A sommelier travels to the birthplace of wine.
Joe Campanale, the beverage director and co-owner of L’Artusi and Dell’anima restaurants and Anfora wine bar in New York City traveled to the Republic of Georgia in September to attend a symposium on aging wine in anforae (or amphorae; clay vessels used to store and transport wine in ancient Greece and Rome). “Georgia is believed to have the longest tradition of winemaking in the world,” says Campanale. “It’s an integral part of the culture. It’s mentioned in the songs; referenced in the architecture.” Campanale says Georgia is unlike anywhere he’s ever traveled. “It was by far the most foreign place I’ve ever been in my life. It’s completely original.” Here, he shares his favorite food, wine, and travel highlights from the trip.
“The restaurant Metekhis Chrdili has stunning views of Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. The name translates as ‘the shadows of Metekhi,’ which is a famous church dating back to the Middle Ages. On the table at almost every restaurant you’ll find cucumber-and-tomato salad and walnut pesto, which you spread on the bread. The bread is cooked in clay ovens and is wildly delicious. You get the feeling that no one buys bread in Georgia. They all just have bread ovens at home.” 29 a Ketevan Tsamebuli , Tbilisi, 995 32 747407.
“A casual restaurant, Salobia is in the tiny village of Mtskheta in the countryside. The name translates as the place where beans are made. At first all of the food you eat in Georgia tastes delicious. But after a few days it gets repetitive. They cycle through about 15 dishes. The skewered meats grilled over grape vines are really good.” 995 555 67 19 77.
“We were the first guests ever to stay at Hotel Savaneti near the village of Ikalto in the rural Khakheti region in Eastern Georgia. The neighbor’s chickens woke me up at 6 a.m. every morning. There’s really not much to do at night in rural Georgia so we’d stay up drinking wine with the owner’s son.” 995 99 15 35 45.
“I put Georgian wines in two categories: Those leftover from the Soviet age when wines were made from French grapes in an industrial style in stainless steel tanks geared to the Soviet market. And then more traditional Georgian wines made from native grapes, using natural methods and aged in anforas. I think the Georgians are realizing that there is a market for their traditional wines. Pheasant’s Tears is one of the few wineries in Georgia that has grasped the idea of wine tourism. You can visit the winery and taste. They also lead trips around Georgian wine country. They use only native grapes and organic winemaking methods and all of their wines are aged in anfora clay pots. They make a red wine from the native grape saperavi that has such a deep red color that Georgians call it black wine. We pour Pheasant’s Tears at Anfora in New York. The name is derived from an old Georgian folktale where the hero says that only a wine beyond measure could make a pheasant cry tears of joy.” 18 Baratashvili St., 4200 Signagi, 995-255-3-15-56.
“The winemaker here, Iago Bitarishvili, opened a qvevri for us—a clay vessel for the fermentation and storage of wine, lined in beeswax and buried in the earth (shown at top). These date back to Caucasus Georgia c. 6000 B.C. Iago only makes about 2,000 bottles of wine a year and he only works with one grape variety, the native grape Chinuri. He makes two wines from Chinuri. One has skin contact and one doesn’t.” Vill. Chardakhi, Mtskheta, 995-593-3-524-26.
>> Next: Yes, You Can Travel to Georgia
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