Georgian grape varieties that you should know
Writing this blog, makes me incredibly proud of my country and it’s an honor to share it with you. It’s such a pleasure to tell you all this extraordinary information about Georgian Grape varieties. It’s funny because even Georgians, let alone foreigners, really don’t know much about this valuable Georgian treasure.
So, let’s start. Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. It’s unfortunate that little is known about traditional Georgian grape varieties. It is widely believed that this is where wine production first began, over 8,000 years ago. Archeological remains suggest that as early as 4000 BC grape juice was being placed in underground clay jars, or Kvevri, to ferment throughout the winter. Even though there are nearly 400 grape varieties to choose from, only 38 are officially grown for commercial viticulture in Georgia. Georgia’s wines come from several regions: Kakheti and Kartli in the east, and Imereti, Samegrelo, Guria, Ajara, and Abkhazia in the west. Kakheti produces 70% of all Georgian wine.
Georgians call it “Gvino”. So let’s talk about “Gvino” and start with White wines. I hope you’ll discover a lot of interesting facts about Georgian grape varieties.
Special thanks to the National Wine Agency of Georgia for the detailed information:
Georgian White Grape Varieties:
Rkatsiteli, which means “red stem” (rka – meaning vine cane; tsiteli – meaning red), accounts for 43% of all vineyard plantings across 20, 000 hectares. It is native to Kakheti in eastern Georgia and is cultivated throughout the province as well as in Kartli. Rkatsiteli is favored by growers because it is less affected by the surrounding environment, and you can achieve relatively high sugar content while retaining its acidity; contemporary bottling can easily produce 13% alcohol by volume. It is arguably the most expressive when grown on the northwestern part of the Alazani Valley in the Akhmeta-Ikalto zone, in the villages of Kondoli, Tsinandali, Kisiskhevi, Vazisubani and Mukuzani. Rkatsiteli’s cylindrical, medium-sized bunches contain medium-sized, oval berries when dry farmed, the grapes acquire a pinkish-yellow hue. Late-budding (the end of April) and late-maturing (early October), Rkatsiteli is relatively resistant to the downy mildew present in Kakheti; it is less resistant in the western, more humid regions. A hardy vine, it can withstand most winter frosts. Rkatsiteli is produced through both traditional and European vinification methods, and is the principal grape in most Kakhetian white wines. Because Rkatsiteli has relatively quiet aromatics, it is often blended with 15-20 percent Mtsvane Kakhuri, alone with PDO’s such as; Gurjaani, Tsinandali, and Vazisubani to add high-toned aromatics and to soften the resulting wine. When vinified in the European style, Rkatsireli offers subtle floral aromas with notes of citrus, quince and apple. If vinified in Kvevri, the wine is typically more powerful, moderately tannic, with crisp acidity; the oxidative handling elicits flavors of honey, dried orange peel, spices, apricot and other stone fruits. Rkatsiteli is predominantly vinified into a dry wine, but it is also a core grape variety in the PDO Kardenakhi, a fortified wine, and is suitable for all styles of wine. Georgians also serve Rkatsiteli as a table grape.
Literally meaning “green Kakheti” and commonly referred to simply as “Mtsvane”, Mtsvane Kakhuri is one of six different Mtsvane variations that grow throughout Georgia, each with a different DNA fingerprint, and each named after the origin of its growth. Thought to be older than Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane Kakhuri’s five-lobed leaves are dark green and funneled; the medium-sized bunches can be quite dense, sometimes with one shoulder and medium-sized berries. The variety buds late, usually in late April and matures in the mid-season, in the last two weeks of September, before Rkatsiteli. It is an easy bunch to pick. It accumulates sugar easily yet retains high acidity levels, hence its suitability for sweet, fortified wines. Yields are generous, though the vine is very susceptible to powdery mildew, and is regarded as sensitive to its environment, demanding attentive cultivation. It is, however, relatively impervious to winter frosts. Mtsvane Kakhuri grows well in calcareous soil in Kakheti, southeastern Georgia, particularly in the regions of Tsinandali, Manavi, Gurdzjaani, Vazisubani and Kardenakhi. When vinified in a European style, the young dry, white wine often has a greenish straw tinge. Mtsvane Kakhuri imparts fresh white peach, floral, citrus and tropical aromas, with a light mineral undertone. It is quite dark and will show an apricot and stone fruit character when vinified in Kvevri. An aromatic variety, it oxidizes easily, and unless vinified in Kvevri, it requires sensitive anaerobic handling. Alternatively, it may be blended with a percentage of Kisi or Rkatsiteli; Mtsvane Kakhuri adds aromatic high tones and complexity, the other varieties inhibit oxidation. Mtsvane Kakhuri is a solo performer in the PDO Manavi, a dry white wine from the region of the same name in Kakheti. Up to 20% of Mtsvane Kakhuri may be blended with Rkatsiteli for classic Tsinandali PDO. Mtsvane Kakhuri may also have a small part in fortified wines such as Kardenakhi. It is also suitable as a table grape. There were 249 hectares planted as of 2004.
Not to be confused with the Mtsvane Kakheti, this “Green Gori” has a variety of alternative names and synonyms. Commercially, however, it is labeled consistently as Goruli Mtsvane. A relatively vigorous vine, bud-burst occurs in mid to late April and ripens in mid to late September (though harvest can be delayed if the weather is too cold and wet). Thick-skinned, the berry is yellow-green and medium-sized. The bunches are cone-shaped and winged. Goruli Mtsvane is relatively resistant to downy mildew with average frost resistance. A variety with delicate high-toned aromatics, it oxidizes easily, and is often blended with Rkatsiteli or Chinuri to bolster its structure and inhibit oxidation.
One of Georgia’s lighter-bodied wines, Goruli Mtsvane is best drunk when young and fresh, when it’s floral, lime and subtle honeyed notes are crisp and most vibrant. Goruli Mtsvane is also blended with Chinuri and Budeshuri Tetri for sparkling wines, most notably the PDO Atenuri. Goruli Mtvane, fermented with the white Chinuri and red Tavkeri in Kvevri, produces the classic red Khidistauri (i.e. the town of Khidistavi near Gori). Goruli Mtsvane may also be blended with Chinuri alone for sparkling wines. There were 224 hectares in production as of the last census in 2004, though there have been additional plantings since that time.
Iv. Javakhishvili, an early 20th Century historian, argued that Chinuri’s name derives from the old Georgian word “Chini” (reddish-green), but historians now contend that it comes from Georgian word “chinebuli” meaning “excellent” or “ the best” referring to the grapes superb appearance, color, and flavor. Indeed, some producers even call the variety “Chinebuli”. Regardless of name, when ripe, the grapes do blush a red-yellow-green colour. Originating in Kartli, but also grown in Kakheti, Chinuri has a three-lobed leaf; its cylindrical bunches often have one very large wing. The vine is comparatively resistant to fungal diseases (especially powdery mildew) and chlorosis, and is less susceptible to frost than many other indigenous varieties. Not being particularly fussy as to site it grows well in diverse soils and locations, whether in alluvial or stony soils, on steep slopes or the plains. It is high yielding and medium-late ripener, with budburst in mid-April, maturing in early October. The skin detaches very easily from its juicy flesh. With its naturally high acidity, Chinuri is most famous for the sparkling PDO Atenuri wine which may include Goruli Mtsvane or Aligote in its production. Harvested a week or two later, Chinuri is also made as a still wine, with moderate alcohol levels and crisp acidity, whether fermented in Kvevri or a tank. Chinuri has floral and herbal aromas, including hints of mint, pear and other yellow fruits. It is tannic and musky, with flavors of dried pears and apricots laced with a slightly more concentrated herbal complexity. There were 955 hectares in production as of 2004.
The origins of Khikhvi’s name are unknown, but it is grown widely in eastern Georgia, especially in Kakheti, where it originated. Most plantings are on the East or Southeast reaches of the province, on the right bank of the Alazani River. The vine sports large leaves, which are three-lobed, circular and almost round. Its medium-sized bunches are conical, winged and somewhat loose, with medium-sized, greenish-yellow, thin-skinned berries. Budburst occurs in the first half of April and matures in September. An early ripener, it is recommended for higher-altitude, cooler mountain plantings. Along with Mtvsane Kakhuri, Khikvi is the other Georgian variety most susceptible to powdery mildew, though it is resistant to spider mites. Khikhvi is relatively versatile, as it can be produced in light dry, semi-sweet, sweet, and as in PDO Kardenakhi, fortified styles. Its aromatic signature is distinctive; floral notes of boxwood and wild flowers heighten broader flavors of ripe yellow fruits and apricot. The light wines appear both in European and Kvevri versions; the latter wines accentuate the dried fruit and flower character.
With moderate alcohol levels and soft acidity, khikhvi may stand alone as a single varietal wine, or may contribute high-tones to enhance a blend. It is a grape that deserves greater attention. Khikhvi also grows in Kartli. Nationwide, there was only one hectare in production in Georgia as of 2004.
Kisi is indigenous to Kakheti. It ripens before Rkatsiteli, typically in the last 2 weeks of September, and is made both in the European and Georgian manner. Occasionally it is fortified. A straw-colored wine when produced in the European style, the nose is quite floral with flavors of pear, citrus and green tea on the palate; the amber Kvevri wines reveal more apricot, mango, lime, orange and walnut character. Some producers believe it to be capable of producing finer, more expressive wines than Rkatsiteli. There were 20 hectares planted as of 2004, all on family farms, of which 18 lie in the Akhmeta district of Kakheti. Earlier commentators believed Kisi to be a younger variety than Rkatsiteli, but in fact the evidence to support this is insufficient.
Meaning “crispy” in the local Imeretian dialect, Krakhuna is indigenous to Imereti in western Georgia. It is mostly grown in the central part of the province, around Sviri, Obcha and Dimi. Its bunches are of medium size, dense and conical, with thin-skinned berries. Depending on the meteorological conditions of the area, Krakhuna tends to bud mid-season, and ripens later (late September in Imereti). It grows well in various types of soils, produces moderate to high yields, and accumulates sugar easily while retaining its acidity. It can be a challenge to grow, given the relatively humid climate in the West and the grape’s thin skin. It is particularly susceptible to disease, especially oidium. For vitis vinifera, Krakhuna is relatively resistant to downy mildew. It may be blended with Tsolikouri and Tsitka for the Gelati blend. Whether Krakhuna is fermented either in the European and traditional Georgian manner, it offers notes of intensely ripe banana and apricots, with honeyed tones. Produced in Kvevri, Krakhuna wines are a deep amber colour, with chalky tannins, stone fruit flavors with tropical notes and a slight herbal tinge. With its considerable flavor profile and broad structure, Krakhuna wines have the potential to develop in bottle. Krakhuna is also served as a table grape. There 36 were hectares in production as of 2004.
Grown throughout upper and central Imereti, Tsitska means “variety with small grapes” from the village of Tsitske or Tstiskiuri. By current standards, however, the grape is of medium size, with thick skins. The medium-sized, generally conical bunches tend to be compact and dense.
Budburst is generally in mid-April, with ripening at the beginning of October. The vine has a moderate vigor but with high yields. It is rather susceptible to oidium and plasmopara viticola, the pathogen of downy mildew. When vinified to dryness, Tsitska wines suggest yellow fruits such as quince, melon, and pear, sometimes with a honeyed note. Tsitska may be blended with Tsolikouri, and sometimes Krakhuna, for the PDO Sviri and other dry table wines. Tsitska grapes with 19.0-21% sugar content and 7-9g/1 total acidity are regarded as best for table wine. But when cultivated for its naturally high acidity to range 9-12g/1 at harvest, it also is vinified for sparkling wine. Tsitska represented six percent of all grapes planted in Georgia in 2004, or 2,839 hectares.
The leading white grape of western Georgia, Tsolikouri originates in Kolkheti (ancient Colchis, the land of the Golden Fleece). The origins of its name remain debated and uncertain. The vine has medium-sized, conical bunches, which may have wings, and is of average density. The round, yellow-green berry itself is relatively thick-skinned, and thus is resistant to the primary fungal diseases, making it suitable for the more humid climate in western Georgia. It is not, however, frost resistant. A late bloomer (late May) and generous yielder, Tsolikouri matures in the mid-season, usually in the middle of October. Most Tsolikouri plantings are in Imereti and Guria, but it is also planted in Racha-Lechkhumi, Samegrelo, and Adjara. When made in the European style, Tsolikouri wines are medium to full-bodied, slightly oily, with soft acidity and a broad texture, with subtle notes of yellow fruits, melon, mineral, and a light floral lift. It may be fermented and/or matured in oak. Tsolikouri may be blended with the lighter-bodied Tsitska, and sometimes Krakhuna, for PDO Sviri wines. In the PDO Tvishi, a semi-sweet wine Lechkumi with 30-40g/1 residual sugar, Tsolikouri is a solo act. Tsolikouri wines have the potential for considerable longevity if properly crafted. With 15% of total plantings there were 6,161 hectares in production as of 2004.
If you would like to learn more about Georgian Red grape varieties, you can read more here.
Georgian national wine agency; Georgian Ampelography N. Ketskhoveli et al.; Wine Grapes, Js Robinson, Harding, Voullamoz; D. Magradze; L.Uzunashvili; N. Tsertsvadze (2012); 2004 Georgian cine Census.