Proctor : December 2017
53 PROCTOR | December 2017 In a world of faddish reimagining of noble western European wine varieties, the cradle of winemaking may make for a new frontier for those who have tried it all. The cradle of winemaking is surprisingly not in western Europe – not France, not Italy, not even Greece. The cradle of winemaking is not even in Europe (depending on where you draw the wine in the Caucasus Mountains) but in the country of Georgia. Georgia may be the new frontier for those searching for wine’s next discovery. It comes with a formidable pedigree: • archaeological evidence shows wine has been made in the country for over 8000 years • it is most likely the place winemaking was invented • there are over 500 indigenous grape varieties which have little recognition outside of the region • it has a proud and very long history for making quality wine and consuming its products at Georgian feasts • it has a handy array of both red and white varieties • the Soviet Union prized Georgian wine over more Russian wines from Moldova and the Crimea. From ancient times, the local winemakers of Georgia employed clay vessels, called qvevri, to make their nectar. The qvevri would be coated on the inside with bees wax, it would be partially buried in the ground, filled with crushed grape juice and sealed with a wooden lid and perhaps topped with earth. The grape juice would slowly ferment during the winter and emerge in the warmer months as wine. The Georgians speak of the earth giving birth to the wine in this way and it makes for an evocative picture as the dirt is cleared aside, the lid unfastened and the new vintage emerges directly from the ground at the temperature of the mother earth. The world culture and heritage organisation UNESCO added the “ancient Georgian traditional Qvevri wine-making method” to its fabulously named Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013 as a measure of its significance. Georgia is a nation of Orthodox Christianity with its church stemming from the preaching of Saint Nino in the 4th century AD. The coming of Christianity only served to further emphasise the role wine played in daily life by adding holy ritual to the mysticism of wine from the earth. Legend in Georgia is that Nino preached with a cross made from vine stem and the story of Jesus emerging from the underground tomb reborn must have seemed oddly familiar to the Georgians. Over the years, the fortunes of Georgia as a nation have risen and fallen, and after dealing with the Mongols, Ottomans, the Russian Empire and its descendant the Soviet Union, Georgia has emerged as its own state again (albeit with a little Russian occupation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia). During the Soviet era however, Georgia was the wine jewel in the Union’s crown and since independence the industry has been modernising and continuing to make wine of quality from local and international varieties. The most familiar Georgian variety to most Queensland drinkers will be saperavi. Made by Ballandean Estate, it won champion wine at the Queensland wine awards in 2013. But to sit alongside this monster red wine there are around 520 other native Georgian wine varieties with around 40 in commercial production. The team at Pheasant’s Tears in Georgia have set about establishing a library vineyard with all 520 known Georgian varieties and have planted around 400 varieties so far. They plan to make a single vineyard wine from the project. In many respects, Georgia is a place yet to be discovered by wine enthusiasts but has all the elements needed to be a big player on the international stage – ancient traditions of natural winemaking, numerous ‘new’ varieties with flavours largely unseen, and a backstory to bring it all home. The Pheasant’s Tears 2015 Chinuri (dry unfiltered amber wine) from Kartli was 11% alcohol and says it was made in the traditional way in a qvevri. The colour was dark gold with a touch of cloud that settles a little with time rather than amber but it was most unusual and said to be produced by leaving the juice on the skins and some stem for a time. The nose was green pear sitting on a moist wettex. The palate was not like anything else ever tasted. There was crisp green pear fruit, some soft acid balancing to dryness as the first burst. The mid palate had growing intensity of savoury mouth- filling tones akin to tobacco or leather you might expect in a hunter shiraz and some underlying minerality to carry it through. The wine was completely unique and otherworldly. It was definitely unfamiliar yet oddly engaging and very happily drinkable. If it were a wine which emerged from the earth itself I wouldn’t have been surprised. The tasting Matt Dunn is acting chief executive officer at Queensland Law Society and government relations advisor. Wine The cradle with Matthew Dunn Only one Georgian wine was found to try for this article. Pheasant’s Tears wines are imported by Vinous Imports in Sydney.