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Taste the ancient art of Georgian wines on Bustleton Avenue

Craig LaBan, Food Critic

Updated: Wednesday, November 22, 2017, 3:01 AM

This unfiltered Rkatsiteli from Orgo is made the ancient Georgian way, with the white grapes aged on their skins in clay jars buried in the ground.

They have been making wine in Georgia for 8,000 years, so it goes without saying that a feast inspired by this country at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Asia requires a good bottle of rkatsiteli or saperavi. If you happen to be eating that feast of khinkali, kharcho, and walnut-sauced chicken in Northeast Philadelphia, that means a trip to Bustleton Avenue is in order — and, in particular, a visit to the Hendrix Center at 11685 Bustleton, where an otherwise forgettable little State Store happens to have one of the largest collections of wines from the former Soviet republics in the area. It’s convenient to a neighborhood rich with restaurants serving the foods of Uzbekistan, Russia, and Ukraine. The new Georgian Bread restaurant there, however, offers extra incentive to discover how how excellent and distinctive that country’s historic wines really are.

Teliani Valley's saperavi dry red wine from Georgia.

The deep red saperavi from Teliani Valley should have instant mass appeal, and comes at a price ($11.99) that lends itself to party drinking. The wine has dark fruit notes reminiscent of cherries and plum, with bright acidity, smooth tannins, and a black pepper finish that is the perfect accompaniment to grilled meats or one of the restaurant’s zesty beef stews, the hearty ostri or brothier sup-kharcho. The Orgo winery’s treatment of the rkatsiteli grape from Khaketi in eastern Georgia, however, is especially fascinating. This white grape, one of the world’s oldest known vinifera that originated in Georgia, is crafted according to tradition, unfiltered and cloudy, and has a deep orange-amber hue that comes from nearly six months of skin contact while it rests in large clay qvevri jars that are buried in the earth. The finished wine, which would be perfect with a cheese-laden khachapuri bread, is remarkably complex, with chewy (but not unpleasant) tannins, notes of dried apricots, exotic fruits, juicy orchard fruit, herbs, and beeswax. It’s all framed by a funky but approachable tartness from wild yeast fermentation that keeps the wine fresh on the palate, and should speak to any wine geek getting into the suddenly trendy “natural” wines. It’s a delicious enough wine on its merits, though, to prove this wine fad has been millennia in the making.

– Craig LaBan

Orgo Kakheti Rkatsiteli 2014, $21.99 in Pennsylvania (code 21914), and Teliani Valley Saperavi 2015, $11.99 (17640).

Craig LaBan, Food Critic

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