I had been emailed about this tasting a few weeks prior to the event, and I decided to attend, given that the weather wouldn't be too tough and allow me to ride there on motorbike from work. I must confess that I occasionally give up on a few tastings because either torrential rains or snowy/icy conditions. I arrived at the place at around 4:30pm, the day had been bright and almost warm, especially compared with the freezing temperatures of a week before. Very good for the tasting, tastings in freezing temperatures are always hard on the wines.
Thierry Puzelat who manages to make and organize so many things beyond his own winery and his négoce, had put up this tasting centered on Georgia wines, with the help of the people of Le Chateaubriand, a restaurant of the 11th arrondissement known for its food and wine list (see picture at the bottom of this page). The emailing of Puzelat about the event highlighted the fact that these artisan winegrowers worked organicly and vinified the kvevri way, using buried amphorae as fermenters. Most of these vintners had never travelled to France and that was an opportunity to meet them as well as to taste their wines. They came from several regions of Georgia, from Kakhetia near Azerbaidjan (a hot and dry region), from Imeretia (in the west, a more humid area near the black sea) and from near Tbilissi at the border with breakaway-region Ossetia. There would be also wine from a monestary, the leading monk/cellar master not coming alas in person.
Georgia, as we could read in the invitation email, has a vibrant winemaking culture and no less than 500 indigenous grape varieties still in place. While Georgia like Russia has big, modern wineries set up from the ashes of former industrial soviet kholkoz, all using international grape varieties for mass-bottling markets, the small country has also all these artisan wine farms which represent a real, age-old winemaking with a philosophy similar to the natural wine ethic, although the style of the resulting wines is so different.
I'm not familiar with Georgia wines unlike Alice Feiring who has been venturing in this small country in the Caucasus. And guess who is one of the first person I regognized whe I walked in ? Alice. She didn't see me at first, so I began to taste in the back.
This was the end of the tasting day but the restaurant which was devoid of most of its tables was still buzzing with the visitors. Professional tastings are often held on mondays in Paris because that's when restaurants are closed and restaurateurs and sommeliers have time to wander out and prospect. I spotted Bernard Pontonnier and also (pictured here) Marc Sibard from the Caves Augé chatting with Rodolphe Paquin of Le Repaire de Cartouche. Georgia wines seem to be more than just fancy beverages from an exotic new producing country, as this evening could prove to me. This country has, like many of its neighbors by the way, the potential to be among the leading wine regions in terms of authenticity and sense of place.
__ Our Wine Rkatsikeli 2011 (don't tease me if I mispell these wines/varieties names). Our Wine is the name of the Domaine. The link is not for profit but the tasting notes describe the thing quite well. Wonderful golden color. The nose is complex and intense. Exceptional, an eerie dry style of wine, seems very mineral with some aromas of crispy dry leaves. This is a blend of two varieties, of which I'll give you the name later ;-)
__ OurWine Tsarapi 2011. Another striking white. Blend of three varieties here. Also carafed, they're both on the picture, don't ask me which is which now, although I knew when I shot it. The mouth feel is different, with a touch on the side of the mouth similar to some sort of thin paper, this is a thin-textured tannicity, very elegant. These whites have a bit of an oxidative character which make me think that they can age very long.
__ Akhoebi 2011, a red (Saperavi). Nice concentration. Interesting tannicity, well integrated into the wine. Powerful wine. These wines should cost around 15 or 20 Euros here in France, I need to ask Thierry who overlooks their distribution in France
The next table I walked to was the one of Iago Bitarishvili, the man behind Iago's Wine.
__Iago's Wine, Chinuri 2011. Village of Chardakhi. Iago's Wine is the name of the winery, of the cellar, it's an English name and if the few wine farms I came through here are representative, English names are the trend in Georgia.
The wine is carafed and has this gorgeous gold/amber color. The mouth is just from out of this world, quite impossible to describe. Very classy and elegant, no equivalent.
The wine is made the Georgian way, in clay amphorae which are kept burried to the neck into the ground. There's been a skin contact of 6 months for this wine, which countsa lot for the final result. Iago who speaks some English explained to me how the skins do some sort of natural filtration on the wine so that it gets clear after the process.
I missed Antadze wines because there was no more of it when I arrived.
__ Alaverdi Monastery Cellar, Kakheti 2010. White."Dry unfiltered amber wine". Exceptional wine. Again. It's like if it radiated from inside the mouth.
__ Alaverdi Monastery Cellar Kisi Kakheti 2011. Beautiful, with an enjoyable gliding feel.
__ Pheasant's Tears Chinuri 2011. White. "Dry unfiltered amber wine". No notes, sorry.
__ Pheasant's Tears Mtsvane 2011. White. From a 1,5 hectare plot, 60-year-old vines. Quite mineral in the mouth, straight forward mouth. Nice wine.
__ Pheasant's Tears Kisi 2011. White with a darker color. Quite a classy mouth, a bit of a drying feel though, at first try. Not very aromatic.
__ Pheasant's Tears Rkatsiteli 2011. White.
__ Pheasant's Tears Tavkveri 2011. Red. A bit sugary. Quite powerful.
__ Pheasant's Tears Shaukarito 2011. Red. Gets swallowed easily, enjoyable fruit and seems to have a good length.
__ Pheasant's Tears Saperavi 2011. Red. Generous nose with ripe peony and other expressive summer flowers in the evening. In the mouth, modest substance but enjoyable drink.
Here are two wines which I liked particularly :
__ Campi di Fonterenza Pettirosso 2011, a red. The mouth has beautiful aromas of generous leaves. A light wine with a peppery side and sugary feel that is rather enjoyable.
__ Campi di Fonterenza Lupetto 2009. Cabernet Sauvignon (90 %) and Sangiovese (10 %). Intense and beautiful, a real pleasure to drink, superb wine.
We haven't tried the restaurant yet, but it is now among the respected newcomers in Paris which again put the 11th arrondissement on the front seat regarding the new bistrots with a great wine list. The outside of the place is quite humble with a period storefront blending perfectly in the atmosphere of the Avenue Parmentier which is a very average street with nothing special about it.
Read Aaron's piece if you want to know more about a dining experience at Chateaubriand.
Thierry Puzelat is helping these vintners find a market in France and Europe, here is the Puzelat page on Georgia wines.
Here are Puzelat's imports from Italy, Spain and Chile.
This video shows the Imeretian winemaking method with the amphorae being completeley buried into the ground (more than just to the neck) for months.
Watch John Wurdeman in this video explaining his awakening to artisanal Georgian wines during a lecture at TEDxTbilisi.
Wine news straight from Georgia (in English).