Big clay pots, buried underground pitches, miles-long vineyards and very good wine. All that we have found in Georgia. Is neighbouring Abkhazia alike? Do they drink wine for any occasion there too? Is it as good as Georgian, or maybe it’s even better? We decided to check all that.
Our wine story begun much earlier than we expected. Just a while after landing at Kutaisi airport customs officer handed us a welcome gift from Georgia – little bottle of wine. This is how they welcome visitors! Quite nice, isn’t it? That classic red spaeravi we tried only in Abkhazia but appreciated the way Georgia promotes their local product.
Instead of wine Abkhazia welcomed us with heat. It seems that it is a perfect place for vine cultivation – subtropical climate, rich soils, sun and mountain slopes.
In such conditions viniculture must have developed. Archeological findings confirm that wine has been produced here since few thousands years BC. The oldest signs were found in Gudauta – big ancient clay pots for wine storage, each for 100 liters of wine. Grapes are harvested here from October until December and their main varaiety is saperavi. It is an indigenous variety, probably the oldest in Caucasus originating in the areas of Batumi.
The centuries-old wine-making tradition still survived in small farms. They put grapes in big containers where historically they crushed them with bare foot. After short period of fermentation wine is poured to big clay pots or oak barrels. In such conditions it maturates very well and gets the noble character. This process very often takes place in containers burried uderground called kvevri in Georgia and is being controlled with a bucket on a stick used to bring wine out and check its quality. Such containers can be found all over in Caucasus and every good host has a few of them and produces own wines.
In fact every Abkhaz we met offered us their own products. House wines were of different qualities but perfectly accompanied Abkhaz cuisine and amazing atmosphere in which we were hosted. One beverage has surprised us – during a little party one of the hosts treated us with a copper colour drink. At first we thought what it was an Abkhazian kind of cha-cha but it was something totaly different, reminding more of Amaretto liqueur. Sweet drink made of grape alcohol with an addition of almonds, figs and peaches. In aroma we found intense chocolate, coffee and a lot of alcohol. As we found out later it contained 30% of spirit, which was covered by fruit-almond sweetness. If you like this kind of tastes you would like it as much as the original from Italy.
During our visit in Abkhazia we reached also for some commercial products. The development of industrial production of wine is the twenties of the last century with a peak in the 60. Current industrial production is done by “Wines and Beverages of Abkhazia” manufacturing most of locally known brands. It has been completely renovated recently and reached for know-how among others from France. Owners are proud to import barrels from France and the cork from Portugal. Majority of their production goes for local market and export to Russian Federation. In the past their wines were well known and respected also in Europe. Although some problems with export factory keeps on growing thanks to Russian embargo on Georgia. Acreage of vineries is growing, recently near Sukhum and Ochamchyra new few-hundred-acres wineyards were set up.
Wines from “Wines and Beverages of Abkhazia” are available almost everywhere, in stores, kiosks and even in souvenir shops by the beach. The most popular are: “Aspny”, “Anakopia”, “Lykhny”, “Psou” and „Bouquet of Abkhazia”. You should definitely try some land of soul – Apsny. It’s the most popular red wine made of Saperavi, Cabernet and Merlot varietes. Very deep, dark-red color, in taste definitely less tannin than Georgian wines. This brand is the main export product of Abkhazia and pride of the country. On the bottle we read that it received many awards on international fairs ProdExpo 2010 completely unknown for us. It’s worth to pay attention on the label also for a picture of man holding a horn of wine – it’s a picture of bronze figure found few decades ago on the territory of Abkhazia. It’s dated on 4000 years ago and confirms tradicions of viniculture on those areas.
Another wine worth trying is “Lykhny”, red wine in 100% produced of Isabella variety. It has a strawberry aroma, is slightly tart but very drinkable, resembles a little dessert wines from Milestii Mici. In USSR times it was one of the favourite wines of the elites. Buying this wine in store we faced an interesting question – Is it for man or for woman? – the seller asked us. He explained that in Abkhazia wines are divided in those for men and those for women. The first ones are dry and strong and the others fruity and sweet. We didn’t use their advice of course. Out of white wines the most popular is Anakopia, medium dry of Rkatsiteli and Riesling varietes, mainly grown in the area of New Athos and Gudauta. Wine is light, perfect to be drunk in the seaside bar. You can also visit the town which gave the wine its name. There are ruins of the castle and 10th century church there and every October they have a feast to celebrate grape harvests.
Being in Abkhazia it is recommended to get familiar with the whole culture of wine drinking. Great books have been published on that but we will go through it shortly. When drinking wine it is obligatory to say long toasts. The order of toasts is specific and usually being followed by the householder.
Glasses are to be emptied at once and it’s not allowed to reach for the glass on your own. Such way of drinking might be difficult for some people as the glasses happen to be quite large and the feasts are endless.
Last grape product we came across was above mentioned cha-cha. This vodka is traditionally produced of grapes juice but today they also add other fruit juices like pears of plums. Good cha-cha should have at least 50% of alcohol but sometimes it reaches even 70% so it’s hard to drink more than few glasses however it’s not appropriate to refuse at least one. The one we tried was dark, brownish but in Georgia we have seen also white versions. The aroma gives esters and definite pear. In taste it’s only burning but being in Caucasus you really have to try one and get it yourself as a souvenir. It’s not a wine that you will surely drink right after getting back home, it will last longer. We still have this little bottle of cha-cha which be brought from one of our first trips to Caucasus.
Let us make a toast to good kaukasian drinks. Cheers!