Wine tasting in Telavi has been on my list of things to do while living in Georgia. I have heard Telavi wine provides a unique experience differentiating between factory and family wine cellars in Georgia.
Over a three-day weekend in October, John and I spent time visiting places like Nekresi Monastery, Alaverdi Monastery, and Tsinandali Estates. You can easily do this by hiring a driver for the day. However, our focus for the trip was to distinguish between the two types of Telavi wine tasting experiences. We did a tasting at Khareba Winery and one at a family wine cellar, Rostomaant Marani.
Tasting Telavi Wine at an Established Factory
Located in Kvareli town is Winery Khareba. One of the biggest Telavi wine exporters from Georgia, Winery Khareba owns over 1,000 acres of vineyards. Their winery is a vast system of 15 tunnels that go as far as 800 meters. The tunnel maintains a cool temperature of about 13 degrees celsius for storing and aging wine.
We arrived and saw a tram loading tourists to take them to the entrance of the tunnel tours. After grabbing a seat, I chuckled as the tram moved a mere fifty feet up a slight hill to drop us off at the official entry. Right away, we could tell the winery focuses on tourists as they escorted our group to view the visitation menu. We opted for the qvevri tasting and wine tunnel tour. At Khareba, there are many tour options available to you. If you really want to make a day of this visit, there is an option for multi-level tastings and various ethnographic activities. Go all out and select the option for the full wine tasting that includes a food package.
The tunnel tour was speedy--probably lasting ten minutes--encompassing a short walk-through of the first portion of one of the tunnels. The dedicated section for tourists was decorated with their award-winning and specialty bottles. There was a brief overview of the tunnel's topographical importance and history on the Soviet Union's regime over wine distribution. We learned that the clear tubes on the ceiling spanning the length of the tunnel used to be part of the wine process. The lengthy tubes carried wine from one end of the tunnel to the other!
Tasting Wine in an Underground Tunnel
Our fantastic guide, Mariam, was eager to start the tasting and led us to the degustation section of the tunnel. Since we were already familiar with Georgian qvevri wines, she quickly recognized that we wanted to taste their more unique selections, and deftly chose wines that were also her all-time favorites. We spent most of our time tasting wine together as fellow wine fans. Mariam went over the descriptions of each wine that we tasted, and we all promptly tasted each one together. She was delighted to see that we enjoyed her picks.
When the tour ended back at the bar area by the tunnel entrance, we purchased a few bottles of our favorites from the tasting. The total time from entry to exit of the tunnel was no less than forty minutes for the option we selected.
This factory tour successfully accomplished our goal: drink good wine. There is no doubt we felt shuttled around from one place to another during our time, but would I say it is a tourist trap? Well, not really. I think that Khareba has an amazing history. Their facilities and tour guides provide a great starting point for someone just learning about Georgian wine. The winery's longevity and its fans, even among Georgians, have proven its quality in winemaking. Visiting Khareba might feel lightweight for someone who wants a more in-depth experience, but I suggest knowing what you are getting yourself into, ask good questions, and make a connection with your tour guide. You may get a more profound and richer experience than the next person.
Some Tips for a Quick Visit to Winery Khareba:
- Your tour guide will ask you what type of wine you like to drink. Take this opportunity to make special requests if you have been eyeing out a specific bottle before your visit.
- Don't expect the tour to last a long time. You will not end up touring the entire tunnel system since they still use most of the tunnels for storage and aging.
- Khareba is a pleasant, straightforward visit that won't overload your schedule.
An Unforgettable Experience at Telavi's Rostomaant Marani
Our driver recommended Irakli's wine cellar because of his backstory. Irakli's great-great-grandfather was a winemaker who lost his factory when Georgia fell to the communist regime. An IT analyst by trade, Irakli pursued this same livelihood by educating himself about winemaking. The result of this quest is Rostomaant Marani, a wine cellar with his family's namesake. Irakli diligently travels to Telavi over the weekend to make wine and host wine tastings. He then goes back to Tbilisi during the week to work his full-time job. It's essential to make a reservation with Irakli so he can prepare his family's cellar wine tastings for you.
The Rostomaant Marani tasting is thorough. The tasting room itself is located in the middle of his home's courtyard, next to the family wine cellar. To start, he introduced the food that would be paired with the wines. We listened as he spoke fondly of friends and family members who contributed their creations to the degustation. Cheese from his cousin, jams from a close friend, honeycomb he picked himself from a local farm, and what I truly believe was the standout of the fare, his father's peppery homemade sausage.
Settling Into Irakli's Meticulous Tasting
As we sat down, he invited us to take a bite of cheese and honey as he reached for the first wine of the tasting. While pouring wine, Irakli talked us through the wine's name and style. He added details on the process of making the specific wine. We went through this systematic approach with each food pairing. He urged us to top a slice of bread with pepper and peach jam as he poured us a different wine, exclaiming it was his favorite pairing.
When I asked Irakli what he did to provide such a thoughtful food degustation, he said he paired every food and wine while making notes on each tasting. I looked over to the cabinet creaking under the weight of over twenty different bottles of wine and chacha. It's hard to believe that I was talking to an IT specialist who moonlights as a winemaker.
My favorite wine of the tasting was a special bottle he produced from his cellar he generously shared with us. He had been experimenting with Saperavi grapes to create an effervescent wine. The result was a lip-smacking Lambrusco type of red with gentle bubbles balancing delicate red fruit. I don't know if he can recreate this wine for the masses, but it was a hit with me!
Irakli has also created a popular port-style wine with endemic grapes, but his passion for making alcohol exceeds just wine. One of his other specialities includes bottle-aged chacha, also known as Georgian brandy. All of which we also had an opportunity to try.
The Rostomaant Marani Experience
Our host's conversation was just as fluid as the wine. What started as a planned two-hour tasting turned into eight hours. We discussed Telavi's geographical advantage for winemaking, mutual love for mafia movies, and the importance of honey bees. We got deep! During that time, another couple arrived after driving 3 hours from Gudauri. They completed a wine tasting, chatted for a bit, and promptly drove back. From my point of view, their visit was a testament to Rostomaant Marani's hospitality. Irakli's friend who produced the jams also made an appearance and spent the better part of the evening with us.
In the end, we made our favored selections from the tasting and paid for our additional bottles of wine and food. We tipsily walked back to our hotel, leaving a trail of whining street dogs as they smelled sausage through my bag.
The bottles of wine from Rostomaant Marani were the best part of coming home from Telavi. Even more, I was ecstatic to have an entire log of homemade sausage with red bell pepper jam to myself. Out of all my wine tastings, from Napa to Austria to Georgia, Irakli's robust and exhaustive experience left an impression on me.
What Do I Recommend
Telavi's wine tasting scene has something for everyone, from someone who wants to enjoy the sights to those willing to go deeper into Georgian wine. You will have plenty to choose from, between factory-style and family wine cellar tastings.
My personal preference would be to focus on doing family wine cellar tastings if you have the time. The atmosphere is more relaxed and encourages you to take your time enjoying the wine while tasting homemade food. Family wine cellars are also a good choice if you want to gain more technical understanding of wine as a consumer. You will have access to firsthand stories and information from someone who makes the wine themselves.
If you are short on time, hire a driver. Make a plan to go through the famous wine factories to try their offerings in quick succession. If you choose to do one versus the other, or mix both, I guarantee you will get your fill of Georgian wine since all pours are generous in this country.
Important Notes on Visiting Family Wine Cellars In Telavi
- Even though they run a business, remember that family wine cellars have opened their homes to you. That means you will be in a place where their family members also live, so be respectful of your surroundings.
- The length of wine tasting time is at the owner's discretion. Respect their boundaries and time constraints. Your reservation may not be the only tasting of the day, and they have to reset their tasting room for each one.
- Family cellars are usually run by individuals or a small group of partners. If you enjoyed your time make sure to leave a review for them on their desired platform after you've completed your tasting to acknowledge their hard work.
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