With its stunning natural scenery, ancient towns and compelling history, Georgia really does have it all – and the food is no exception. Georgians are passionate about wine and love their sweets; eating here is more of a ritual than a meal. Rough Guides writer Kiki Deere talks us through an indulgent Georgian feast.
As I sip on Stalin’s favourite wine, I try to decipher the intricate squiggles on the bottle’s label. I don’t get very far – the Georgian alphabet seems better placed in the Lord of the Rings. It’s a mild spring evening in Tbilisi, and the streets hum with the chatter of locals unwinding over a meal after a busy week’s work. Small wooden tables spill out onto the pavements, accompanied by the clink of glasses and the rattle of cutlery. The sound of the Kura River, which flows through the city, is discernible in the near distance.
Food and wine play a vital role in Georgia’s culture and national identity – it was here that wine production was born 8000 years ago. I soon learn the unique alphabet I am unsuccessfully trying to decipher is modelled on the shape of vine tendrils: a clear indicator of wine’s significance in the country’s heritage. To this day, winemakers conform to the ancient wine-producing traditions that have been followed uninterrupted for the last eight millennia. Wines are fermented in clay jars lined with beeswax called qveri, which dramatically differ in size, from small earthen vessels to much larger egg-shaped ones. They are completely buried under the ground where the temperature remains constant throughout the year, thereby allowing the wines to ferment in a cool environment.