The Oldest Winemaking in Human History

If you’re thinking the state of Georgia, think again as this Georgia is much older. There are those who consider Georgian winemaking the oldest in human history.

Several decades ago, not long after I finished college but long before grad school, I visited the Soviet Union. Yes, young ones, that’s what Russia was called back then, except it was a whole lot bigger. And the only decent meal I had during that entire visit was at a Georgian restaurant, in Moscow, complete with costumed folk dancers.

The centerpiece of the dinner was called shashlik, a terrific spin on the shish kebabs the Turks spread throughout Europe and Asia in their heyday. And logic tells me the wines must have been from the then-Soviet Republic of Georgia, since the then-Moldavia and the Crimea produced the bulk of wines enjoyed by bigshots at the Kremlin and, to lesser degrees, by everybody they kept beneath them. To many people there, and now around the world, independent Georgia is a wine region whose time has finally come.

Georgia is another of those “new” wine regions that’s actually been making the stuff forever—at least 8,000 years, historians tell us, making its viticulture among the world’s most ancient. The techniques used in Georgia are considered so unique, such a signature of a single place and its people, that no less than UNESCO has added the method using Qvevri clay jars to its Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. There are those who consider Georgian winemaking the oldest in human history.

It seems unlikely to be a coincidence that former Soviet republics producing good wine have given Vladimir Putin and the rest of the Russian power structure the worst headaches. The wine itself is desirable and it relates to their regional and national identity. During one serious dispute between Moscow and Georgia, the Russians ended purchases of wine—imposing hardship on the population as a way of making it knuckle under.

No peace seems permanent in this part of the world, but hopefully the fact that Georgian wines are now finding distribution and admirers in the American market will help the industry withstand future attempts at extortion.

If you are a white wine drinker, track down the widely distributed Danieli Kisi imported by Georgian Wine House—the first word the producer and the second the grape varietal. Among reds, I think saperavi might be your best start, the vintage from Teliani Valley Mukuzani delivering a complex aroma followed by fresh sour cherry notes.

And, it’s perfect with that wonderful shashlik I tasted between folk dances in Moscow all those decades ago.

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