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Georgian Grape Varieties

By Malkhaz Kharbedia

Almost 530 different varieties of grape are currently recorded in ten of Georgia’s viticultural regions. Over 425 of these are regularly grown (some in vine collections only) and the rest are being sought after. Some of the varieties are widespread, but the majority are only very rarely cultivated—usually in vine collections or in experimental vineyards.

The greatest diversity of varieties is to be found in Kakheti, where 80 different varieties are recorded as being cultivated. Imereti boasts 75 different varieties under cultivation; Kartli 72; Mingrelia 60; Abkhazia 58; Guria 53; Adjara 52; Racha-Lechkhumi 50. Besides these regions, Meskheti also used to have some unique varieties.

In the XIXth century, fungal diseases followed by phylloxera damaged the diversity of Georgia’s vines, and in the 1970s the country’s planned economy excluded even more varieties of grape from production. Nowadays, it could be said that Georgia is experiencing a revival of rare Georgian varieties of grape. New vineyards have been planted, and hitherto unknown local varieties of grape are slowly being grown. The total surface area of vineyards of less common varieties is increasing, and various illustrious varieties of grape are slowly recovering their former glory and status.

WHITE GRAPE VARIETIES

Rkatsiteli

A variety of white grape which could be described as the defining variety of traditional Kakhetian wine. This variety belongs to the Kakhetian family of grape varieties, yet is very widespread throughout all the regions of Georgia as well as abroad. Dimitri Tabidze considers its birthplace to have been towards the Eniseli-Kvareli-Lagodekhi area. Ivane Javakhishvili argued that the Rkatsiteli variety first appeared during the Ist century A.D., but other scientists suggest a later date. In the different wine regions of Kakheti this grape ripens between mid-September and mid-October. The following high-quality, classical (European) and traditional Kakhetian (qvevri) wines are produced from Rkatsiteli grapes: table wine, regional wine, and appellation controlled wines. Rkatsiteli grapes are very often mixed with the Mtsvane kakhuri variety.

Mtsvane kakhuri

A Georgian variety of white grape which, according to its geographical location, belongs to the Kakhetian family of grape varieties. Mtsvane kakhuri is one of Georgia’s most ancient varieties of grape for wine, and it is believed to have appeared before Rkatsiteli. In the vineyards of Kakheti this grape reaches the peak of ripeness during the second half of September. The following high-quality, classical (European) and traditional Kakhetian (qvevri) wines are produced from Mtsvane kakhuri grapes: table wine, regional wine, and appellation controlled wines. According to an article by V. Geevski and G. Sharer published in 1885, the best wine was made from Mtsvane kakhuri grapes grown near the town of Akhmeta in the vineyards of Nino Cholokashvili and near the village of Khorkheli (in the hamlet of Ojio) in the vineyards of Tamar Andronikashvili. Some Mtsvane kakhuri grapes are often added to Rkatsiteli to give the latter more aroma and delicacy, but over the past few years the amount of qvevri wine made from Mtsvane kakhuri grapes grown in different parts of Kakheti has increased—thus increasing Georgia’s arsenal of traditional wines.  The best micro-zones are Manavi, Kondoli, Tsinandali, Ikalto, Ruispiri, Zemo Khodasheni, Napareuli, Saniore, Artana and Akhmeta. This wine is characterized by hints of vineyard peach and of fruit trees in bloom as well as by mineral overtones.

Khikhvi

A Georgian variety of white grape which, according to its geographical location, belongs to the Kakhetian family of white grape varieties. A variety with this name existed throughout Georgia’s wine-making regions, and was also known in Kakheti as Jananura. Dimitri Tabidze estimates that this variety of grape appeared during the IIIrd-IVth centuries A.D. It ripens between the first days of September and the second half of the month. This variety of vine produces a relatively small amount of grapes, but the latter have great potential in terms of their ability to accumulate sugar—especially those which grow in the Kardenakhi micro-zone. Very distinguished classical (European) and traditional Kakhetian (qvevri) wines are produced from the Khikhvi grape. In a European wine made from Khikhvi grapes, the aroma of exotic plants such as box tree is particularly noticeable, whereas a traditional Kakhetian wine produced from Khikhvi grapes in a qvevri tends to have tones reminiscent of ripe fruit or yellow dried fruit. Over the past few decades, superb dessert wines have been made from Khikhvi grapes. Some Khikhvi was also added to other varieties of grape in order to improve the wine.

Kisi

A Georgian variety of white grape which grows in eastern Georgia. Belongs to the group of local Kakhetian varieties, and according to some scientists stands between Mtsvane and Rkatsiteli or is a hybrid of the two. Ripens neither early nor late, and produces a relatively small amount of grapes. Both classical (European) and traditional Kakhetian (qvevri) wines produced from Kisi grapes have unforgettable aromas and flavours. The best micro-zones are the regions around Telavi, Kvareli and Akhmeta. This grape is most widespread around the village of Maghraani in the region of Akhmeta as well as in the villages of Argokhi and Babaneuri. Traditional Kakhetian wine made from Kisi grapes is characterized by aromas of ripe pear, French marigold, tobacco and walnut.

Kakhuri mtsvivani

This variety of white grape was one of the most widespread varieties in Kakheti in the early XIXth century, but became increasingly rare because of diseases such as mildew, powdery mildew i.e. unicula necator, and phylloxera. Belongs to the Kakhetian group of grape varieties. Compared to other varieties of grape, Kakhuri mtsvivani ripens early. Amazing traditional Kakhetian wines can be produced from this variety of grape—relatively light-bodied but full of character and boasting very distinctive aromas. Kakhuri mtsvivani has great potential to be mixed with other varieties of grape for the purposes of coupage.

Chinuri

A variety of white grape which comes from the region of Kartli, where it is very widespread. According to Ivane Javakhishvili, the name of this variety must come from the colour of olive tree leaves, which in old Georgian was called chini. Chinuri ripens late and in prolific quantities. Green or straw-coloured wines distinguished by their softness as well as sparkling wines are made from this grape. Atenuri wine made from Chinuri grapes is particularly well-known. One of the varieties of grape most-suited to the production of sparkling wines. Characterized by hints of wild mint and forest (wild) pear as well as by notes of vegetation and fruit.

Goruli mstvane

A variety of white grape which comes from the region of Kartli and ripens late. First of all, it should be mentioned that completely different varieties of grape called mtsvane grow in almost every region of Georgia, but this particular variety is very different from Mtsvane kakhuri. This variety has many different names; the Kvishkhuri vine which grows in Kartli and in Zemo Imereti, for example, is, in fact, Goruli mtsvane. Very lively and joyful wines are produced from this grape, with aromas of lime, wild flowers and spring honey. When mixed with Chinuri grapes (coupage), Goruli mtsvane gives rise to a sparkling wine with a special, characteristic flavour. Historically, blends of the latter two varieties of grape were also left to ferment in contact with the grape marc of Tavkveri grapes, resulting in the famous and delicate Khidistauri red wine.

Tsolikouri

Tsolikouri belongs to the Imeretian family of aboriginal varieties of grape. Two varieties are known: one from the village of Obcha, and the other from the village of Bazaleti. Scientists dispute the idea that these two varieties are linked, but great wine used to be made from both kinds. From the XIXth century onwards, Tsolikouri became the defining variety of grape in western Georgia and the country’s second most widespread variety after Rkatsiteli. Besides Imereti, Tsolikouri grows in the regions of Racha-Lechkhumi, Guria, Mingrelia, Adjara and Abkhazia. Racha-Lechkhumi’s only appellation wine—the semi-sweet Tvishi—is made from Tsolikouri grapes. Wine made from this variety has the greatest potential for ageing of all Georgian white wines, and the variety is also used in the production of sparkling wine. Tsolikouri ripens late, and gives rise to light, straw-coloured wines with aromas of citrus fruit, white plum, yellow fruit (mushmala, for example) and flowers. Wines produced from Tsolikouri are more full-bodied than those produced from Tsitska.

Tsitska

A Georgian variety of white grape belonging to the Imeretian family of aboriginal varieties of grape. One of the oldest white varieties of grape in western Georgia according to some scientists. Tsitska ripens late and gives rise to light, straw-coloured wines with greenish tones characterized by aromas of vegetation and hints of pear, lemon, honey and melon. Tsitska wines tend to be very acidic and lively. Tsitska grapes are considered to be the best variety for the production of sparkling wines. Historically, the best wines were considered to be an equal blend of Tsitska and Tsolikouri as well as a coupage of Tsitska and Dondghlabi mchknara. The best micro-zones for Tsitska are Kvaliti, Sviri, Puti and Ilemi.

Krakhuna

A Georgian variety of white grape which tends to ripen late, and from which some of the strongest and most full-bodied Imeretian white wines are produced. Wines produced from Krakhuna grapes have a high alcoholic content, are straw coloured with tints of golden sunlight, and have aromas of ripe fruit (apricot or banana, for example) and honey. Krakhuna wine has great potential for ageing, and indeed becomes deeper and more interesting after a few years. The best micro-zones for Krakhuna are Sviri, Obcha and Dimi.

Rachuli (Tsulukidzis) tetra

A variety of white grape from the region of Racha which ripens neither early nor late and from which soft wines with aromas of linden honey are produced. Rachuli tetra is mainly grown in the north-western Georgian region of Racha.

Sakmiela

This variety of grape used to be widespread in Guria, but only survives in a few places. Sakmiela grapes give rise to very pleasant, impressive wines with exotic aromas and a pleasing greenish straw-coloured tint.

Avasirkhva

This variety of grape belongs to the Abkhaz family of aboriginal grape varieties. According to its morphology, however, this variety is closer to others from eastern Georgia. Historically, Avasirkhva vines used to be trained to grow upwards and the grapes were used to produce naturally sweet, highly alcoholic and slightly sparkling wines. It is very rare nowadays, and can only be found in vineyards where collections of rare grape varieties are grown.

 

RED GRAPE VARIETIES

Saperavi

A Georgian variety of red grape which can be found in every vineyard of the Kakheti winemaking region as well as in almost all the other regions of Georgia. Saperavi grapes can also be found abroad. Some scientists (e.g. Dimitri Tabidze) believe that western Georgia was the birthplace of Saperavi and that it spread from there to Kartli and Kakheti via southern Georgia. Saperavi grapes finally became established in Kakheti towards the end of the XVIIth century. There, the grapes ripen during the second half of September but are harvested until the second half of October. Several kinds of Saperavi grape exist, such as Budeshurisebri, Mskhvilmartsvala, etc. High-quality red dry wines with great potential for ageing are produced from Saperavi grapes. Saperavi grapes are also used in the manufacture of sweet, semi-sweet and rosé wines. The best wine can be produced from Saperavi grapes picked in Mukuzani-Akhasheni, Khashmi, Kindzmarauli, Napareuli, Kvareli and Kondoli.

Tavkveri

A variety of red grape from the region of Kartli. Widespread in the region of Shida (Inner) Kartli, but Tavkveri grapes must have grown all over eastern Georgia at some point in time, for this variety still grows in several parts of Kakheti. Ripens late. The Tavkveri grape gives rise to interesting dry red or rosé wines with aromas of wild roses and red fruit. Young wines made from Tavkveri grapes are particularly pleasant.

Shavkapito

One of the aboriginal varieties of the Kartlian family of grape varieties, widespread in the region of Shida (Inner) Kartli. Ripens late. Some modern wine-makers produce strong, full-bodied traditional qvevri wines from Shavkapito grapes which have notes of vegetation and berries (ripe cornelian cherries, for example). Tasting notes taken down in the 1940s describe wine made from Shavkapito grapes as “tender” and “light” with a “pinkish” colour, and this variety of grape was thought to be the best for red and pink sparkling wines.

Otskhanuri sapere

A Georgian variety of red grape which is widespread in the region of Imereti. According to some experts, Otskhanuri sapere is a transitional variety of vine between cultivated and wild. It ripens between mid-October and the end of the month. Wine produced from Otskhanuri sapere grapes has a bright raspberry colour. Young wines have strong notes of vegetation and a somewhat rough taste, but when aged acquire a deep and elegant aroma as well as a rich and long finish. Otkshanuri sapere is considered to be Imereti’s best variety of red grape, and its full potential has currently not yet been reached. The best micro-zones are Sviri, Obcha, Sakara, Rodinauli, Tskhatskaro, etc.

Aleksandrouli

A variety of red grape from the region of Racha which is mostly to be found in the same region. Ripens later than average. Wines produced from Aleksandrouli grapes are dry or semi-sweet and are amazingly soft, with aromas of raspberry and black cherry. In the XIXth century, the Kipiani family were making naturally sweet wine from Aleksandrouli grapes (blended with other varieties) grown in Khvanchkara and in neighbouring villages. Khvanchkara appellation wine has also been made from this variety of grape since the 1930s.

Mujuretuli

A variety of red grape from the region of Racha which is mostly to be found growing there. Some scientists believe that the Mujuretuli variety of grape could have been brought from Imereti, but equally they consider it to be a variation of Aleksandrouli. Ripens later than average and has an exceptional capacity to accumulate sugars. Normally, Mujuretuli grapes are combined with Aleksandrouli grapes (as well as with Shavkapistoni) to make classical red and naturally semi-sweet wines from Racha. Nowadays, this variety is mostly used to make Khvanchkara wine.

Dzelshavi

Believed to be one of Georgia’s most archaic varieties of grape, Dzelshavi mostly grows in the regions of Racha and Imereti. Wines made from this variety are usually very soft and airy, but lively and highly-acidic summer wines can also be made. Dzelshavi grapes are equally well-suited for pink wines, and used to be used for coupage.

Usakhelouri

A Georgian variety of red grape widespread in the Tsageri district of the region of Lechkhumi. Ripens later than average, the grapes beginning to ripen towards the end of September. The harvests tend to be small. Usakhelouri gives rise to dignified, naturally semi-sweet or dry wines with very rich aromas of fruit. Mostly grown in villages such as Okureshi, Zubi, Opitara, Isunderi and Lachepita.

Orbeluri ojaleshi

Orbeluri ojaleshi differs from Mingrelian Ojaleshi and is one of the leading grape varieties of the region of Lechkhumi. Wines produced from Orbeluri ojaleshi grapes have sharp aromas of roses.

Ojaleshi

A Georgian variety of red grape widespread in Mingrelia, also known as Shonuri (i.e. Svanuri, from Svaneti). Ojaleshi would have been a maghlari wine (i.e. it would have been trained to grow up trees) during the early period of viticulture in Georgia. The best Ojaleshi grapes are to be found in the Martvili and Senaki districts. Ripens very late. In Mingrelia, this grape begins to ripen in mid-November and its harvest can last until the first half of December. Semi-sweet and dry red wines are made from the Ojaleshi grape, giving the wines amazing depth and character. The best Ojaleshi wine was made in the villages of the Martvili district, such as Salkhino, Tamakoni, Nakhunao, Abedati, etc.

Chkhaveri

A Georgian variety of rosé grape mostly found in Guria but also widespread in Adjara (and formerly also in Abkhazia). Chkhaveri would have been a maghlari wine (i.e. it would have been trained to grow up trees) during the early period of viticulture in Georgia. Ripens very late. In Guria, this grape ripens during the second half of November, and its harvest tends to be small. Wines produced from Chkhaveri are straw, light rosé or amber in colour. The Chkhaveri grape gives rise to soft and harmonious wines with a high alcoholic content and with aromas of peach or white fruit perfectly blending sweetness and acidity. The best Chkhaveri wines are produced in the villages of Sachamiaseri, Bukistsikhe, Askana, Bakhvi, Otskhana, Shemokmedi, etc.

INTERNATIONAL VARIETIES

International varieties of grape can also be found in Georgia – mostly French Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet grapes from the Teliani micro-zone give rise to wines produced in Kakheti under the Teliani appellation of origin. The following international varieties of grape are widespread in Georgia: Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Aligoté, Muscat, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Riesling, etc.

© Malkhaz Kharbedia, Wine Club, Georgian Wine Guide - 2014

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