Georgian Wine at its Best: Pheasant’s Tears
I’ve said Georgia is the place for wine. The oldest evidence for wine-making has been found in Georgia, dating back to 8000 years ago, and wine has been in steady production there since then. Even their indigenous word for wine, ghvino, is thought to have influenced Indo-European languages – vinum (Latin), oinos (Greek), and, of course, vino (Spanish, Italian, Russian, etc). As of 6000 years ago, the people now called Georgians essentially created the method of winemaking that remains in use today. For those Georgians who make wine at home, they follow roughly the same procedure. Almost all commercial wine, however, has begun to be made using Western European methods, in an effort to appeal to a global palate. Appealing they are, some even excellent. Pheasant’s Tears has stuck to the ways of their distant ancestors, and their wines are nothing short of amazing.
To satisfy your burning desire to know just HOW traditional Georgian wine is made, it’s basically like this: Grapes are picked when ripe, loaded into what looks like a dugout canoe, and stomped. The juice is then drained and placed into a qvevri, a giant earthenware jug buried in the ground. The residual stuff (seeds, stems, etc) is also placed into the qvevri and the whole lot is left to spontaneously ferment – that is, ferment based on the ambient yeast, none is added by the vintner. When fermentation is complete, the liquid is siphoned out and transferred into a different qvevri, which is then sealed underground and left to age. The resultant wine is then siphoned out for bottling or serving without being filtered. This combination of factors results in an exceptionally complex wine, pure fruit-derived taste and aroma in the absence of any oak influence as found in aged Western wines, and in the case of whites, actually produces more of an amber color.
As for Pheasant’s Tears, it started with the meeting of an American expat painter and a Georgian winemaker who randomly encountered each other in a field. A short while later, they developed a vineyard and founded the company, insisting on only using organic grapes, and the traditional qvevri method. As for the name, it’s an old Georgian saying that goes something like “only the finest wine can move a pheasant to tears,” or perhaps “pheasants’ tears are like the finest wine.” They now have 5 vineyards, 4 of which are in the historical wine region of Kakheti, a headquarters/restaurant/showroom right in the middle of Sighnaghi, and an immense amount of attention in the Western press.
However I wouldn’t know any of this without our truly wonderful guide at the Sighnaghi HQ, Gia, who also doubles as the restaurant’s executive chef and is responsible for its exciting Georgian fusion food.
An exceedingly friendly, knowledgeable, and welcoming host, and a lifelong native of Sighnaghi, Gia told us in flawless English the entire story of Pheasant’s Tears, the background of Georgian wine in general, about the specific wines we were served, random stories about Georgia, Kakheti, and Sighnaghi, and even brought out their special aged chacha – definitely sippable. We arrived shortly before closing time and stayed until well after.
We were able to try the Kisi and Rkatsiteli amber wines, and the Saperavi and Shavkapito red wines, or, as they like to call the Saperavi, black, due to its intense darkness. We started with the ambers, and they were a revelation. Far more character than any white wine I’ve ever tried. Fruity, spicy aromas, and deep taste unlike anything I’ve had. As for the red, intense levels of complexity, but also an aroma (“nose” in wine douchebag lingo) that was almost stronger than the taste. I could have happily sniffed the glass all afternoon without drinking any of it, but of course that’d be missing out on half the fun wouldn’t it? I’d provide more detail, but I’m not an aforementioned wine d-bag, and this took place two weeks ago or so. That being said, I cannot praise it enough. All told, this was wine unlike any I’ve ever tried before, and in a country of generally great wines, these stood out as the pinnacle. Many, many thanks to Gia, without whom I feel my life would be missing a great experience.
As noted above, they’ve received a lot of press in the West, including very lately on the BBC (video), who also covered them two years ago. For loads more info, just google them. The good news about this is that you can actually find their wine abroad, most notably in DC, as well as in New York, Virginia, and the West Coast. In DC, Potomac Wines in Georgetown has Saperavi and Rkatsiteli as well as loads of other Georgian wine.
If you found yourself in Georgia, go to Sighnaghi, enjoy the scenery, and pop in at their resto/showroom. They will also arrange 1, 3, and 7-day tours.
18 Baratashvili Street
Sighnaghi, Kakheti, Georgia