Georgians are proud to live in the place where wine was born.

 

There's been wine in Georgia almost as long as there have been Georgians. Stone wine presses and clay containers have been found dating from the third millennium BC, and wine leaves and stems have been found in Bronze Age tombs. Wine is absolutely central to the Georgian lifestyle and to their self- image, and everyone (especially men) drinks large quantities and will want you to do the same. In theory Georgians drink red wines in winter and whites in summer, but in practice it's hard to tell the difference, as even 'red' (literally 'black' or shavi) wines may in fact be straw-coloured. Most families make their own, storing it in kvevri, large sealed clay vessels set into the floor of a room known as the marani. In every ancient site you visit, such as Vardzia or Uplistsikhe, there'll be a marani or three. Many say that the generic word 'wine' stems from the Georgian word 'gvino.'

 

There is a big choice of dry and semi-dry wines: Tsinandali, Gurjaani, Rkatsiteli, Tibaani, Manavis Mtsvane, Vaziubani, Old Tbilisi, Kotekhi and others.

There are the commoner red wines, fruity and dry respectively: Akhasheni, Mukuzani and Teliani.
Sweet wines: Kindzmarauli, Saperavi, Khvantchkara and other.

Perhaps the best-known wine from Kakheti is Tsinandali, a white made since 1886 from Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes which are left for weeks to macerate with their skins, as for red wine, giving a strong tannic flavour. For three years it matures in oak barrels in the cellars of the Tsinandali winery, and when ready it's a pale-straw colour, with a fine fruity bouquet. Gurdjaani is a light gold wine with a unique subtle, bitter taste, first produced in 1887. It also is made from Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes grown in the Gurdjaani, Signaghi and Sagarejo districts of Kakheti, and matures in oak for three years in the cellars of the Gurdjaani winery.

Other contenders are Rkatsiteli, 'rich and full-bodied, making up for its very dry aftertaste', and Sameba, seen by some as 'the grape of the Georgian future'. Other dry wines from Kakheti include Tibaani, Manavis Mtsvane, Vazisubani; sweet wines include Kindjmarauli, Saperavi and the red Mukuzani.

Two fortified white wines are also produced in Kakheti. Kardanakhi is made from Rkatsiteli grapes grown in the Kardanakhi vineyards near Gurdjaani. The wine matures in oak barrels for three years. The amber colour wine has a pleasant specific bouquet with a typical port wine flavour and a fine honey fragrance. Anaga is made in the Gurdjaani, Signaghi and Tsiteltskaro areas from Rkatsiteli, Khikhvi and Mtsvane grapes. It's light-golden to dark-amber in colour with a madeira-like taste.

At the other end of the country, in Imereti, they make lighter, more flowery, wines; here vines are allowed to grow high on trees and the grapes are collected in a pointed basket known as a gideli which is lowered down on a rope. This doesn't affect the taste, but does give rise to a specific genre of worksongs. In the village of Kvanchkara , in Racha, a red wine is produced which is famed as Stalin's favourite (and costs twice as much as other wines). Sparkling wine ('Georgian champagne') is produced in factories nationwide rather than in the villages; it's inexpensive and ranges from more or less dry to ultra-sweet in taste.

Other drinks

The national beer is Kazbegi, a nice tangy German-style brew which has been produced in Tbilisi since 1881; Argo, a premium beer costing 50% more, has recently been introduced. There is some competition from Castell, a similar brew. Aluda, a newly established brand of beer is also highly recommended.

Vodka is drunk in Georgia , but far less than in Russia and the other Slav countries; the national spirit is chacha, a firewater made as a rule from grain, although in Svaneti, where grain doesn't grow, they use bread instead! It's intriguing to wonder whether there's any linguistic connection with chicha, the fermented maize drink of the Andes . Although the Georgians love to drink, there's very little public drunkenness and few of the alcohol-related problems found north of the Caucasus . Soft drinks are easily available, the ubiquitous Coca-Cola, Fanta, Pepsi and local fruit juices, which are slightly cheaper as well as rather healthier. Borjomi mineral water is sold almost everywhere, costing a bit more at GEL0.70 for a half-litre bottle (for some reason a poster has been produced which is entirely in Georgian except for the words 'Borjomi 0.5L not returnable'!). Coffee is available in cafes, and you'll usually be able to find tea - it's usually from Sri Lanka , as while Georgia produces large quantities of tea, it's all green tea for the Russian samovar market.