04-07-2018

Georgian wine evolution: Kvevri gold at Decanter Awards

Given my living location and writing focus I’m viewed as a “Spain person” for the Decanter Awards. This is great and I’m very happy to judge these wines but I made a mention to the organizer that due to my Georgia book coming out last year, I have familiarity with that country as well and if they needed anyone, I’d be happy to join in. When I received my final schedule, it turned out that I was a full three days on the “hinterlands” (basically former Soviet Union) and so for all the 100 or so Georgian wines that were entered into competition, I was one of the judges.

This offered an interesting opportunity to see what Georgia is sending out to represent the country. As it is the with the actual case domestically, the wines were dominated by “international” style wines and not the traditional kvevri wines. Looking back over the last decade of results, while there have been some top scoring wines, never was one from kvevri.

That’s why this 2018 edition of the awards was so important in that finally (finally!) a kvevri wine not only made it to the Gold, but Platinum as well for the Maranuli Qvevri – Kisi 2017. Just behind it was the Makashvili Wine Cellar – Khikhvi 2016 which, while scoring 94 points put it just under Gold but I’d still contend it was worthy of this higher distinction as it was a lovely wine. Regardless, I can only hope that these two wines coming out as high as they did will encourage others to submit as given the £160 entry fee per wine, plus shipping four bottles of each wine entered to London, plus dealing with customs, it’s easy to see why someone with a production of even 2,000 bottles, let alone 200 wouldn’t be sending their wines and these are the production totals many in Georgia have. It may have been the case that these two wines were (wisely) submitted by an importer in the UK.

Georgian wines in the Awards

Let’s have a look at some of the past statistics in terms of how the wines from Georgian have been both entered as well as scored:

  • 2008 – 17 wines, 1 Silver
  • 2009 – 14 wines, 2 Silvers
  • 2010 – 33 wines, 2 Silvers, 1 Regional Trophy
  • 2011 – 21 wines, 4 Silvers
  • 2012 – 28 wines, 2 Silvers
  • 2013 – 45 wines
  • 2014 – 35 wines, 1 Silver
  • 2015 – 28 wines, 4 Silvers
  • 2016 – 66 wines, 10 Silvers
  • 2017 – 68 wines, 7 Silvers, 2 Golds, 2 Platinums
  • 2018 – 97 wines, 21 Silvers (although 1 nearly Gold), 1 Platinum

As you can see, there are two trends here. The first is the amount of wines being entered which jumped 30% from 2017 to 2018–this is definitely not insignificant. Also not insignificant is the sharp jump in medal totals. It’s not that myself and my fellow table mates were being generous but that some seriously good wines were sent in this year. As to why there were no medals in 2013, I think it’s because this was the last year of the Russian Embargo and many wineries were hurting badly financially given their dependence on the market and thus, sending to Decanter just wasn’t an option, or they weren’t even producing in 2012 as hail damage was severe in the east where the bulk of production is.

You know it when you taste it

My unbridled enthusiasm at these results are also due to Andrew Jefford (who was on the “Politburo” or more officially, the Awards Chair Committee) often bopping by to see if we’d sussed out any kvevri wines for Golds. We were looking very, very intently but one just hadn’t popped up during the initial flights as again, the majority of wines were made via “international” style. Don’t take that as a slag given that producers such as Mukhrani, Tbilvino, Lukasi, and others all make very good and worthy wines without kvevri. It’s just that in the kvevri is where Georgian wines get that extra special nudge of singularity.

It was at the end of the third and final day of the hinterland wines that we had a flight of 12. To reiterate, everything is tasted and stays blind. We go through and taste the wines independently but in there, I can clearly remember that as each of us in the table was finishing up we starting looking at one another as we’d clearly found these stars and we’re very excited about it given they were the very last wines.

The Regional Chair, Beth Willard came over and went through the scores once we were done. Beth is a fucking amazing taster but I could see that the whole Amber wine thing had not impressed in the past but she was fully onboard with the excellence in these wines and we sent them off to the Politburo for final certification to get the results that you see now.

Of course, once finished with the day, we did what we can’t do while judging and downed these top scorers gleefully before heading off to the “complimentary beer”.