In Georgia every meal is an important event: the food is always plentiful and the wine flowing, and the many hours spent at the table are punctuated by a succession of toasts made by the tamada - master of ceremonies.
This custom of convivial, shared meals inspired the educational dinner "Cuisine and wines of Eastern Georgia", presented by Slow Food Imereti Convivium and the Georgian Wines in Jars Presidium. Held last month at a restaurant in central Tbilisi, the event was organized by the local Slow Food convivium leader, Ramaz Nikoladze, and Presidium producers, and was part of a packed program of initiatives organized by the Kvevri Wine association - named after the word for jar, kvevri - to promote this ancient winemaking method. In addition to the dinner, activities included Presidium wine tastings, visits to the cellars and a local wine festival.
Rather than using professional chefs, the meal was prepared by the winemakers themselves: Soliko Tsaishvili with his wife Nino Mikelashvili and daughters; and Ramaz Nikoladze and his wife Nestan Kravishvili. Dinner guests included Slow Food members, journalists, representatives of the local hotel trade and diplomatic staff from the Italian Embassy and European Union. Four Presidium wines and chacha (a traditional grape distillate) accompanied the meal based upon local seasonal products, together expressing the Slow Food philosophy.
The traditional dishes prepared included a starter of mixed meats with aromatic herbs; chakhokhbili, a chicken dish served with agica, a traditional sauce from the Caucasus region made from paprika, pepper, coriander, salt, garlic and walnuts; and kolio, a dessert made from boiled wheat with honey, walnuts, almonds and raisins. The surprise of the evening was lavash, traditional bread made from a native variety of wheat, dolis puri, and filled with the fresh cheese chachapuri. Very few of the guests had had the chance to taste this ancient cereal previously. Over the course of the meal the cooks described the products used, explaining their origin, connection to the region, seasonality and use in local recipes.
"This dinner was an innovative event for Tbilisi," explained Iago Bitarishvili, one of the Presidium winemakes. "It gave us the opportunity to show people our work and to promote our wine".
The money raised from the dinner was donated to the Presidium producers who provided the wine. A second dinner is planned in March, this time with a focus on the cuisine and wines of eastern Georgia.
For further information:
Slow Food Imereti Convivium
Coordinator of the Georgian Wine in Jars Presidium
Georgian Wine in Jars Presidium
The Presidium was set up in 2008 with an initial visit to producers from different geographical areas, thanks to assistance from HEKS (a Swiss foundation operating in Georgia which supervises conversion to organic production and supports the local producer association, Elkana).
Two areas have been identified. The first is Khakheti, the most traditional and suitable production area, which has the best facilities. The second area is to the north and is completely different. Here the wine is essentially produced for family consumption and cellar facilities are very limited, in some cases non-existent: the jars are buried underneath crude shelters in the open.
The objective of the Presidium is to help the producers of Imereti to produce a wine that can be bottled and commercialized, by providing basic winemaking and storage facilities. With the help of the organic agriculture organization Elkana, efforts will involve identifying a group of traditional producers who are willing to focus on high quality production and the use of sustainable techniques. In 2009 and 2010 the Presidium was supported by Cammino Autoctuve (a Tuscan association of wine producers) and the association Le donne del vino del Piemonte, which funded the Presidium's attendance at the International Salone del Gusto.
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