A gastronomic guide to Georgia – the best wineries and restaurants in the country

Georgia's vibrant and varied cuisine reflects its location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia on the eastern coast of the Black Sea. The country has a dozen climate zones, from subtropical to high alpine and semi-desert, that produce a wealth of produce, including 500 indigenous grape varieties. Lovingly prepared using centuries-old cooking techniques, food includes aromatic stews, colorful salads and hearty soups, as well as a wealth of regional dishes. A sense of generosity permeates every meal—be it at a family-run winery, where liberal pouring and eager toasts are the norm, or at a restaurant, where the table is often three plates deep. Sample the flavors of the country with these wine and food experiences.

Winemaking in Georgia has a history of more than 8,000 years and remains an important part of the country's culture.

Photo by Georgian National Tourism Administration

A close-up of three qvevri, traditional Georgian clay vessels for wine making.

Qvevri, traditional clay winemaking vessels buried in the ground, are still used in many Georgian wineries today.

Photo by Georgian National Tourism Administration

From the grape to the glass

In Manavi, near Georgia's capital Tbilisi, family-run Giuaani Winery is an independent winery whose origins date back to 1894, when the first qvevri (clay vessels for making wine) were laid in the ground. Head winemaker Giorgi Jmukhadze uses them alongside oak barrels and steel tanks, so you can compare traditional Georgian and more popular European-style wines. Wine tastings include khikhvi, a classic dry amber wine (also known as orange wine), and a sparkling rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Tavkveri grapes.

For an even more immersive wine experience, take a tour of the Kvareli Wine Cave in the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia. Operated by Khareba, one of the country's largest commercial wineries, it consists of a 6.5-kilometer network of tunnels carved into the foothills of the Greater Caucasus Mountains on the eastern side of the Alazani Valley. The complex was originally built for military purposes during the Cold War, but today the stable temperatures of 12 to 16 degrees Celsius provide ideal conditions for aging and storing wine. A tour of the premises and its 25,000-bottle collection ends with a tasting.

In the small town of Ambrolauri, some 240 kilometers northwest of Tbilisi in the mountainous Racha region, a giant statue of a wine bottle towering over the main intersection is the first clue to the drink's importance to this part of the country. The label reads “Khvanchkara,” the region's syrupy-sweet, dark-colored red wine made from Aleksandrouli and Mujeretuli grapes. Stalin confiscated the wine from its original producers, the noble Kipiani family, to mass-produce it. Today, the Royal Khvanchkara winery has rebuilt a Stalin-era factory to bring the Kipianis' winemaking heritage back to its roots. Led by 11th-generation winemaker Lado Uzunashvili, it offers tours and “grape-to-glass” tastings.

A plate of colorful Pkhali from Georgia.

Georgian cuisine focuses on locally produced ingredients to create fresh and vibrant dishes such as pkhali, which is made with beetroot leaves, spinach, wild cabbage and finely ground walnuts and spices.

Image by Ratov Maxim, Shutterstock

From the field to the plate

Located in the courtyard of the Writers' House in Tbilisi's Old Town, a turn-of-the-century mansion built for brandy baron and philanthropist David Sarajishvili, chef Tekuna Gachechiladze's Café Littera is perfect for alfresco dining. Gachechiladze is known as a renegade of Georgian cuisine thanks to her open-minded approach to traditional recipes. Local produce is at the heart of the menu, which combines classic Georgian flavors with European techniques in dishes like chilled sorrel and mint soup, fig carpaccio with Tusheti guda cheese, and veal tartare with local truffles. Sit on the tiled terrace or plant yourself under a tree in the sculpture garden among the stone busts.

Staying on the topic of literature, the western Georgian city of Kutaisi was recently named a “Creative City of Literature” by UNESCO and was once home to some of the country’s most influential composers, playwrights and poets. There you’ll find the Doli restaurant, which evokes the intimacy of a 20th-century writers’ salon. Order gobi, a large wooden bowl piled high with a selection of different dishes, including hearty pkhali—a vegan-friendly dish also called “Georgian pie” made from beetroot leaves, spinach, wild cabbage and other vegetables with finely ground walnuts and spices. Then peek into the kitchen and watch chef Giorgi Andghuladze make mchadi (Georgian cornbread) the traditional way in stacked clay pans called ketsi.

A closeup of a traditional Adjarian-cooked dish khachapuri in Georgia.

Georgia's famous Adjaruli khachapuri, the boat-shaped cheese pie with an egg yolk in the middle, can be found in many restaurants across the country, and each region has its own version of this traditional dish.

Image by Roman Zaiets, Shutterstock

Further west, the historic region of Samegrelo is notable for its tasty cuisine. In the region's capital, Zugdidi, the Diaroni restaurant (which means “a place for a feast” in the Megrelian language) has live folk music most nights of the week. In the past, the hot pepper mixture ajika was used in Georgia to ward off illness. Today, ajika lends its heat to the Diaroni kharcho, a stew of beef or chicken with a velvety walnut sauce. The restaurant's signature dish is elarji – cornmeal mixed with fibrous cheese that waiters take great delight in swirling and pulling over their heads before piling it onto your plate.

On the Black Sea coast in the city of Batumi, Oval restaurant serves up fine dining based on the catch of the day and fresh seafood with Georgian and Asian flavors. Try tasty tom yam shrimp or fresh mussels in a tarragon-infused broth called chakapuli, for example. Oval's chef Guram Bagdhoshvili also offers a special snail dish and a decadent version of Adjaruli khachapuri – Georgia's famous boat-shaped cheese pie with a glossy egg yolk in the center – with tenili, a rare cheese made by pulling soft curds. Both dishes are specialties of the Meskheti region, where Bagdhoshvili traces his ancestry.

This paid article was produced for the Georgian Tourism Board and does not necessarily reflect the views of National Geographic. National Geographic Traveler (UK) or their editorial offices.

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Anna Harden

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