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Top Wines: Merano (Chateau Mukhrani) & Bolnisi Festivals, June 2023

Over 2 days of wine festivals (June 11th & June 17th 2023), I managed to taste 123 wines from 51 producers. Merano festival at Chateau Mukhrani (June 11th) and the Bolnisi festival in the old Swabian/German town of Bolnisi (Ekaterinefield) south of Tbilisi.

The majority were rated “good” or “acceptable”. And by this, I mean wines that we can objectively say to have merit and enjoyable characteristics that make them successful.

I should be clear, that “good” really is good. These are wines you’d enjoy drinking. Getting a higher rating than “good” means producing a wine that stands out against all other wines tasted (above average), with better balance and relevant characteristics.

Only a few wines were rated “poor” or “faulty”. These are wines that would not be recommended at all (poor wines) or had suffered from wine faults such as volatile acidity, TCA (cork taint), volatile sulfur compounds, etc. at a level to make the wines unpalatable.

Though we try to be as objective as possible in these assessments, some things should be taken into account:

  • Blind tasting was not possible, so small biases may exist inadvertently.
  • The tasting environment of a busy indoor and outdoor festival is not ideal and some factors affect the tasting:
    • Environmental odors – from people walking around with coffee to strong perfume etc.
    • Inconsistent lighting for assessing appearance and color.
    • Full rinsing of glasses between every tasting was impractical, though we tried as best as possible.

We only tasted a little less than half of all vendors on offer.

We did not taste every wine from each vendor.

It should be noted that we mostly skipped wineries which we know to typically be consistently great from prior tastings, or because we already tasted them at previous festivals this year – you can read those reviews here: 

Georgia Wine Expo | Zero Compromise & Saamuri Festival | New Wine Festival (Mtatsminda)

So wineries that we’ve found to be consistently good or very good in the past, like Baias Wine, Ghvardzelashvili, Ancient Valley, Vazisubani Estate, Miloravas, and quite a few others, may very well have made it on either list below if we’d had the time.

So, we may have missed some excellent wines. But from what we did taste, we hope you will enjoy discovering some of the below which we gave upper category ratings.

If we missed anything awesome, please let us know your favorites on any of our social media posts for this article:

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(Links will be posted as soon as we post these articles on social)

Ratings are based on Balance / Length / Intensity / Complexity and Style (ie. how they fit within the category of the style/intention of the wine). A “very good” rating would be made when 3 to 4 of these criteria have been met successfully. Some consideration is given to young wines that have the potential to arrive at this level in an expected timeframe of aging.

There are many more wine festivals coming soon, and we intend to publish our favorites for those too.

Merano Festival (Chateau Mukhrani) 11th June 2023

This is the most sophisticated wine festival of the season, held at the now beautifully renovated Chateau Mukhrani, 45 minutes north of Tbilisi. A few wineries from outside Georgia were also represented.

Note my “personal top 4” was based on a more subjective bias of wine styles I love. But everything on the list in general I’ve rated as objectively as possible.

72 tastings, from 23 wineries.

In order of which i did the tastings, not in order of preference. 

All wines below achieved “very good” or better. Including a few that were on the cusp from good to very good and also deserved a mention.

  1. Podre le Ripi – Brunello 2017 DOCG (Italy)
  2. Uplistsikhe Estate – Khidistauri rosé 2020. Note: Their excellently named “Shavkapinot” 2022 (Shavkapito + Pinot Noir) also showed promise but its not actually finished and the plan to put it into oak barrels now.
  3. Tsinandali Estate
    1. Natella 2017 (Kisi / Rkatsiteli / Kakhuri Mtsvane / Rachuli Tetra / Tsolikouri) All grapes grown on the estate in Tsinandali. Personal Top 4.
    2. Tsinandali 2021 (Rkatsiteli / Mtsvane).
  4. Rtioni
    1. Mtsvane Qvevri 2020. Personal Top 4.
    2. Gewürztraminer Qvevri 2021. New planting in Kakheti, very young vines but already showing great promise.
  5. Melitoni – Black Muscat Qvevri (vintage not listed in my notes).
  6. Vardiashvili – Saperavi / Cab Sav Rosé 2022. They call this a “winter rosé”, it’s relatively complex, rich, with some creamy element. Not your typical summer balcony wine at all. I tasted 3 other wines from their range which all made my list from Wine Expo 2023 already.
  7. Tchotiashvili
    1. Rkatsiteli-Muskat Qvevri 2018. This is a hybrid, single varietal grape, not two grapes.
    2. Budeshuri Saperavi 2019.
  8. Lipartiani
    1. “Queen Tamar” 2015 (Krakhuna / Tsitska / Mtsvane / Rkatsiteli / Sauvignon Blanc / Chardonnay). Personal Top 4.
    2. “Lipartiani” Qvevri 2018 (Khikhvi / Tsitska / Krakhuna / Mtsvane).
    3. “Prince Giorgi” 2015 (Saperavi / Otskhanuri Sapere).
    4. “Chateau Lipartiani” 2014 (Saperavi / Otskhanuri Sapere / Aladastrui). Personal Top 4.
  9. Chateau Mukhrani
    1. Rkatsiteli / Goruli Mtsvane Qvevri 2018.
    2. Saperavi / Cabernet / Tavkveri Qvevri Then Oak 2018. A little over-oaked for my taste, but if you like oaky at the woody end of the spectrum, it makes the list.
    3. Saperavi 2018 (18 months oak). Same note as above.
  10. Amoa
    1. Khikhvi Qvevri 2021.
    2. Kisi Qvevri 2020.
  11. Muzze – Saperavi 2022 (Oaked).
  12. Rostomaant – Rkatsiteli 2021. 

20 wines, from 12 wineries that made it into the higher category!

Bolnisi Wine Festival, June 17th 2023

This is the first official Bolnisi “PDO” wine festival, celebrating PDO (appellation) wines from across Georgia but with a focus on the Kvemo Kartli region (the state where Bolnisi is located). Around half the wineries were from Kvemo Kartli, and the rest from all across Georgia. Though all were supposed to be “PDO” some were not. Either way, we found some great wines.

The festival was nestled on the streets of the old town, between old German buildings from the old 19th century, as Bolnisi used to be a German (Swabian) settlement. They did a great job with this first PDO festival! I’m looking forward to next year.

Note my “personal top 4” was based on a more subjective bias of wine styles I love. But everything on the list in general I’ve rated as objectively as possible.

51 Tastings, from 28 wineries.

In order of which i did the tastings, not in order of preference. 

All wines below achieved “very good” or better. Including a few that were on the cusp from good to very good and also deserved a mention.

  1. Ateni Terraces – Goruli Mtsvane / Chinuri 2022.
  2. Khmelo Winery
    1. Rkatsiteli 2019.
    2. Saperavi 2019.
  3. Shalo’s Cellar
    1. Rkatsiteli 2020.
    2. Rkatsiteli 2019.
  4. Qveli Estate
    1. Rkatsiteli “Tsinandali” 2020 – Steel tank with skin contact (Great wine! But very confused how the name “Tsinandali” can be put on the bottle when the wine was made with skin contact and was a deep gold almost amber color. As per regulations white Tsinandali should be made with juice only, no skins. Due to language barrier I didn’t get an answer. So, you’ll find a very different, but lovely wine, not a classic Tsinandali.)
    2. Napereuli 2020. Personal Top 4. (Fruity, high acid but beautifully balanced. Great example of the style).
  5. Kardenakhi 1888 (Ampelo)
    1. Tsarapi PDO 2020.
    2. Tsarapi PDO 2019. Personal Top 4.
    3. Akhoebi PDO 2019.
    4. Kardenakhi PDO (fortified) 2018.
  6. Terra Kisi – Mukuzani PDO 2021.
  7. Mikhalo Tsereteli – Aseretuli Shala 2022.
  8. Elisabethtal
    1. Rkatsiteli 2022. Personal Top 4.
    2. Khashmi Saperavi 2022.
  9. Dzmebis (Brother’s) Marani
    1. Tavkveri 2022.
    2. Saperavi 2021.
  10. Mukhiguli 1770 (wines 2/3/4 were tasted at the marani in late May, not retasted at the festival but I wanted to include them as they are not included on any of my other festival lists and I would have tasted them again if not for limited time)
    1. Rkatsiteli 2019. Personal Top 4.
    2. Rkatsiteli-Chinuri 2022.
    3. Muscat / “Clarete” 2020 (They were given grapes from the nursery near Saguramo and told they are “clarete” but clarete is a wine style/blend from Spain, and not a single grape. Myself and the winemaker are baffled as to what grape he is using! Tastes good though).
    4. Saperavi 2020.
  11. Zedashe (This is the winery at the monastery on the hill opposite Bolnisi) 
    1. Shavkapito 2022.
  12. Gonadze
    1. Alexandrouli / Mujeretuli 2021.
    2. Kvanchkara PDO 2022 (semi-sweet).

24 (21+3) wines, from 12 wineries in the upper category!

I’ll be back with more wine lists from the Racha Wines Festival (DATES CHANGED, MORE UPDATES SOON) – join me on that trip. And other festivals throughout 2023.

Thanks to The Amazing Winemakers!

Congratulations to all the amazing wineries that made it into our upper category ratings. As well as all the other amazing winemakers who continue to make the Georgian natural wines scene one of the most exciting and diverse in the world!

 Georgian Wine Crash Course & Tasting Cheat Sheet / Guide
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About the author

Pro food & drink travel writer, photographer & podcaster since 2013. WSET2 (distinction). Georgian Sommelier (In Progress). 200+ wineries visited in Georgia. Many 1000's of natural/qvevri wines tasted since 2016. Tommo & his wife have now visited 95+ countries in search of food and wine. They decided to make Georgia (Country) their home base in 2019 and establish Eat This! Food & Wine Tours.

Rtveli: Wine Harvest Tours

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