A Wine Lover’s Travel Guide to the Republic of Georgia
ByBenjamin Kemper on September 06, 2016
Our top places to dine, unwind, and—of course—swirl and sip your way through the country.
Davor Lovincic / Getty Images
By the time the wheel was invented, people in Georgia had been making wine for 2,500 years. These Stone Age hunter-gatherers, said to be the world’s first winemakers, would crush wild grapes with their bare feet, ferment the runoff in buried clay pots, and dance around merrily to venerate the vine. Fast forward eight millennia, and not much has changed in the way of Georgian wine making: Grape-stomping may be obsolete nowadays, but the country’s famed—and newly fashionable—“orange” wines are still ladled into bottles from underground qvevri (tear-shaped fermentation vessels) and celebrated each harvest season with Dionysian-like feasting and folk song.
Spectacular natural wine is one of many reasons to visit Georgia, a small, vibrant country wedged between Europe and Asia at the foot of the Caucasus. Its gravity-defying dances, glaciated peaks, and East-meets-West flavors have lured adventurous types for years. But today, thanks to improved infrastructure and a burgeoning tourism sector, there’s no need to rough it to experience Georgia at its best—especially if you happen to love wine.
Kakheti, Georgia’s premier wine-making region, ticks all the boxes: It’s dotted with sophisticated tasting rooms, rolling vineyards, homey restaurants, and comfortable European-style hotels. This is natural-wine mecca, a land of consonant-heavy indigenous grapes (rkatsiteli, chkhaveri, and mtsvane, to name a few) fermented in qvevri with minimal additives and filtration, a practice recognized by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Although Kakheti is a popular day trip from Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, you could easily spend a week vineyard-hopping and marveling at the region’s historic sites, such as Davit Gareja, a sixth-century cave monastery complex, and Sighnaghi, a romantic hilltop village overlooking the Alazani Valley. But if a foray out to the countryside isn’t in the cards, you can get a taste of Georgian wine culture in Tbilisi at wine bars like Vino Underground and g.Vino. Their sommeliers—more likely to be sporting a t-shirt than a suit and tie—will wow your palate with obscure, small-batch cuvées from Georgia’s remotest corners.
Since most of the world hasn’t yet caught on to Georgia’s potential as an enotourism destination, prices remain modest (an understatement), traffic is rare, and people are exceptionally welcoming. Translation: There’s no better time to go than right now. Whether you find yourself in the “cradle of wine” for a couple days or a couple weeks, here are our top picks on where to dine, unwind, and—of course—swirl and sip your way through Georgia, east to west.