Wine: World’s oldest vintners still make good product 

It seems like the only time we ever hear about Georgia — as in the republic of, not the Peach State — is when something bad happens.

The recent and tragic death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, the 22-year-old Olympic luger, was a reminder of the difficulties that this eastern European country has faced over the years. While many still think of it as part of the Soviet Union, Georgia — which also shares a border with Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan — has had its own national identity and culture for centuries, and wine has been a big part of its heritage.

Georgia has a winemaking tradition that goes back at least 7,000 years, making it possibly the oldest viticulture society.

While there is experimentation with the grapes we all know and love, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, etc., Georgia has plenty of its own indigenous varietals that can make interesting and high-quality wines.

Bagrationi Brut Sparkling Wine, Royal Cuvee, 2007 (Imereti, Georgia): Bagrationi has been in the sparkling wine business since 1882 when Georgian Prince Ivane Bagrationi-Mukhranell tried his royal hand at winemaking. Credited as the first to use methode tradition (secondary fermentation in bottle) in this country, Bagrationi has been an influential sparkling wine house and today makes about 75 percent of all Georgian bubbly. Composed of the local Chinuri grape, this is joyfully fresh with green apple, apple skin, a spritz of lemon and a drop of cream. Suggested retail: $33

Mildiani Katsiteli, 2006 (Kakhetia, Georgia): Katsiteli, also known as Rkatsiteli, is one of the oldest wine grapes used. Indigenous to Georgia, it is planted in other eastern European countries and a few scattered regions around the globe.

Light-bodied, this Mildiani’s version is gentle on the palate with hints of pear and kiwi on the finish. Suggested retail: $9.99

Vinoterra Saperavi, 2003 (Kakhetia, Georgia): Though only eight years old, Vinoterra ferments most of the wines the old-fashioned way, by placing the juice in amphora and sticking them in the ground. In the case of the Saperavi, it spent six months under before being transferred to French barrels for further aging. Indigenous to Kakhetia, Saperavi is now planted in other Georgian wine regions. Suggested retail: $22

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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