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For a listing of articles and videos on Georgian wines and wine travel in Georgia, check out our page Uncorking the Caucasus. To purchase the Kindle or paperback copy of the book Uncorking the Caucasus: Wines from Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia, please head to this Amazon product page.
In traditional Georgian winemaking, fermentation and aging happen in the qvevri (pronounce “kway-vree”)–an egg-shaped, beeswax-lined clay vessel which is buried underground up to the neck. The qvevri is filled with grapes, their skins and pips, and sometimes the stems too. Fermentation in the open qvevri relies on wild yeast instead of inoculated yeast. Geothermal regulation keeps the fermentation and wine at a constant cool temperature. As the wine ferments, the qvevri ‘s conical shape promotes circulation and clarifies the wine naturally. After fermentation, the qvevri is sealed with a wooden lid and beeswax or clay. It is opened anywhere between a few months and a few years later for the wine to be bottled or consumed immediately.
Currently, there are over 200 commercial producers in Georgia, ranging from large wineries and export giants like Badagoni and Teliani Valley, to extremely small, artisanal producers. Depending on the source, commercial qvevri wine is said to be around 10 percent of the total Georgian wine production. Most commercial qvevri wines are made with minimal intervention and without modern contraptions. This means the wine is made without herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, heavy machinery, selected yeast, acid addition, fining agents, reverse osmosis, chaptalization, and thermal processing.
When we first arrived in Georgia, we had no idea what to expect from its wines and ancient winemaking method. A qvevri wine producer that kept coming up in conversations and social media was Pheasant’s Tears. The label was started by American artist John Wurdeman who moved to Georgia in 1996.
When John started making wine, alongside eighth-generation Georgian winemaker Gela Patalishvili, he had no idea what to name it. After sampling the wine, a local told John that it reminded him of a Georgian legend. The legend speaks of a wine so good that it makes pheasants cry. With that, John found the name for his winery.
Pheasant’s Tears is making boundary-pushing wines that continuously raise the bar for what is possible in Georgia. Their first harvest in 2009 included a few varieties that had not been commercially bottled for hundreds of years. All of Pheasant’s Tears wines are fermented and matured in the qvevri . Some of the qvevri that they use date back to the 19th century. The winery is near the beautiful medieval hilltop town of Sighnaghi in the region of Kakheti. We highly recommend trying everything in their portfolio to grasp an understanding of Georgian wines. All the wines can be tasted at the Pheasant’s Tears restaurant in Sighnaghi, which also holds a small collection of European natural wines.
Exotic Wine Travel’s Choice:
Pheasant’s Tears, Chinuri, Dry Unfiltered White Wine, 2014
The Pheasant’s Tears Chinuri 2014 was the first wine in Georgia to completely knock our socks off. We first drank this wine at the Pheasant’s Tears restaurant where we enjoyed a seemingly endless flow of excellent Georgian dishes and wines made of indigenous varieties such as Tsolikouri, Mtsvane, Rkatsiteli, Tavkveri, Saperavi, and of course Chinuri.
Chinuri is a grape variety from east Georgia, It is not widely planted and you will have to do some serious searching to find a varietal wine made from it. Because of its high acidity, Chinuri is used to make sparkling wine.
This Pheasant’s Tears Chinuri can be considered an amber wine/orange wine because it was macerated with the grape skins. It also has a golden hue. The flavor profile is made up of ripe tropical fruits—almost like Hawaiian Punch—peach, melon, yellow flowers, and a surprising touch of red fruit characteristics. In the mouth, it is delicate, with a slightly frizzante sensation on the tongue that guides the acidity over the palate into a tangy, citrus finish. The acidity and the smorgasbord of fruit flavors make it a refreshing and expressive wine. This is THE wine we would recommend to people who wish to try qvevri wine for the first time.
Pheasant’s Tears Chinuri is available in the USA, thanks to a few distributors including Blue Danube Wine.
Check out our video interview with John Wurdeman here.
Note: The ideas expressed in this article are personal opinions and are not associated with any sponsors or business promotions.