Tasting Georgian wine in a chilly Cold War Tunnel

1043 Reviews

Star Travel Rating

5/5

Review type

Things to do

Location

Date of travel

June, 2023

Product name

Winery Khareba and Kvareli Wine Cave

Product country

Georgia

Product city

Kvareli

Travelled with

Couple

Reasons for trip

Culture/Sightseeing

Within an hour of crossing the border from Azerbaijan into Georgia, we were doing what Georgians do best: drinking wine and eating cheese. It was a promising start.

Our wine tasting took place at Winery Khareba’s Kraveli Wine Cave. During the Cold War, tunnels were carved into the Caucasus rock massif to provide a safe environment: now redundant, they’d been sold and converted into nightclubs and restaurants. However, Khareba realised that the tunnels’ natural, consistent temperature of 12-16 °C was the ideal environment for wine storage and ageing. Although ideal for wine, it was chilly for tourists, so scarlet fleecy blankets were provided to wrap ourselves in – which co-ordinated beautifully with my red shorts!.

A small group of us set off with our guide and although there were two main and 13 connecting tunnels totalling 7.7km, we visited only a short stretch passing many dust-covered bottles, some up to 17 years old. These were stored horizontally to ensure the cork remained constantly wet during the aging period and when we asked if they used screw tops, we received a withering look.

We were told about the two different shapes of bottles, and the two types of wine making methods. The first was the familiar, traditional European method, but the second was the Qvevri method where grapes are placed in egg-shaped clay vessels which are sealed and buried in the ground. Not only could we see the clay Qvevri, but also the tools used in the wine making process which included a sartskhi, a long-poled scrubbing brush with a head made from layers of pressed cherry tree bark used to clean out the Qvevri, and orshimo, a hollowed gourd or pumpkin, with a wooden handle used to ladle the wine out. Later in our trip, we learned much more about this traditional Georgian way of making wine, which is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Eventually, we reached a section of the tunnel lined with bricks and turned into the tasting room. Whilst different tasting packages were available, ours included two dry whites, one being amber-coloured Qvevri wine, and two reds, one from the Saperavi grape, the most famous in Georgia. Along with samples of cheese, bread and oil it was a wonderful way to begin our tour.

Tastings over, we wandered through the beautiful grounds and although there was a restaurant on site, we drove a short distance to a local family house for our first traditional lunch.

Before we could eat, we helped to make shoti, a traditional Georgian bread, made of white flour and shaped like a canoe. At an outside table I shaped prepared dough before trying to get it to stick to the inside wall of the oven, called a tone, which was like a tandoor, using a dab of water. Our lady baker was particularly skilled in getting 30 loaves into the oven, particularly at the bottom when she had to bend right over and into the really hot oven. 15 minutes later when the bread was golden and crisp on one side and soft on the other, Roy was given the task of using a hook and scraper to take it out without letting it drop onto the ashes below.

Due to overnight hail and rain, which had flooded part of the garden, we sat at a beautifully laid table on the terrace, where, after individual bowls of homemade vegetable soup, we were told the dishes would be served in the typical Georgian way, in the middle of the table for sharing.

Our feast consisted of lobio (bean paste with stew with a maize bread), chakhokhbili (chicken stew with tomatoes, onions and herbs), pkhali (beetroot and spinach with crushed walnuts and herbs), badrijani nigvzit (aubergine slices rolled up with walnut and garlic paste) and pickled vegetables. The final dish was Khachapuri or cheesey bread – this was the first of many we ate during our tour.

In contrast, the dessert was the only one we had in the three following weeks: we’re not great dessert lovers and neither it seems are the Georgians. However, the pelamushi was delicious – a kind of blancmange made from grape juice sprinkled with chopped walnuts.

There was also a carafe of both amber and red wine which the family had made, and afterwards we were shown the cellar to see the Qvevri in the ground.

Although this was only day one in the country, we felt it was the perfect introduction to Georgian wine and food.

Helen Jackson

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