Pheasant's Tears Wines
Flavours From Georgia's Past And Present.
|By Levan Gokadze from Tbilisi, Georgia - Flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56889960; Qvevri buried in the winery.|
John Wurdeman, ex Virginia (US), and Gela Patalashvili are the men behind Pheasant’s Tears, a natural winery and vineyards in the far east of Georgia (where Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are among the neighbours). They could have taken the oak route, even the chemical route but, with guidance from the local bishop, they stuck with the local tradition, a vine and wine tradition that goes back hundreds, maybe thousands, of years.
Vegetables and herbs grow among the Georgian vines. In the wineries, many of them very basic, skin contact is employed extensively, but what makes Georgian winemaking different is their use of the qvevri, huge earthenware vats sunk into the ground and used for fermentation and storage. They are made from the local terracotta clay, survive in the ground for generations and have been awarded a place on the UN Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Other winemakers, even in Italy and France, are beginning to use them.
|By Levan Totosashvili - https://www.flickr.com/photos/conversum/4066312418/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38658843|
Qvevri above ground.
At the start of her book (below), Alice Feiring wonders about the future of the Georgian approach to wine production. Remarkable that is has survived “vicious invasions” and the “assault of Soviet industrialisation”. But…“Could Georgians resist the onslaught of wine consultants….? Could they resist chemical salesmen….?”
They have been stubborn in holding on to their methods in the past. Fingers crossed that they’ll be just as stubborn in the present and future as the get-rich flag is flown in their faces.
- Info on Georgian wines is not all that easy to come by but I was helped by reading For Love of Wine by Alice Feiring, also the Le Caveau catalogue, and by listening to relevant podcasts on BBC Radio Four Food.
- A Youtube video on Georgian wine https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoyI2bJrTnU, one of a few.
Pheasant’s Tears Saperavi Kakheti (Georgia) 2015, 14%, €27.40 Bradley’s Cork, Le Caveau.
This must-try wine is made in the historical province of Kakheti from Saperavi, the “hero” grape of Georgia. Hero because it survived decades (beginning in 1920) of Soviet centralisation, ironically under the Georgia born Stalin (who liked his wine!), a policy that aimed to eliminate most of the region’s hundreds of varieties, aiming to leave only a handful of the most productive ones.
But the Saperavi survived and eventually thrived again. Indeed, it has been planted in 25 Australian vineyards and the reports are good. By the way, be careful you don't spill this juice on your best white top. Unlike most red grapes, the pulp here is also red and so more liable to stain than normal.
The ancient grape has provided wine for many generations. Even during the worst of the Soviet times, householders kept growing it in the gardens, without chemicals, to make wine for the house. And nothing is wasted. The leftovers (the pomace) from the initial wine-making are distilled to make the Georgian Chacha, their fiery equivalent of Italy's Grappa.
Colour of our Saperavi is a deep purple. The aromas are of cherry, savoury notes too. On the palate it is fresh, full of vitality, cheerful blackcurrant flavours feature, tannins are pretty firm. While there is some little sweetness on the palate, the long finish is dry. Check your lips! It is a most satisfying wine, eminently drinkable and digestible and Very Highly Recommended. One can see why the Georgians allow three litres per guest at weddings and other excuses (readily found, apparently) for feasting! It is said that Georgians rarely eat; they feast.
This is quite magnificent with lamb, either roasted or stewed, Georgian-style, with aubergine.
Pheasant’s Tears Shavkapito Kartli (Georgia) 2014, 13%, €27.25 Bradley’s Cork, Le Caveau
The fruit for this one comes from Mukhrani in Kartli. The Shavkapito grape is a rare Georgian variety, praised for its refreshing tones of violets and forest earth. If you were lucky enough to have been part of the Georgian royal circle in ancient times you would have seen the king reach out for a glass of Shavkapito on a regular basis.
Colour is a dark ruby and the legs are surprisingly slow to clear and you’ll note dark fruit among the aromas. A juicy fruity palate (plum, cherry) also features persistent grainy tannins and there is a velvety spicy finalé. Oak comes to mind but the wine has seen no wood only the inside of the qvevri. A natural with game and with lamb. Highly Recommended, perhaps Very Highly Recommended in a few years time when the tannins have calmed down a bit!