It’s almost 9 pm by the time our taxi driver navigates his way across town to Vinotel, a boutique hotel in old Tbilisi where we have arranged to meet Eko Glonti, founder of Lagvinari a small organic winery in Georgia. Actually when we arrive, courtesy of a taxi journey assisted greatly by Google maps (which thankfully I had downloaded) we are not too far away from the old part of Tbilisi which we explored in the morning.
Our day had started casually, with a walking tour of Old Tbilisi, a leisurely breakfast, a trip on the cable car to Narikala Fort, followed by a walk across the Freedom Bridge. A short taxi drive took us to the bottom of the Funicular and at the top we enjoyed a hearty traditional late Georgian lunch in Funicular Restaurant. Walking back to the hotel from the Funicular we chatted about our trip so far and the fact that so far I had only tasted Georgian beer and not Georgian wine. This was a deliberate move on my part firstly, I like a cold chilled beer on occasions and rarely drink it in Dubai (I even indulged with a cold one with breakfast – just because I could). Secondly, I knew we had an evening of Georgian wine ahead of us, so I had saved my first experience to be with an expert.
Our expert for the evening was Eko Gloniti who we had been introduced to by Sarah from Taste Georgia. Eko is the founder of Lagvinari a small organic winery in Georgia. The very charming and charismatic Eko spent the evening telling us about Georgian wine and taking us through a guided tour of some of his wine over dinner.
Our mission for the trip, like any other culinary trip we do was to eat local food, and so we were delighted when Eko said he would order for us and take us on a Georgian culinary experience. Over dinner we sampled a whole range of dishes and from memory here’s what we nibbled our way through.
Mchadi (corn bread) Seasonal pkhali platter (crushed vegetables with walnut seasoning) Georgian Cheese Platter with local Honey
Fresh herb platter with cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs and hot peppers Khachapuri Mille Feuille Tender red beans with rachuli ham in clay pot Chicken shkmeruli (garlic sauce)
Crème brûlée Hot apple tart with caramel ice-cream
People are a little bit conservative of Georgian wine …
Eko was keen that we try a variety of wines and over the course of the evening, all from his winery and all exceptionally good. This was an evening to drink full glasses of wine, to raise our glasses often and to discuss everything from Georgian Wine through to the Seven Summits and Kilimanjaro. During the evening the owner of Vinotel, Benedict (Beno) joined us and we chatted some more about hotel business and wine cellars, though I have to admit that my memory fades as the evening goes on for this is an evening to drink full glasses rather than to sip and spit !
We started with four white wines and ended finally with two reds, each one growing more in intensity as the evening drew on.
“Award-winning Master of Wine, journalist, presenter, wine judge and photographer. One of the Three Wine Men.”
Lagvinari is a small organic winery in Eastern Georgia (Kakheti) founded by Eko Glonti our host for the evening. Eko is charming and a great dinner host, sharing stories about the winery and his time in Georgia. He is a doctor-turned-geologist-turned-winemaker and is reviving disused vineyards in Georgia using traditional methods.
Eko is making great wine ! Whilst he’s reasonable coy about his success at the beginning over the course of the evening he reveals that his wine has just been accepted by Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck who will host four of his wines. His wine is sold by Hedonism Wines a renowned wine merchant in Mayfair, London described by some as a “wine museum” or “candy shop for wine”
Eko works with local artisan grape growers using indigenous grape varieties (Rkatsiteli and Saperavi) and uses ancient winemaking techniques which means making wine in Kveri. Kveri which you can see just about everywhere in Georgia, are traditional egg shaped clay pots and the oldest method of wine making. Kveri’s are filled with crushed grapes which buried underground during the wine making process. The wine produced is organic, hand-harvested, and made without fining or filtering. He’s currently making about 35,000 bottles a year and is looking for new vineyards to work on but is mindful of keeping true to traditional methods which means that over expansion is not for him.
Over the course of the evening, we taste six bottles of wine, four under the category of white wine and two reds. Of the four white bottles that we sampled, the colour is a rich amber which is sometimes referred to as orange wine which is a result of the way in which the wine is brewed along with the grape skins.
Fifteen years ago no Westerners would try the wine, because of the colour, they thought it was oxidised, now orange wine is becoming trendy – Eko Glonti
We met Eko at Vinotel, which belongs to a friend of his. Vinotel is a historical building in the old town, on the bank of the Mtkvair River and just a short walk away from the Old Town. Recently converted to a boutique hotel with just thirteen rooms it’s a charming location and a treat for wine lovers boasting huge wine cellars and a social diary packed full of events. We dine in the garden, but take a walk around the hotel later and can’t but help to love this place. It’s unique and charming, everywhere you go there are different things to look at, from the Georgian mirrored ceiling in the lobby which was custom made through to the quirky and individual furniture. We take a peak into one of the bedrooms and can’t help wishing that we were staying.
Moving downstairs to the cellars we are treated to a tour of the cooled wine cellar which stocks a large variety of wines from artisan wine through to more mainstream choices, there’s also a selection of organic and bio organic wines including those by LagVinari.
The cellars boast a few different tasting rooms and we can’t help wishing that we were staying longer to see the rooms occupied as they are just crying out for people, wine and conversation.
Seems we are not the only ones to love the hotel, there are plenty of quotes from VIP’s and dignitaries on the website, including a quote from Sheikh Nahyan bin Mabarak al Nahyan who dined there.
Madloba (Thank you) to Eko and Beno who hosted our evening and to Sarah from Taste Georgia who introduced us to her two friends.