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:
- Toasting Tbilisi
- Hospitable Hosts
- Georgian Feasts
- Pheasant’s Tears
- Mtskheta Highlights
- Svaneti Highlands
- Seaside Batumi
- Personal Favorites
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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