A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the Tbilisi New Wine Festival in the Republic of Georgia, and let me tell you, my life has become really difficult ever since. See I got to drink (for free, mind you) more glasses of the expertly made, rare varieties, natural and often qvevri wines than I could count… and now that I’m back home NOT mingling with Georgian wine makers and sipping the, let’s be honest, drink of love and life, I pretty much don’t see the point in waking up in the morning. Oh wait, I brought home like six bottle of qvevri wine in my suitcase, all right I guess I’ll get up today. Georgian wine isn’t mainstream in the U.S. or Western Europe yet, and Tbilisi isn’t usually on the typical map of the Western wanderer… but you people seriously don’t know what you’re missing. A day at The Tbilisi New Wine Festival could really clue you in, so pay attention, and mark your calendars for next year.
First of all, here’s a little sweet advice for the rest of the world, if you’re going to hold a wine festival, hold it someplace that looks like this. The Opening Ceremony of the festival was held at Tbilisi’s funicular restaurant, proving nothing goes better with wine than a view. If it was professional to just type a post full of applause emojis, that’s what I would be doing right now.
At the Opening Ceremony, aside from getting to feel super fancy and elegant, we tasted a total of 10 wines (half white, half red) pertaining to the theme “Other Varieties” focusing on rare and lesser known grapes. While many were great, the stand out for me was a 2013 qvevri red by Tsikhelishvili’s Marani called Jgia (that’s the grape), and if I had things my way, this would be my official wine of summer every summer. I guess I’ll just have to make annual trips back to Georgia to stock up…
The following day was the real festival. Wine producers, big and family-owned, natural, qvevri and otherwise, were set up in booths in a spacious and lovely park, ready to pour their wines to curious, thirsty and cheerful visitors all day. The festival has everything from a ceremonial qvevri opening (FYI a qvevri is a traditional wine vessel which has been used in Georgia for around 8,000 years) to live bands and authentic Georgian polyphonic singers. This was a casual, friendly and family event. Even though the wine was free and the festival open to the public, there were no drunken shenanigans (the way I could only imagine there would be at a like festival in the U.S.) or unsightly behavior. Everyone was out to enjoy a relaxing day of shared culture, conversation and fun.
I hope I get to go again next year, and I hope the same for any travel freak who appreciates quality wine, beautiful locations, rich history and genuinely hospitable people.
All photos via Sarah Freeman