Our disorganized guide gave Old Vine Family Cellar in Kvareli, Georgia, only about 15 minutes’ notice of our arrival. We walked into the garden, past a sheep grazing amid a neighbor’s beehives, and discovered a single massive grapevine, which created a canopy over the patio. Giorgi, the owner and winemaker, told us that the vine was more than 100 years old and that no one could figure out its variety. He still makes a small amount of wine from its grapes each year.
Giorgi produces all his wines in the traditional Georgian way, fermenting them in qvevri (large, amphorae-like vessels buried in the earth). Each of the five wines we tasted was delicious. The spritzy pétillant naturel Rkatsiteli was both perfumed and tannic. A peachy blend of Mtsvane Manavi and Rkatsiteli tasted round and juicy. And I loved the raisiny Saperavi, kept lively with sour-cherry acids and well-integrated tannins.
Meanwhile, despite the short notice, Liana, Giorgi’s wife, had somehow managed to assemble a feast. We sat down on the patio at a table laden with fresh shoti bread, bean stew, carrot salad, garden-tomato-and-cucumber salad with fresh basil, eggplant rolled with walnut paste, stuffed cabbage leaves, roasted potatoes, wine-poached chicken and pork fritters. I helped grill skewers of pork belly over a fire of grapevine cuttings.
I reached for the bean stew, but our guide stopped me: “Wait,” she said. “I am your degustator.” Tipsy from the wine tasting, at which she drank and did not spit, she insisted on trying each dish first in order to determine its quality. The bean stew was apparently average, but the chicken was first-class. Each time she announced her opinion, our driver sighed ostentatiously. Hourslong lunches can be tiresome, but on this occasion I barely noticed the passage of time.