Issue 6, 2017. December-January



Wine lovers eager for a warm drink are pushing Georgian wineries and winemakers to adapt mulled wine recipes for local grapes.

Tatjana Montik

In the West, people have been drinking hot wine to warm up in the winter since the Roman Empire, where the drink was known as Conditium Paradoxum. Today, every Christmas market in Germany, Austria and Italy offers several kinds of mulled wine, white and red, without or with "Schuß" (i.e.. extra shot of strong alcohol).

Hot wine beverages have slowly made their way to Georgia, too. Today, nearly every restaurant in Tbilisi that caters to tourists has mulled wine on its menu. Cafes in Gudauri and ski resorts in Bakuriani have also adopted the drink: it is hard to imagine an active day outdoors without the warming and relaxing effect of aromatic mulled wine.

But it is one thing to have the drink served in a cafe-and quite another for it to be adopted by the purists of Georgia's ancient wine-making culture. Has the trend spread to Georgian wineries?

When in Rome

George Piradashvili is the owner of two popular hotels and a restaurant in Kakheti, Chateau Mere and Royal Batoni. Piradashvili also runs the Winveria winery. "During the winter season, hot wine beverages are highly popular with our guests," Piradashvili said.

"But now, I am talking only about mulled wine. I would say that beverages like grog have not yet made their way to Georgia. For mulled wine, our restaurant has some special recipes; they vary a lot," he added, noting that Georgian wine is suitable for warm wine drinks.

"We use our Winveria wine to cook mulled wine. Our recipes include spices like cinnamon and cloves, a bit of lemon or orange peel," he said.

Shukhman winery from Kakheti has a special seasonal product called "Mulled Wine," which one can find in wine shops as well as in some supermarkets. From the main winemaker of Shukhman winery, Giorgi Dakishvili, I learned that this drink is made out of Saperavi wine, spiced with orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and black pepper. "You don't need to do anything yourself any more. Just open the bottle, warm up its contents and enjoy your drink," Dakishvili suggested.

According to Dakishvili, this seasonal product is so popular with the customers that some of them also enjoy it as a cold drink, too.

This should actually not be surprising, since the Romans also used to drink Conditium Paradoxum cold.

In the popular and well-sorted wine shop "8,000 Vintages" in Tbilisi's Saburtalo district, one can find a rich choice of wine from different wineries from all over Georgia. There, I approached Irakli Chkhaidze, the general manager, in order to ask him about the new trend to drink hot wine drinks in winter time. "Georgian wine is perfectly suited for making mulled wine. The taste of the wine you choose does not really matter, as you cook it and as you put spices into it. You are supposed to add some sweet taste, too, like sugar syrup or honey. This is why you should not worry much. Just take any Georgian wine you like, boil it, and enjoy," Chkhaidze recommended.

Davit Tsintskavadze, general manager of the new Kakheti wine company Nelkarisi, is pleased with the new trend for mulled wine in his country. He recommended making the drink with Ikano semi-sweet wine, a blend of Saperavi and Merlot, which won first prize this year as the best semi-sweet wine of Georgia from the Georgian Sommelier Association.

Matter of Taste and Vine

Other Georgian wine connoisseurs disagree, however, arguing that a European vintage is better suited to make a European drink like mulled wine.

Tamar Janiashvili Rokashvili, the manager at Pheasant's Tears restaurant and winery in Sighnaghi, is experienced at organizing wine tastings for guests. Rokashvili admitted, though, that while she is very knowledgeable about Georgian wines, she is less informed about the European varieties.

"In our country, there is no tradition of hot wine beverages. I am pretty sure that mulled wine should be made on a base of wine made from other [grapes], not Georgian grapes," she said.

Giorgi Natenadze runs a winery in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region close to Vardzia. He dedicates his passion to reviving the rare old grape varieties that were destroyed in the 16th century, after the Turks occupied that region.

Natenadze is convinced, too, that you should not use wine made from Georgian grapes to prepare hot wine drinks. "As hot wine is more a kind of European tradition, you should take wine like Cabernet Sauvignon for making mulled wine," Natenadze suggested. "I have this kind of wine, made in qvevri for three years. I experimented with preparing mulled wine with it. And the result was surprisingly nice. But as we know, Cabernet Savignion is not a Georgian grape."

If anyone can tell me the proper place (and vintage) for mulled wine, it would be Alexander Novikov, the owner of Dadi's Bar on Shalva Dadiani street in Tbilisi. A relative newcomer to Tbilisi, he has been working in the food and beverage industry for about 25 years: he studied in Switzerland and he then worked at international hotel chains around the world as a food and beverage specialist. When I asked him about the trend to drink mulled wine, a sarcastic smile crossed Novikov's face. "I am sorry, but mulled wine is not a drink to be served in bars or in restaurants," he replied. "This is why we don't have it on our menu."

"You would usually drink mulled wine outside, if you are somewhere in the mountains for skiing," Novikov said. "You would usually drink it from a cup with thick sides.

This keeps your drink warm for a long time. And pay attention to one more detail: Don't overindulge, because otherwise you'll probably get a hangover with headaches the next day."

His advice is well placed: headaches are a rather common side effect of mulled wine consumption, unfortunately.

These unpleasant symptoms are usually caused if bad wine was used for making the drink or due to the extra shot of alcohol that is usually added to the wine in order to increase its alcohol content.

As wine loses its alcohol content during the cooking process, some people add extra alcohol shortly before serving. Strictly speaking, however, this beverage is no longer "mulled wine." It should be called "punch" instead.

A Sip Closer to Europe

Irakli Gvaramia is a young winemaker running the brand Artizani. In his winery, Gvaramia and two of his business partners are producing red and rosé wines from the microzone in the Kakhetian village of Khashmi, which is known as the best area for Saperavi grapes.

Gvaramia is rather enthusiastic about mulled wines. No wonder: This trend is bringing Georgia closer to the European Christmas traditions. "Actually, we Georgians found out about mulled wine a long time ago. We learned about it from Soviet cookbooks, which also contained some exotic recipes. There, it was called glintvein.

This is why you often find this name, glintvein, on the menus of restaurants or as an advertisement offering mulled wine on the street. But this does not mean that in Soviet times we prepared glintvein ourselves.

It was more a kind of theory to us. The trend of drinking mulled wine is quite new for Georgia, it started about five, six years ago," Gvaramia explained.

"But I don't consider this drink to be wine. It is more a kind of hot cocktail. But I quite like it. For Christmas it is a kind of special drink. When it is cold outside, you naturally want to drink something hot, and if it is made of wine, it is even better," he added.

Is Georgian wine suitable for making mulled wine? What about Artizani wines, for example? Gvaramia replied without any hesitation: "Definitely! But of course it depends on your taste. Some people prefer sweeter wines for cooking mulled wine. I only must warn you in one respect: Don't look for something with a lot of tannin, which is actually a very Georgian style, as the structure of this wine is too strong. For mulled wine you need something milder and more balanced," he said.

As I learned, everything is a matter of taste as well as of quality-this extends to wine, including the mulled variety. Speaking for myself, I welcome the mulled wine trend in Georgia: I remember how a cup of this aromatic spicy hot wine drink has saved me in past winters-helping me avoid catching a cold even when I was freezing in the winter weather. Enjoy!