Having dipped a toe in the Balkans last year, this year saw an unusual attack of adventurous spirit take hold: Georgia could wait no longer.
From Old Tbilisi and its narrow streets, evocative of a way of life not altogether lost, to culinary and wine tours of Kakheti within sight of the Russian Border, and Tbilisi’s markets; from Tbilisi’s oldest church with its exquisite choral services to one of the countries oldest monasteries overlooking the Azerbaijan and Armenia borders: Georgia revealed its beauty and culture with an easy and open mind.
When I lived in Moscow, it was the regional food of the Caucasus that caught the attention: interesting breads, tart flavours, nut based sauces and pastes, vivid colours.
Tkemali, Khinkali, Khachapuri, Lobio, Lyulya kebabs, Jonjoli, Pkhali, Churchkhela - names to conjure with, techniques to puzzle over. The Supra: legendary hospitality, centering on an ever-replenished table of dishes.
Wines, well, Georgian wines were difficult to come by in Putin’s Russia and therefore left untasted - noses cut off to spite faces: Rkatsiteli, Saperavi, Kisi - unheard of varieties. Qvevri: huge amphorae, up to 1,200 litres, buried in the ground, a resurgent industry using ancient natural fermentation processes taking up to a year. Amber wines: no longer white after six months of contact with skins and stems. Chacha: Georgian brandy, distilled from the lees of these wines.
A week-long introduction to all these delights and more was the reward. High expectations were exceeded by a mile. Openness, hospitality, engagement: in a poor country, the humanity stood out in stark contrast to the self-absorbed pursuit of material advancement that characterizes so much of Western public life these days.
In short, a delight!
Over the next couple of months, I’ll share these stories. I have added a Georgia page to my website here, and added some more to the food and wine and still life pages. Take a wander through them. And if you haven’t already, download the Steller app on your phone and follow these stories in full there or click here.
For this first glimpse, though, some things to whet the visual and literal appetite.