana Noble

Hungry Georgian singers ready to join the feast.<br>Developing independently of Western European rules of harmony, Georgian vocal music has been passed down by ear for hundreds of years – possibly since the 5th century BC.<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Georgian singers ready for business in Svaneti 
Photo: Mariana Noble

4. Pheasant’s Tears Our group spent  time in Signagi, the atmospheric hill town where John Wurdeman founded Pheasant’s Tears restaurant, vineyard and winery.

Signagi's beautiful skyline<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Signagi’s blue mountain skyline
Photo: Mariana Noble

Learning to make <i>kinkhali</i> at Pheasant's Tears Winery<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Learning to make kinkhali at Pheasant’s Tears Restaurant
Photo: Mariana Noble

Posing with the goods at Pheasant's Tears<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Posing with the goods at a hilltop fortress near Pheasant’s Tears
Photo: Mariana Noble

Polyphonic singing during our visit to Pheasant's Tears<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Incredible polyphonic singing during our feast at Pheasant’s Tears
Photo: Mariana Noble

5. Mtskheta Highlights UNESCO-listed Mtskheta, the beautiful early capital of the eastern Georgian kingdom of Iberia, was memorable for us not only because of its historic architecture, but because of the people we met there – a young boy on holiday and a ceramicist, writer and soulful host named Giorgi.

A Mtskhetan hat model<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

A Mtskhetan hat model
Photo: Mariana Noble

Our host, Giorgi, showing us several ceramic wine bowls<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Our host, Giorgi, fills his handmade ceramic bowls with his homemade wine
Photo: Mariana Noble


6. Svaneti Highlands As we drove into the mountains, the leaves were turning, and the hillsides and gorges became more and more breathtaking with each turn.

Autumn in Svaneti<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Autumn in Svaneti
Photo: Mariana Noble

Svaneti defensive towers<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Medieval Svanetian defensive towers
Photo: Mariana Noble

Svaneti is best known for its medieval watchtowers. Family owned and passed on from generation to generation, the towers have served multiple functions as barns, warehouses, cold storage and defensive battlements.

An “elder” takes the seat of honor in a Svanetian tower home<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

An “elder” takes the seat of honor in a Svanetian tower home
Photo: Mariana Noble

The Svanetian tower home was built around a central room with stalls for cattle and livestock on all sides. A family group of twenty could live in such a house with sleeping quarters above the cattle for warmth. The elder was always seated in the best chair, nearest to the fire.

A quiet Mestia morning<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

A quiet Svaneti morning in the town of Mestia
Photo: Mariana Noble

7. Seaside Batumi Batumi, down in the lowlands on the Black Sea, was the last city on the tour. I had been looking forward to the special Ajaran khachapuri that they serve here, and my wish was granted.

Night on the Batumi waterfront<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Night on the Batumi waterfront
Photo: Mariana Noble

Batumi's famous Ajaran khachapuri. Photo: Mariana Noble

Batumi’s famous Ajaran khachapuri
Photo: Mariana Noble

8. Personal Favorites The entire two weeks of the tour, I was on the lookout for wild mushrooms, the honey-dipped walnut candy called churchkela, and Georgian Shepherds – canine and human.

A Georgian puppy pile<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

A Georgian Shepherd puppy pile
Photo: Mariana Noble

A shepherd tending his flock<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

A human Georgian shepherd tending his flock
Photo: Mariana Noble

<i>Guamarjos</i>!<br>Photo: Mariana Noble

Guamarjos! MIR travelers say “Cheers!”
Photo: Mariana Noble

Travel to Georgia with MIRHead to Georgia to enjoy unforgettable cuisine and natural wines on MIR’s tour, A Taste of Georgia. You can also experience the lush landscapes and warm hospitality of Georgia on Treasures of the South Caucasus.

Or, you can opt to travel on your dates and at your pace on MIR’s independent private trips: Essential Georgia, Essential Georgia & Armenia or Essential Caucasus. MIR also specializes in custom, private tours of Georgia and the South Caucasus.

(Top photo: MIR clients toasting to their Georgian adventure at Pheasant’s Tears Vineyard – Photo credit: Mariana Noble)

PUBLISHED: March 18, 2015

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