It wasn’t a hip winemaker with an eye for trends—skin contact wine can be traced over 8,000 years to Georgia (the country, not the state – I’m not promoting Georgia state wines just yet). The country has a long history of natural winemaking and at the heart of it: skin-contact qvevri.
For these wines, grapes are aged on the skins, sometimes with entire chunks of vine and leaves along with it, with natural yeasts in large qvevri (or kvervi): large, egg-shaped terracotta clay pots used specifically for the fermentation and maturation of wine. Similar to amphora used in ancient Greece and Rome and winemaking in Spain today, but sans the handles: While Amphoras were designed to carry liquids, usually wine and olive oil, qvevri are specifically designed to be buried deep into the ground.
Why in the ground? By burying these wines deep into the ground, the ground acts as a refrigerator (the same reason Champagne is aged in cellars deep under the ground), allowing for a more stable maturation process.
This week’s bottle is from one of the larger producers in Georgia, Tbilvino, a winery located in Kakheti, the country’s most notable wine region. Wine producers like Tbilvino are the product of the country emerging from communism—while the country has a long history of making wine, the first commercial vintages only happened in the late ‘90s.
Tbilvino’s qvevris line is composed of native varieties. From Rkatsiteli, an ancient, pale-skin grape, comes a deeply aromatic and oxidative wine. Golden orange in color, but with none of the cloudiness a standard orange wine has. Nutty, subtly floral with gripping, dusty tannins that balance out the fruit and nut tones. It’s odd-ball, beautifully amber, and a stunning elevated iteration of a skin-contact wine.