I first learned about qvevri in Alice Feiring’s 2016 book For the Love of Wine. In this book, she recounts her experience visiting Georgia and discovering the wines from this region, many of which are made in qvevri – giant egg-shaped terracotta vessels that are traditionally buried in the ground or set into the cellar floor.
Side note/mini review of the book: it’s worth a read because Georgian wine culture is really fascinating, plus each chapter ends with a recipe for a traditional (and delicious) Georgian food dish. However, I personally find Alice Feiring to be rather tedious. She’s been a crusader for the natural wine movement for a long time and made a big splash with the publication of her 2008 book The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization. I remember that being a fun read at the time because I, too, am not a fan of Parker’s favoured jam bomb wines. However, the title says it all – Feiring sees herself on a religious mission of salvation and paints the wine world in very black or white terms: natural wines good, all other wines bad. (Also, she absolutely did NOT save the world from Parkerization, because these wines are everywhere.)
I would recommend reading For the Love of Wine if you’re looking for an outsider’s look into the world of Georgian wine. In this one, Feiring toned down her militant messaging (a little) from the days of Parkerization. Plus, as I mentioned, those recipes for Georgian cuisine are really good.
Back to qvevri wines: the natural wine movement helped spread knowledge and bottles of these wines, as most qvevri wines are made by natural wine producers. I picked up a bottle of Vazisubani Saperavi 2017, which is made in qvevri, from Wine & Beyond of all places. That’s how you know these wines have fully made it into the mainstream.
Vazisubani doesn’t advertise itself as a natural wine producer, at least not that I can see. Their wines are unfiltered and made in qvevri, which are both hallmarks of natural wine, but I’m uncertain if we can officially use this term. Then again, that’s the thing about natural wine: for as many producers proudly proclaiming themselves under this term, dozens of others quietly practice the same techniques. They just don’t advertise themselves as such.
Saperavi is an indigenous Georgian grape variety. This particular iteration is rich and dark, with aromas of elderflower and cherry. There is some slate and rubber on the back palate, with coarse tannins that would benefit from some more bottle aging. This is the kind of natural wine that is indistinguishable from commercial wine. In other words, it’s a lovely, well-crafted wine that actually tastes good, and that you will actually enjoy drinking. You could comfortably pour for someone who says they don’t like natural wine, has never had one, and/or who loves Parkerized jam bombs.
Name: Vazisubani Saperavi
Grape: 100% Saperavi
Taste: elderflower, cherry, slate, rubber
Texture: coarse, rich and juicy
Rating: 4 qvevri out of 5