Qvevri
Qvevri

Wine has been made in qvevri in the Caucasus for over 8000 years, and as Georgian qvevri wine is enjoying the limelight internationally, it should be no surprise that this technology that links us back to our neolithic ancestors has found its way to International soil. Winemakers around the world have become so interested in producing wine in qvevri that the vessels can’t be produced quickly enough.

I’ve tasted hundreds of qvevri wine in Georgia and have spent the last three years researching and becoming intimate with the process and the winemakers who embrace it. Most winemakers agree that qvevri allows the grapes to express the terroir much better, and that some grapes are much better suited to long macerations than others. Wine, like culture, has context, and sometimes the qvevri wines I have had that are not made in Georgia just feel wrong. They do not make sense and don’t give a sense of place. I think the best winemakers who are embracing qvevri are people in tune with their vineyards, the soil, the grapes and make a point to listen. Qvevri wine is all about patience, a love of the vines and a profound relationship with the land they are grown in. Variety choice is also hugely important.

Verticacl Tasting of Gravner Qvevri Wines
Verticacl Tasting of Gravner Qvevri Wines

Gravner Gravner is based in the Collio hills in Friuli Venezia Giulia on the Italian and Slovenian border. Josko took a trip to California and tasted the chemical stews called wines there that turned him from a modernist to a naturalist in wine. No list of non-Georgian qvevri wine could be possible without the intervention of Josko Gravner whose vision for wines that expressed the land and with the least amount of intervention possible kicked off a movement. I first tasted these wines at a Friuli Venezia Giulia trade show in Rome a number of years ago and most recently I had the great honor to attend a vertical tasting of eight Ribolla Gialla wines back to 2000. The 1998 Breg is, to date, one of the best wines I have ever had. I have never had a bad or off wine from the line. They are consistently powerful, emotional and evocative of a time forgotten and of the richness of the Collio region. The price point is quite high, so they are best for very special occasions. The rise of amber wines was born with Josko Gravner’s vision.

"Sicilian" Marani
“Sicilian” Marani

Vino di Anna Anna Martens gives her name to the wines which range from the simple (but delicious) Palmento to qvevri wine with the black grape Nerello Mascalese grape on Mt. Etna. Ms. Martens and partner Eric Nairoo of Les Caves de Pyrene work with as little intervention as possible, a big stretch from her former days making SuperTucans at Tenuta dell’Ornellaia in Tuscany. I had the chance to visit with my good friends and locals Brandon and Lidia. We took a slight detour from our already hectic #winelover schedule. Etna is already such a special region, with its autocthonus grapes and volcanic soil that is alive with mythology and, it seems, a touch of the Goddess Gaia herself. Etna is an active volcano and the terrain here can change in an instant. This is reflected in the wines and as my dear friend and wine producer Eko Glonti says, qvevri helps the grapes express the terroir better. These wines taste important. They are full of energy and heat, just like the place and I believe, the passion of the winemakers. The Qvevri Rosso is a great example of this philosophy.

Swiss Qvevri Wine
Albert Mathier et Fils The Valais is the wine world’s best kept secret. I joined a press trip in 2014 with twelve delegates from the Digital Wine Communications Conference and hosted by Wine Grapes own José Vouillamoz. Visually stunning and beautiful, the wines from the region consistently held up to a high standard of purity and quality unmatched by any place I have ever visited. We visited Mr. Mathier at the height of my Georgiaphila, so at the time, it was one of the most exciting stops in a trip in which we tasted wines of the highest caliber and rareness, I shudder at the memories, even today. There are two wines made in qvevri: Amphore Blanc and Amphore Noir. A white and a red. I enjoy both wines, but it was the amber hued Amphore Blanc, made with that really knocked my socks off. It was silky and warm, with elements of a crisp fall day in the glass. One of the purest and most well made qvevri wines I have had. It was a “happy” wine. Drinking it at the winery was joyous and a moment I will always keep close to my heart.

Photo taken from Blue Danube website
Photo taken from Blue Danube website

Kabaj French enologist Jean-Michel Morel, inspired by Josko Gravner, embraces the qvevri tradition with the Amfora which is blend of Rebula and Tocai Friulano (known locally as
Ravan). Years of experience as a winemaker from Bordeaux to Collio (Italy) is very evident in the wines. The qvevri wines are macerated in the qvevri for about a year. The wines are precise and clean, but show a beautiful mineral quality that expresses the territory perfectly. I first tried these wines when I was showing Georgian wines in San Diego in 2015, and I have been hooked ever since. Luckily they are easily available in the USA via the Blue Danube wine company.

Photo from vignavitevino.ch
Photo from vignavitevino.ch

Vodopivec Paolo Vodopivec makes extraordinarily structured, balanced and age worthy Vitovska in qvevri in the Carso region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy. They are quite poetic wines that are enjoyable with or without food. The wines are a test of patience with six months of maceration in qvevri and then two years in Slavonion oak. The result is wines that are complex, defined and very fresh.

by Sarah May Grunwald 

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4 Comments

  • With due respect to al l Georgian and non Georgian Qvevri winemakers, one of the latest the southernmost Qvevri winemaker is Mar Casar, in Malta. Mar Casar started Qvevri winemaking in 2015. I wish all Qvevri winemakers the best of luck and warmest greetings to yourself who so painstakingly follows the trail of this Georgian mystique.

  • Great article. Thank you. Apart from that I totally agree with you on the choices of winemakers I think you make a very important point about wine and context. Something that I wish was discussed a lot more. If I could add i great qvevri-producer it would be Elisabetta Foradori

    • I wasn’t sure if she was using qvevri or still with the amphorae that I remember from a few years ago. Based on the website it looks like the same clay vessels from before and not qvevri but I need more info. She is my favorite wine producer of all time!

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