Georgian Wine Regions Guide: To some extent, you could say much of Georgia is a wine region. Aside from the high mountains, a large proportion of the liveable area is capable of producing wine, and does. Maybe not always on a commercial scale, but home winemakers producing for personal consumption are almost omnipresent.
Wine is woven into the fabric of the Georgian soul and culture. The diversity of Georgian wine was decimated by the soviet occupation in the 20th century and has only started to recover in the 21st century, but it is recovering rapidly. Lost grape varieties are being discovered. Micro-producers, making just hundreds of bottles of rare wines, in some cases, are leading the charge to rebuild that diversity.
In this article, I summarise the main wine regions and wines that you can explore in Georgia. To cover everything would be a very lengthy discourse. So for more depth on each region, I lead wine explorer tours, periodically, to remote Georgian wine regions and lesser-known wineries.
Kakheti: Georgian Wine Region – Where to Visit
Kakheti is the most extensive, famous, and highest-producing wine region in Georgia – by a long way. Of Georgia’s 29 PDO appellations (also called microzones), 20 of them are in Kakheti (as of December 2022 – but new PDOs are being added every year right now).
Kakheti is famed for its bold and tannic amber and red qvevri wines, but there is a lot else to discover too in Georgia’s most prestigious wine region.
The vast majority of tourists starting from Tbilisi take a 1-day wine tour to the Kakheti region. If you are a wine enthusiast with more time and want to explore deeper, then 2 to 3 days will allow you to gain a much fuller understanding, as well as discover some of the lesser visited microzones.
Kakheti consists of two fertile river valleys. The Alazani valley, being the most famous, runs northwest to southeast between the high-peaked Caucasus mountains to the north and Gombori mountains to the south. This valley is around 2 hours drive from Tbilisi and is the major producing valley of Georgia.
The Iori valley lies to the south of the Gombori mountains, stretching south towards Azerbaijan. It becomes too arid for good viticulture as you travel south. But the main south-facing slopes of Gombori are littered with vineyards and also produce excellent wines. The closest part of Kakheti to Tbilisi is the Khashmi microzone in this valley which is only 45 minutes from Tbilisi city center.
As you go further south towards Azerbaijan, the land becomes arid and is no longer suitable for viticulture. There are only limited hectares of vines planted on the south side.
It’s possible to visit the vineyards of the Iori valley and the Alazani valley in one day, also stopping in at Signagi (the historic fortified mountain town). Alternatively, take the mountain pass across Gombori, to Telavi, and visit areas of northwest Alazani.
Though it is possible to visit Telavi and Signagi in one day, it is a very hectic trip to do both, if you plan to stop and really appreciate wines and food. To do both is really a sightseeing trip only, with brief wine stops, not a proper wine tasting trip. To do both areas, a 2 to 3-day trip is recommended. The 3-day trip will also allow ample time to explore the north side of Alazani, which has slightly softer, less tannic wines, typically, than the south side.
When it comes to budget wine tours, Kakheti is pretty much the only area they operate, with a few in Imereti (see below) too. More specialist tours are available across the country.
Main Growing Zones of Kakheti Wine Region
The region of Kakheti, as a whole, is the Kakheti PDO. Beyond that, the area splits into 3 main zones.
Alazani Northeast (Right) Bank
Approximately from Akhmeta (PDO) in the northwest to Tibaani (PDO) in the southeast. The area sits upon the east-facing slopes of the Gombori mountains and stretches along the Alazani valley. Vines are planted at varying altitudes from ~700m down into the flatter valley floor. This is one of the prime areas for the most distinctive wines of Kakheti. Powerful, tannic amber wines and rich, bold reds.
This area includes the bulk of all of Georgia’s PDO regions:
Alazani East (Left) Bank
Approximately from Magriaani (PDO) in the northwest to Lagodekhi in the southeast, stretching over 100km. This area sits on the foothills of the Caucasus mountains, downward into the flat river valley. Characterized by softer tannins, typically, and more subtle wines, but that by no means is to suggest lower quality or interest.
A few PDOs lie on this side of the valley:
Iori Northeast (Left) Bank & to Dedoplis Tskaro
This valley runs mostly east-west along the Gombori mountain range. Most plantings (including both PDOs) are on the southern-facing slopes of the Gombori, with some lower in the valley towards the river and beyond.
As you reach Signagi in the east, the river turns south but there is also some viticulture around Dedoplis Tskaro, which sits between the Alazani and Iori valleys.
Currently, PDOs in the Iori valley area are:
Best Georgian Wines / Grapes From Kakheti
The most prolific grapes to look out for are:
- Rkatsiteli (White – most planted in Georgia). A high-yield, versatile grape that can be used in almost any style from dry to sweet. Too many flavors and aromas to mention, but apricot, yellow plum, red apple, pear, and walnut are some common ones.
- Saperavi (Red – 2nd most planted in Georgia). Also high yield and very versatile, it’s a bold red with “teinturier” (having both red skin and red flesh – rather than pale flesh). Used in many microzone wines from Napareuli to Kindzmaruili, Mukhuzani, Khashmi, and more. Dark red fruits like cherry and blackberry are typical central characters, but its profile extends in every direction. Dry to sweet wines.
- Kakhuri Mtsvane (White). A more vibrant grape than Rkatsiteli, often used to add complexity to it. Peach, floral, citrus, and tropical fruits are common flavors. Primarily dry wines.
- Kisi (White). Also, a more vibrant and aromatic grape that makes beautiful single-varietal wines with complexity. Expect pear, citrus, stone fruit, and walnuts. Primarily dry wines.
- Khikhvi (White). A rarer grape that has found quite a renaissance in recent years. Some similarities to Kisi but it also stands with a character all its own. Primarily dry wines but made sweet as part of the Kardenakhi PDO. Expect wildflowers, honey, and stone fruits.
A full list of microzones is kept updated by the government here: https://wine.gov.ge/En/Wine
These details are very technical, so we’ll be releasing a more accessible summary soon.
All areas of Kakheti offer a variety of different wines of all different styles, from lighter whites, like Tsinandali (Rkatsitel-Mtsvane blend) near Telavi, or Manavi (100% Mtsvane) in the Iori valley.
To powerful reds, like Kahshmi’s Saperavi, or Mukahazani’s (often oaked) Saperavi.
Or vibrant ambers like kisi from Akhmeta (northwest of Telavi), or Tsarapi (Made with Rkatsiteli) from Kardenakhi (near Signagi).
Imereti: Georgia Wine Region – Around Kutaisi
Kutaisi is the capital of the Imereti region of West Georgia. Kutaisi airport is the second largest in Georgia and mainly serves flights from European cities, primarily via Wizz Air. This makes it a common entry point for tourism.
Imereti is Georgia’s second-largest wine region. It’s famed for higher acid white/amber wines and lower tannins than Kakhetian wines. Here, instead of bold and dark amber wines, you’ll often find light straw and golden wines. This is partly because less skin contact is typically used. Perhaps 30% of skins, rather than 100% (which is common in Kakheti) will be added.
Though grapes are grown across much of the region, the primary growing area is about 1-hour southeast of Kutaisi. Some of the main settlements within the growing area are Bagdati, Obcha, Sviri (a PDO microzone, currently the only one in Imereti), Zestafoni, and Terjola. Wine tourism in this area has grown exponentially in the last few years, though I’d still describe it as developing at this stage, expect Georgian hospitality at small home wineries (which is great!), not large commercial chateaus and cellar doors.
Rolling green hills, and higher humidity from the proximity of the black sea, characterize these areas. They back onto mountains to the south, north, and east.
Kutaisi itself is a good base to explore the area which has seen a moderate level of tourist infrastructure within the city. The UNESCO sites of Bagrati cathedral and Gelati monastery complex are nearby.
Best Georgian Wines / Grapes From Imereti
- Tsolikouri (White) – West Georgia’s most prolific grape. You’ll find a wide range of acid profiles, with sourness being a preference in this region. Pear, melon, minerals, floral notes and often honey.
- Tsitska (White) – Quince, melon and pear. Sometimes wildflowers and honey. Used mostly for dry still wines, and sometimes sparkling wines.
- Krakhuna (White) – Tropical and stone fruit flavors which can bring additional complexity to the other white grapes above. Though it was traditionally used primarily in blends, single varietal versions are showing some merit.
- Dzelshavi (Red) – Lighter red that when used as a single varietal is normally much closer to a rosé.
- Otskhanuri Sapere (Red) – A bold and pronounced, intense wine, normally with high acidity. Blackberry and smoke, along with other dark fruits and licorice.
A blend of the three white grapes above is sometimes called the Gelati blend. Any of these three grapes can be used to make the PDO wines in Sviri.
Georgia’s most famous female winemaker, Baia Abuladze, along with her sister Gvantsa and brother Giorgi, are based at Baia’s wines in the village of Obcha. Their fast-expanding operation still retains a family feel, though the winemakers themselves are not always available to host in person – so make reservations early if you want to try and meet them.
Baia’s success inspired a lot of other local winemakers to up their game and welcome tourists as well as focus on higher quality wines for export.
Shida Kartli & Mtskheta (Gori/Tbilisi/Mtskheta) Wine Regions
Kartli is the heartland of Georgia (The name related to “Sakartvelo”, the name for “Georgia” in the Georgian language). The wine regions that span Shida Kartli and Mtskheta primarily stretch from Saguramo, just north of the boundary of Tbilisi, where the old capital Mtskheta is situated, northwest towards Gori (the city where Stalin grew up) and beyond. The primary wine-growing regions include Saguramo as well as slopes on either side of the Mtkvari river.
Here you will find lighter white wines than Kakheti, mostly aged in qvevri with skin contact, but the grapes and the style don’t lead to the very bold, tannic wines you find in Kakheti. The infrastructure is less developed, but this can actually help you feel more authenticity as you visit small family producers, off the regular tourist trail.
The proximity to Tbilisi of some parts of this wine region is also a bonus for those who’d rather be drinking wines than sitting in a van. You can be standing in a vineyard within less than 10 minutes of leaving Tbilisi city limits. You’ll also find some pretty great historic sites like Jvari Monastery and Uplistsikhe bronze age cave town.
Best Georgian Wines / Grapes From Kartli & Mtskheta
- Chinnuri (also called Chinebuli) – The most popular grape from this region. It’s light, aromatic, and high acid-producing fresh and easy drinking / simple wines. Expect quince and lemon.
- Goruli Mtsvane – A cousin to Kakhuri Mtsvane. Like its cousin, it can bring a little more delicate vibrancy to a blend, or on its own. Lemon and lime, green apple.
- Tavkveri – A relatively hard to grow, but versatile red that typically produces lighter wines but can go in many directions. Strawberry, red plum, earthy notes.
- Shavkaptio – A deeper red wine, typically with a much fuller body than tavkveri, that has only recently been replanted and is becoming popular after it was mostly lost during Soviet occupation. Fresh minerals and dark berries.
The Ateni microzone, near Gori, is the only sparkling wine-focused microzone in Georgia, currently. Though it is still under development, and there are few good examples of those wines, places like Chateau Ateni and Ori Marani are leading the way.
The other microzone in Shida Kartli is Okami (PDO) which is a very broad microzone including many parts of the region on both sides of the kura river. It can include wines made from chinnuri, goruli mtsvane or shavkapito.
Kvemo Kartli (Bolnisi/Asureti): Georgia Wine Region – Where To Visit
Bolnisi is a lesser-known wine region, but one that, currently at limited scale, is making wines to rival Kakheti. With mountains to the north and south of the main wine growing valley, the climate is perfect to produce wines from grapes common in Kakheti, and to a standard of intensity and finesse that the untrained wine fan could easily believe they were drinking Kakhetian wines.
Bolnisi itself was originally a German (Swabian) settlement, established in 1818 by colonists. Although the German families were expelled after the 2nd world war, many old German cellars are still present in the town, some in better states of repair than others, and you’ll sometimes find winemakers producing rieslings alongside rkatsiteli in their cellars.
In addition to the German-Georgian crossover, the valley is famous for its ancient archeology, where the oldest remains (1.8m years) of hominid life in Europe have been discovered. If that wasn’t enough, Bolnisi is only about a 20 minute drive from Gadcharili Gora (currently not somewhere you can visit though), the site where the oldest evidence of winemaking was found. If that wasn’t enough, the valley and mountains are also beautiful!
Most tours (of which there are relatively few) focus on the historical elements, and very few focus on the wine as well, but that is something I’m keenly trying to change.
Best Georgian Wines / Grapes From Bolnisi
The grape varieties are a mix of those you’d find in Kakheti and in Shida Kartli (see above). The fertile valley supports good growing conditions for that wide variety. See the above two sections for the types of grapes to look out for.
In addition, riesling and chardonnay are produced by a few winemakers.
The two PDOs in this region are:
- Bolnisi (A broad classification including many varietals across the area).
- Asuretuli (A tighter classification for the Asuretuli shala grape, grown in a small area close to Asureti).
Racha & Lechkhumi: Georgian Wine Regions
Racha is considered by many Georgians as one of the most beautiful places to travel, especially when the autumn colors arrive. Georgia’s first PDO wine, Kvanchkara (PDO), a semi-sweet red wine brand that was invented during soviet times to appeal to the Russian market, comes from lower Racha.
The sheltered valley in lower Racha, backed by the Caucasus mountains to the north, runs east from Oni, all the way to the border of Lechkhumi and the Tvishi (typically a semi-sweet white) microzone.
The primary tourism of this area is hiking, eco-tourism, and sightseeing. The scale of tourism is small, and a lot of those outdoor tourist activities focus on the mountains of upper Racha, rather than the wine regions of lower Racha. The town of Ambrolauri is the best location to base yourself to explore the valley. Tourist infrastructure (especially accommodation) is limited mainly to home guesthouses and a few budget hotels. Do not expect any luxury!
A day trip to Racha from Kutaisi is certainly possible but an overnight in Ambrolauri will allow for a much better exploration to Tvishi as well.
In addition to Tvishi, on the Rioni river, more wineries of Lechkhumi are in the next river valley to the west. The most famous but also very rare wine, Usakhelouri, comes only from the small villages around Okureshi (PDO). The road to Okureshi, which goes North through Tsageri, is quite bad and a 4×4 is recommended. Or you can access Okureshi from Kutaisi from the south. This area has even less tourist infrastructure than Ambrolauri, but can more easily be a day trip from Kutaisi.
Best Georgian Wines / Grapes From Racha & Lechkhumi
Racha is famous for naturally semi-sweet wines. This is because traditionally late harvests (in November) allowed for additional ripening in the cooler climate. Once fermentation began, the weather cooling into winter often caused yeast shock and early stopping of fermentation in the qvevris.
- Tsolikouri (white) – A robust grape, described in the Imereti section that is made from dry to sweet. Used to make Tvishi (sweet) PDO wine in Lechkhumi.
- Rachuli Tetra (white) – Sometimes naturally semi-sweet but many producers are focusing on dry versions today. Expect pear, almonds, pine nuts, and apple.
- Alexandrouli (red) – Famous for being blended with murjuleti, it also makes wonderful dry and semi-sweet wines as a single varietal. Deep red and black berries, licorice, vanilla, and sometimes black tea.
- Murjuleti (red) – Blended with Alexandrouli to make Kvanchkara. This grape brings spiciness and lively acidity to the blend.
- Usakhelouri (red) – The word for this grape translates as “nameless”. This grape is very rare, as discussed above, though additional plantings are in progress. Wild strawberry, pepper, and floral notes are typical.
Winemakers in Racha, like other regions, are cultivating a number of other rare and endemic grapes. So, this list is only the tip of the iceberg.
If traveling independently, the easiest winery to visit is Royal Kvanchkara in central Ambrolauri. A historic winery that has undergone sustained development recently to restore it to its former glory. Their mini museum is a great initial introduction to the winery and the region. Their wine tasting room, filled with giant wooden vats is somewhat unique for Racha. Their Dry Alexandrouli reserve shows complexity and poise but all their wines demonstrate professional quality. Here you can taste kvachkara and usakhelouri.
That said, you should also visit one of the many small artisan winemakers that have popped up along the valley.
Samagrelo & Guria Wine Regions
Samagrelo lies a short drive west of Kutaisi. Subtropical climate leads to new characteristics of wine and more focus on red wines, typically lighter-bodied reds.
This region is still very underdeveloped, though a number of wineries have sprung up around the popular tourist destination of Martvili canyon – as you head north towards the Caucasus. This stunning natural landmark of waterfalls is well worth a visit even though it has undergone huge development and has lost its remote/natural edge.
Guria is possibly the most undeveloped area for wine tourism in Georgia. It’s easy to reach northeast from Batumi in about 1 hour, or southwest from Kutaisi in a little over an hour. There is much similarity in terms of viticulture and climate to parts of Samagrelo. A few independent wineries close to Ozgureti are leading the initial resurgence of Gurian wine, which has been absent since the 19th century – as the Soviets focused on tea plantations in this region, rather than wine.
For novices in Georgian wine, these are not the ideal areas to start and it makes more sense to visit more established regions first in order to understand the wines before moving on to this lesser-known wine region.
Best Georgian Wines / Grapes From Samagrelo & Guria
- Chkaveri (red/rose) – Vibrant pink to red wines. Red cherries and forest berries.
- Aladasturi (red) – Also quite present in Imereti. Light-bodied wines with cherry and pepper and sometimes smokiness.
- Ojaleshi (red) – Dry to sweet versions are made. Late ripening. A fruity wine with blueberries and blackberries.
Oda winery was one of the first in the area to offer facilities for visitors, as well as a pioneer for natural winemaking in the region. Many others have now started to emulate their success, with mixed results. While wines may still be developing for those newer growers, hospitality at family wineries maintains its typical appeal, as with many other parts of Georgia.
Samagrelo’s first PDO, Salkhino, is situated in the Martvili municipality and is limited to ojaleshi, dry red.
Meskheti Wine Region
Not to be confused with Mtskheta, the Meskheti region is a historic division that exists culturally, rather than politically, in modern-day Georgia. About 2 hours from Tbilisi, as you pass southwest through Borjomi (famous for sparkling water) you cross into Meskheti.
Further south, towards Apsindza, you’ll encounter high-altitude wines. Starting from 900 meters, some wild vines are even growing above 1,700 meters. These are rare and hard to find. This area is not developed for wine tourism, though a few producers are making rare (think less than 1,000 bottles) and unique wines, and exploring these is possible with a specialist tour.
In this area, you will discover Meskhetian cuisine; dried beef (apotkha) and snails as well as Tenil string cheese and other types of dairy-based dishes. Wine and food together will be the best way to explore, but even local restaurants rarely serve wines made in the region, so it’s quite a challenge to search out the most authentic options.
Akhaltsikhe, the capital of the region, is landmarked by the epic and beautifully restored Rabati fortress, which is well worth a visit.
Best Georgian Wines / Grapes From Meskheti
The quantities grown are limited still. But some grapes to look out for which are endemic to the area:
- Metskhuri Mtsvane (White) – A cousin in the mtsvane grape family. Apple / dried apple.
- Akhaltsuri Tetri (White) – Traditionally used in sparkling wines. A rare grape with a light body and neutral character.
- Kharistvala / Metskhuri Shavi (Red) – Rare and underutilized red grape providing fruity table wines but with the possibility to improve in the future.
You will also find varieties from other regions, typically more easily than the rare endemic grapes. Saperavi, Rkatsiteli, Krakhuna etc.
Famous winemaker Giorgi Natenadze has a restaurant in Akhalsikhe called Tabla where you can taste some elevated versions of local cuisine and a couple of his rare wines. Of course, real wine explorers will want to head to the small independent vineyards to discover more.
Adjara Wine Region – Near Batumi
Adjara is an autonomous region of Georgia, the capital is Batumi, Georgia’s premiere coastal city, filled with casinos and restaurants/bars.
The winemaking scene, like Guria, is quite undeveloped. There are a few wineries dotted inland from the Black Sea as you head North along the coastline from Batumi. The most interesting wine area though, is the river valleys directly east of Batumi, which wind inland up into the mountains.
The valley itself offers natural scenes of waterfalls and gorges. Small, independent wineries are to be found, often on the steep valley sides. Wine quality is a little lacking still, in this fledgling market, but the day trip itself is enough, and the food and hospitality, are enough to make it a worthy adventure.
Best Georgian Wines / Grapes From Adjara
- Tsolikouri (White) – See above.
- Chkaveri (Red/Rose) – Light-bodied, often made to an off-dry rosé in this region.
- Ojaleshi (Red) – See above.
- Satsuravi (Red) – A variety believed indigenous to Adjara. Light-bodied red/rosé.
Abkhazia Wine Region
Further west is Abkahzia, currently occupied by Russia and hence not a destination we suggest traveling to at this time.
Explore Georgia’s Wine Regions
Wine tourism is still at a fledgling stage in Georgia. Kakheti is the only area with any level of mass wine tourism. Imereti is just barely starting to develop infrastructure.
We have a whole article on Georgian Wine Tourism here, which explains all the options in more detail for guided or independent trips.
If you are looking for a wine trip to Kakheti, take a look at some options for specialist wine tours here.
If you are looking to discover any of the other wine regions, and want to explore beyond the typical tourist trail to find rare wines, contact us with your request for a custom specialist tour.
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