Monday, July 23, 2007

Drinking Malice

During his recent visit to Sweden, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (pictured), was obliged to drink a cup of malice - both literally and in terms of Russian foreign policy. At a state dinner for the foreign ministers of the Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS), the wine on the menu was Georgian. It seems that Lavrov took this opportunity to enjoy this world-renouned product, which is banned in Russia.

Skeptical? The story comes from the Swedish Foreign Minister himself, Carl Bildt, who wrote about it on his blog. The Swedish state wine monopoly, Systembolaget, recently introduced its first Georgian wine - a 2005 Teliani Valley Saperavi.

Special thanks to the keen eyes of Vilhelm Konnander for catching this story.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Rkatsiteli Grapes

Rkaksiteli (pronounced "rkah-tsee-tely"; Georgian რქაწითელი; literally "red stem") is a variety of grapes grown along the Black Sea coast of Georgia, used to make dry white table wines of the Kakhetian style. Rkatsiteli was very popular in the Soviet Union and remains popular in Russia. In spite of the Russian ban on Georgian wine, Rkaksiteli still makes its way to Russia, since it is now grown in other former-Soviet republics and in Eastern Europe. In addition, it is grown in small areas of Australia and the eastern United States. The leaves are round, with three or five lobes; the grapes themselves are golden in color and will develop brown spots on the sun side.

Rkaksiteli grapes are often blended with other grapes: with Khikhvi and Mtsvane to produce Rkatsiteli Khornabujuli wine; with Mtsvane to make the aged white wine Tibaani; with Chinuri and Chkhaveri for sparkling wine; with Saperavi and Cabernet Sauvignon for a semi-dry rose wine; or with Khikvi and Mtsvane for the fortified white port Kardenakhi. Rkatsiteli is one of the oldest varieties of grapes in the world; clay vessels have been found in Georgia with Rkatsiteli seeds dating from 3000 BC.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Colchis Gives Birth to a Nation

In ancient geography, Colchis or Kolchis (Georgian: კოლხეთი, Kolkheti; Greek: Κολχίς, Kolchís) was an ancient Georgian kingdom in the Caucasus, first settled by the Colchians in the Middle Bronze Age. Colchis was not simply in the geographic area of medieval and modern Georgia, but played an important role in the ethnic and cultural formation of the country, with the ancient kingdom laying important foundations for the medieval kingdom and the modern nation-state.

In Greek mythology the home of Aeëtes and Medea and the destination of the Argonauts, Colchis covered the present Georgian provinces of Mingrelia, Imereti, Guria, Ajaria, Svaneti, Racha, Abkhazia and the modern Turkey’s Rize, Trabzon and Artvin provinces.

The name "Colchis" first appears in Aeschylus and Pindar. The main cities were Dioscurias or Dioscuris (under the Romans called Sebastopolis, now Sukhumi) on the sea-board of the Euxine, Sarapana (now Shorapani), Phasis (now Poti), Pityus (now Pitsunda), Apsaros (now Gonio), Surium (now Surami), Archaeopolis (now Nokalakevi), Macheiresis, and Cyta or Cutatisium (now Kutaisi), the traditional birthplace of Medea.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Jason Voyage

The ancient Greeks told the story of a man named Jason sailing on the ship Argo with a band of friends (the Argonauts), eventually arriving in the land of Colchis, where he seized the Golden Fleece and ran off with the king's daughter, Medea.
For years many scholars claimed the journey could not be made in the boats of Jason's time.

So Tim Severin (pictured) set out to prove them wrong. Constructing a boat along the lines of an early Greek ship, he and a group of men recreated the legendary voyage of Jason, sailing from Greece to modern Georgia, at that time a part of the Soviet Union. Upon his arrival Severin was greeted by Georgian hospitality and treated to the supra. He went on to write a book about his adventures, The Jason Voyage.

Born in India in 1940, Severin began his life of exploration while still studying geography and history at Oxford. He has gone on to recreate a number of legendary journeys in order to determine how much of the legends are based on history. His books have won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, The Book Of The Sea Award, a Christopher Prize and the literary medal of the Academie de la Marine. He is a regular contributor to the National Geographic Magazine. Tim Severin also holds the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society and the Livingstone Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Treasures of Georgia

If you've not already fallen in love with the beauty that is Georgia, this series of films, titled Treasures of Georgia, will win you over.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Usakhelauri Red Wine

The Usakhelauri grape, from which Usakhelauri red wine is made, is grown on the mountain slopes of the Lechkhumi district in western Georgia, mainly near the villages of Okhureshi, Aubi and Isunderi. These grapes are quite scarce and only a limited amount of land is available, making them highly prized, indeed the premier wine grape of Georgia. The very name "Usakhelauri" means "nameless" in Georgian, on account of its rarity

Usakhelauri wine, produced since 1943, is known for its gentle and subtle qualities. The flavor is a harmoniously sweet one with a hint of strawberry. It is noted for a pleasant velvety taste, a delicate bouquet and matchless piquancy.

Usakhelauri contains 10.5 - 12.0% alcohol, 3 - 5% sugar and has 5 - 7 % titrated acidity.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Guria: From the Mountains to the Sea

Guria (გურია) is a region in western Georgia with landscapes running from the Meskheti Mountains at 2800 meters (9128 feet) all the way down to the beaches of the Black Sea. Its subtropical climate makes it home to tea, citrus, tobacco, hazelnut and silk production.

Nearly half of Guria is covered in forests, many of which are home to health resorts and or springs used to produce the widely-exported Nabeghlavi mineral water (which was recently banned from Russia, along with Georgian wine, as an act of political intimidation).

Guria's flora is exceedingly rich and distinctive, encompassing bogs and sub-alpine forests and open fields. Cultural sites include the Likhauri church (15th century), the Shemokmedi monastery complex (16-18th centuries; pictured), the Gurieli palace (18th century), the Djumati monastery (16th century), the Askana fortress and church complex (16th century) and Petra (I millennium, BC, later called Justinianopolis or today Tsikhisdziri).

The region was governed by local rulers until the creation of the unified Kingdom of Georgia in the 10th century. When the Kingdom disintegrated in 1466, Guria became an independent principality. Throughout the eighteenth century, Gurian princes were involved in anti-Ottoman liberation wars, though eventually Lower Guria fell to the Ottomans. In 1810 Prince Mamia V Gurieli accepted Russian sovereignty though Russian resulted in an uprising in 1819 and 1820. A subsequent uprising in 1841 was brutally suppressed. The region (mkhare) of Guria re-emerged as part of an independent Georgia in 1995.

Famous Georgians include historian and archaeologist Ekvtime Takaishvili, journalist and politician Noe Zhordania and historian and philologist Pavle Ingorokva.

There is some debate about where the name “Guria” comes from. Some argue it is named after the Gurieli noble family, which governed western Georgia as vassals of the crown, beginning in the 13th century. Others contend that when Georgia’s boundaries stretched from Nikopsia to Daruband, Guria was in the center of Georgia, taking its name from the Megrelian word for heart: “guri.”

Medallion from an icon frame, Djumati Monestary, c. 1100

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mtsvane Grapes

Mtsvane grapes are grown in several areas of Kakheti, including Signagi (pictured), and Kvareli.

These grapes are used in a variety of Georgian white wines. The vines, though susceptible to drought, are resistant to frost and are characterized by medium-size yellow-green grapes with bronze spots; they have a thin skin and juicy pulp. (The name Mtsvane in Georgian means "new, young, green.") The leaves have five lobes and are more rounded than many.

Mtsvane grapes can be used to produce Manavi or Mtsvane dry table wine. These grapes are often blended with Rkatsiteli to make Tsinandali, Vazisubani or Gurdzhaani wine, since to it adds a fruity, aromatic balance. In addition, Mtsvane grapes are blended with Rkatsiteli and Khikhvi to make high quality Rkatsiteli Khornabudjuli wine or the fortified Anaga.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tavisupleba: The Georgian National Anthem

Tavisupleba (თავისუფლება) is the national anthem of Georgia. The song, along with the new flag and coat of arms, were ushered in in 2004, following the bloodless Rose Revolution.

The song’s title means “freedom.” The lyrics were written by Davit Maghradze and the music adopted by Ioseb Kechakmadze from two Georgian operas, Abesalom da Eteri (“Abesalom and Eteri”) and Daisi (“Nightfall”), by the Georgian composer Zakaria Paliashvili (1871-1933), the father of Georgian classical music.

A variety of Georgian muscians performing Tavisupleba together, with film from the Rose Revolution

English Translation

My icon is my motherland,
And the whole world is its icon-stand.
Bright mounts and valleys
Are shared with God
Today our freedom
Sings to the glory of future,
The dawn star rises up
And shines out between two seas.
Praise be to liberty, Praise be to liberty!


ჩემი ხატია სამშობლო,
სახატე მთელი ქვეყანა,
განათებული მთა-ბარი,
წილნაყარია ღმერთთანა.
თავისუფლება დღეს ჩვენი
მომავალს უმღერს დიდებას,
ცისკრის ვარსკვლავი ამოდის
და ორ ზღვას შუა ბრწყინდება,
დიდება თავისუფლებას,
თავისუფლებას დიდება.

Georgian Transliteration

Chemi khatia samshoblo,
Sakhate mteli kveqana,
Ganatebuli mta-bari
Tsilnaqaria Ghmerttana.
Tavisupleba dghes chveni
Momavals umghers didebas,
Tsiskris varskvlavi amodis
Da or zghvas shua brtsqindeba.
Dideba tavisuplebas,Tavisuplebas dideba!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Georgia's Own Katie Melua

Ketevan “Katie” Melua (ქეთევან "ქეთი" მელუა) has been compared to such female musical sensations as Joss Stone and Norah Jones, though her career has really only begun. Her blend of jazz and blues styles, filtered through a folk acoustic guitar, have been making waves around the world.

Born in Kutaisi, Georgia in 1984, Katie Melua grew up in Tbilisi, where her grandparents lived, and later moved with her family to the seaside town of Batumi, Ajaria. The family left Georgia when Katie was 8 and moved to Belfast where her father worked as a heart surgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Katie went to Catholic schools in Northern Ireland while her younger brother went to a Protestant school. The family moved to Redhill, England in 1998. As a result of her diverse upbringing, Katie speaks three languages: Georgian, Russian and English.

Melua did not always want to be a singer or songwriter; when she was thirteen she aspired to be a politician or a historian. “I honestly thought I'd be able to bring peace to the world,” she once explained, “if I ruled it!” When she was fifteen Melua entered a TV talent competition and won, despite only having entered for fun.

Katie Melua joined the BRIT School for Performing Arts where she undertook a BTEC and Music A-level. Here she discovered a variety of musical styles of music including Queen, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Irish folk music and Indian music. On hearing an Eva Cassidy song she was deeply impressed and, upon discovering that Eva was no longer alive, wrote the song ‘Faraway Voice’ as a tribute. In July, 2003, she graduated with distinction.

Composer/producer Mike Batt visited the BRITs looking for musicians to form a jazz band; on hearing Melua perform ‘Faraway Voice’ he realized he had found something special. “Artists like Katie don’t come along very often; she is a true original.” Katie signed to Batt’s record label Dramatico. In 2003 she met Queen Elizabeth, who told her, “I have heard your record on the radio; it is very nice.”

In November, 2003 she released her debut album, ‘Call Off the Search,’ which hit number 1 in January 2004, knocking Dido out of the top spot and staying there for three weeks. (Temporarily deposed by Norah Jones, Melua returned to the top spot, holding it for another three weeks.)

Katie Melua joined the line up of Band Aid 20 for the new version of the single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas.’ She also works as an ambassador for Save The Children and was asked by Sharon Osbourne to join the recording of Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears In Heaven,’ a fundraising single for the Tsunami appeal.

On 10 August, 2005, she became a British citizen, along with her family. After the ceremony she explained, “As a family, we have been very fortunate to find a happy lifestyle in this country and we feel we belong.” However, “we still consider ourselves to be Georgian, because that is where our roots are, and I return to Georgia every year to see my uncles and grandparents.”

In 2005 she released a second album, "Piece by Piece." She enjoys roller coasters, paragliding, hang gliding and skydiving.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Ojaleshi Red Wine

Ojaleshi red wine (variously spelled “Oljaleshi,” “Odjaleshi” or “Odzhaleshi”) is made from grapes of the same name, which are grown on the mountains overlooking the Tskhenis-Tskali River, in particular near the village of Orbeli in the Samegrelo district of western Georgia (pictured), not far from such historic sites as Nokalakevi.

Ojaleshi has a dark ruby color, a spicy aroma and a rich taste with fruity flavor flavors. It contains 10-12% alcohol, 3-5% sugar and has a titrated acidity of 5-6%.

Friday, May 4, 2007

A Word from the Blogger

As some of you know, this blog began as a public diplomacy project for a class at the Institute of World Politics. The assignment is now over and I think I can say with confidence that the project has been a success.

Thanks go out to all of our readers around the world who visited from the following places: Europe (Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Italy, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom), the Americas (Canada, Netherlands Antilles, Panama, United States), Asia (India, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey), Africa (Morocco) and Oceania (Australia, New Zealand).

Please continue to spread the word about From the Cradle of Wine, the Republic of Georgia and the fine wines that come out of this region. Though the assignment is over this blog will continue, if perhaps with slightly less frequent posts.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Grape Harvest Comes to Georgia

In late September and early October grape harvest comes to Georgia. The day’s labor begins early and is strenuous, but punctuated with feasting and celebration, especially late into the evening. (This can make for a short night of sleep before work resumes the next morning, but no one seems to mind.)

In the major wine region of Kakheti, three quarters of households derive some portion of their income from wine production. Houses are very proud of their particular vintages and small vineyard owners have been known to sleep in their vineyards at night to guard their precious crops.

Not all the grapes are used to make wine, however. Some are left in bunches on the ground by the harvesters, who pick them up on their last pass-through, to be dried and made into raisins.

In the autumn visitors to Kakheti can find themselves working alongside the harvest crews or sampling bottles of the region’s past accomplishments. Regardless, guests are caught up in the hospitality and celebration that characterize the harvest time.

There are a number of autumn festivals, directly or indirectly celebrating the harvest, the rtveli. The holidays of Alaverdoba (28 September) and Mtskhetoba/Svetichovloba (14 October) are also celebrated this time of year. Harvest feasting involves lavish amounts of famed Georgian food and drink, with serving goats a common tradition.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Tsinandali White Wine

Tsinandali white wine is made from a blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes (pictured) and comes from the Telavi and Kvareli area of Kakheti. It is fermented at cool temperatures and matured for two to three years to bring out the complexity. Tsinandali can be aged for a further five, adopting some nutty bottle-aged characters in the process. However it is recommended that the wine be consumed within the first two years.

Tsinandali has a pale golden color and a light body. The flavor, though light, is not dull, with tones of apple. The finish is moderate in length.

Because of the high acidity, Tsinandali nicely complements cheeses and appetizers, a great starter for a meal. It also goes well with fish, cream sauces and fruits. Unlike many white wines, Tsinandali is best served at cellar temperature, around 14ºC (58ºF). The refreshing taste and cool temperature work very well in warm weather.

The view from Telani, Georgia, home of Tsinandali

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Tbilisi Builds New Cathedral

The Tbilisi Holy Trinity Cathedral is commonly known, even in the West, as "Sameba" from the Georgian სამება,"Trinity." It is the seat of the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

In May of 1989 the Patriarch, in conjunction with the civil authorities in Tbilisi, announced an international contest to build a new cathedral, to mark the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ and the 1,500th anniversary of the autonomy (technically called "autocephaly") of the Georgian church. In a two-stage selection process the design of Archil Mindiashvili was selected from among hundreds. On November 23 (St. George's Day), 1995, the cornerstone was laid and exactly nine years later the church was consecrated by Catholicos Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II and representatives of fellow Orthodox churches from around the world. Also in attendance were political leaders and religious figures from non-Orthodox communities.

The new cathedral is a synthesis of traditional Georgian architectural styles from a variety of periods in Georgian history. The church is cruciform in layout with nine chapels, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, Saint Nino, Saint George, Saint Nicholas, the Twelve Apostles, each of the three Archangels and All Saints. The interior paintings are currently being done by a team of artists under the direction of Amiram Goglidze.

Sameba Cathedral is not only the primary building of the Georgian Orthodox Church, but also the largest church in the south Caucuses and among the largest Orthodox churches in the world. The complex also includes a freely-standing bell-tower, the Patriarch's residence, a monastery, a seminary, theological academy and several workshops.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Destination: Georgia

For those interested in visiting Georgia, rest assured that there are plenty of resources out there to aid the aspiring traveler.

In the realm of books, Lonely Planet produces a guide to Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan, Odyssey Illustrated Guides carries a guide to Georgia and Bradt has a Georgian guidebook. Maps and phrasebooks are also readily available for those interested.

There are several websites filled with information on Georgia, among them the Georgian Department of Tourism, Yahoo! Travel, and a great place called Adventures Great and Small. If the blogging scene is how you get your information, check out Travel to Georgia, myrussiablog's Georgia on My Mind post, describing in beautiful words and pictures her visit last year; the Georgia & South Caucasus blog; Where on Earth's Georgia section; and, for our Swedish readers, Allt om Georgien.

Tbilisi International Airport is serviced by several major airlines including British Airways and Lufthansa, as well as regional operators. Nonstop service to Tbilisi can be found from London, Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna, Athens, Istanbul, Tel Aviv and several regional airports.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Alazani White Wine

Alazani wine takes its name from one of Alazani River (Georgian: ალაზანი, Azeri: Qanıx), which forms part of the border with Azerbaijan in eastern Georgia, before flowing into the Kura River. As a result of the slightly warmer climate in the Alazani Valley, grapes grown there are sweeter than elsewhere in Georgia.

This wine is made from Rkatsiteli grapes (Georgian რქაწითელი; literally "red stem"). This is one of the oldest variety of grapes in Georgia, with archaeologists having unearthed examples in clay jars from the 3rd millenium BC. Recently Rkatsiteli grapes have been planted in Eastern Europe, the Finger Lakes region of New York and Australia.

It has a semi-sweet flavor with light fruit tones and a straw color that darkens as the wine ages. Alazani white wine goes well with fruit, nuts and deserts.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Weinhaus Tbilisi Brings Georgian Wine to Germany

Bringing their knowledge and experience of the Georgian wine tradition to the work they do, the folks at Weinhaus Tbilisi aim for the highest quality in Georgian wines, with their products coming from only the most prominent wineries in Georgia. The high quality of Weinhaus Tbilisi's wines has been attested to by a blind panel in November 2006 (see Der Berliner Weinführer 2007); in July 2006 they were also named "Wine of the Month" by Tagesspiegel and in January 2007 the European wine magazine Vinum praised the high quality of Weinhaus Tbilisi's products.

Just last Saturday Weinhaus Tbilisi hosted an evening of traditional Georgian food and drink featuring a film about the nation of Georgia and wine cellarers on hand to answer questions.
Weinhaus Tbilisi sells both red and white Georgian wines as well as a variety of specialty food items.

You can visit Weinhaus Tbilisi at Humboldtstraße 23, at the intersection of Wielandstraße in Hannover. The shop is open Monday through Friday, 10:00am to 6:00pm and on Saturdays from 10:00am to 4:00pm.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Ancient Music Accompanies Ancient Wine

Georgia is not only home to the world’s oldest wine, reaching back 8,000 years, but its folk tradition of polyphonic music may also be the world’s oldest, predating the arrival of Christianity in Georgia.

Like most European scales, the Georgian scale can be broken down into octaves, though the spacing of the tones is different.

Much of traditional Georgian folk music centers around the supra; among traditional favorites are Zamtari, a song about winter commemorating ancestors, and Mravalzhamier, a hymn of joy. Dance music, love ballads, work songs, traveling songs and sacred music – of both liturgical and folk varieties – can also be found in the Georgian tradition.

Different regions of Georgia are known for different musical styles: In Racha and Ajara, male vocalists are accompanied by bagpipes. In Samegrelo and Guria, dissonance, high pitches and yodeling-like vocals called krimanchuli are characteristic. The isolated Svaneti region may have the oldest traditions, with irregular harmonies a middle voice leading two supporting voices.

The music of Kakheti may be the most famous Georgian variety, with the Kakhetian-style patriotic song Chakrulo being carried on the Golden Record of the Voyager spacecraft. Kakhetian music is characterized by a simple bass part with two soloists singing on top and playing off one another. The melodies of Kakheti alternate between recitative sections with highly poetic lyrics and ornate cascading flourishes.

The Hasidic Cappella performing traditional Georgian music

Three men from the Rustavi group playing the dhol, a traditional drum

Another trio from Rustavi, performing an instrumental

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mukuzani Red Wine

Mukuzani red wine is a Georgian favorite, made from saperavi grapes in the Mukuzani district in Kakheti since 1888. Mukuzani is distinct from the other wines made from the same grapes in that it is aged in oaken casks for a longer time - at least three years - whereas Kindzmarauli is only aged for two years and Saperavi for one.

Mukuzani has a deep red color with a soft smoky scent of oak and berry. The taste begins dry but the oak and fruit flavors quickly come through. As a result of its longer aging, Mukuzani has more complexity than the other wines made from saperavi grapes. It goes particularly well with steaks and dark meats.

The matured wine contains 10.5-12.5% alcohol and has 6.0-7.0% titrated acidity.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

King Vakhtang Founds Georgian Capital

Tbilisi, home to over 1 million people, was founded in the 4th century by King Vakhtang I Gorgasali (ვახტანგ I გორგასალი), a saint of the Georgian Orthodox Church (pictured above). The city was located on the Kura River along one of the Silk Road routes and remains an important transportation hub today, located at the crossroads of Asia and Europe.

The city was and still is a very diverse place, with the Sunni mosque and the synagogue are located next to each other in the Abanotubani bath district, the place where King Vakhtang’s falcon fell, in the process revealing to him the hot springs that led him to build on this site. Not far away is the Metekhi Church of the Assumption (pictured above, next to Vakhtang’s statute). The original building was constructed by Tbilisi’s founder, though the Mongols destroyed this structure; the current church was built by King Demetre Tavdadebuli in the 13th century.

In modern times Tbilisi has served as the capital of the sort-lived Transcaucasian Federation (1918) and the Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918-1921). Since 1991 it has once again served as the capital of an independent Republic of Georgia.

The most popular sports in Tbilisi are football (soccer), rugby, basketball, and wrestling. There are several professional football and rugby teams as well as wrestling clubs. NBA players Zaza Pachulia and Nikoloz Tskitishvili are natives of Tbilisi. Tbilisi's signature football team, Dinamo Tbilisi, won the UEFA European Cup Winners' Cup in 1981, becoming the easternmost team in Europe to achieve the feat.

Each October Tbilisi residents celebrate Tbilisoba, a festival commemorating the founding of their city.

An 1839 depiction of Tbilisi, by N.G. Chernetsov

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Georgian Language, by Popular Demand

(If you have trouble viewing this image of the Georgian alphabet, please click on it to see it more clearly on a white background.)

There have been several requests for more information on the Georgian language (kartuli ena or ქართული ენა).

Georgian is spoken by 3.9 million people in Georgia itself and by another half million Georgians living abroad, mostly in Iran, Russia, Turkey, Europe and the US. The other South Caucasian languages (see below) are spoken by over 600,000 people.

The oldest example of Georgian writing is an inscription in a church in Bethlehem from AD 430. While the left-to-right direction of the writing, the order of the letters and many of the letters themselves all show Greek influences, the Georgian alphabet also has elements of the Persian and Syriac alphabets. Georgian tradition attributes the invention of the Georgian alphabet to Parnavaz I of Iberia in the 3rd century BC, though some scholars have suggested that the alphabet only came together as a result of the influence of Christianity. The modern version of the alphabet, called Mkhedruli (მხედრული, "military"), first appeared in the eleventh century; it was used only for non-religious purposes until the eighteenth century, when it completely replaced older variations. It has thirty three letters.

The oldest surviving text in Georgian dates from the 5th century AD, The Martyrdom of the Holy Queen Shushanik (Tsamebay tsmindisa Shushanikisi, dedoplisa) by Iakob Tsurtaveli. The Georgian national epic, The Knight in the Panther's Skin (Vepkhistqaosani) dates from the 12th century (pictured below).

Georgian is a member of the South Caucasian or Kartvelian family of languages, which also includes Gruzinic, a dialect spoken by Georgia's Jewish community, which is usually mutually intelligible to Georgian speakers; Megrelian, spoken in northwest Georgia; Svan, also spoken in northwest Georgia; and Laz, spoken on the southeast shore of the Black Sea.

The South Caucasian group has no known connections to other languages, not even the North Caucasian group. Some linguists have suggested that the South Caucasian group is part of the larger Nostratic language family, but the idea has not received widespread acceptance. Likewise, certain grammatical similarities with Basque, including the case system, have led some linguists to suggest a connection, though the resemblance is mostly superficial.

Of the other South Caucasian languages, Mingrelian has been written with the Georgian alphabet since 1864. The language has only flourished in written form in the period from 1930 to 1938, when the Megrelians enjoyed some cultural autonomy, and after 1989. The Laz language enjoyed similar flourishing in written form between 1927 and 1937, and today in modern Turkey, though now utilizing the Latin alphabet. As Laz speakers integrate into mainstream Turkish society, however, the language is dying out. Gruzinic, spoken by the Jewish community, is often written with the Hebrew alphabet.

There are a variety of online resources for those interested in further information on the Georgian language, among them an Online Georgian Grammar, a Georgian-English, English-Georgian Dictionary and good website on the Georgian Language & Alphabet.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Kolkheti Fortified White Wine

Kolkheti is a fortified vintage white port made in Western Georgia from Tsitska and Tsolikauri grapes (pictured), both of which are used to make premium dry wines and are grown in the Imereti district. This ancient region of Georgia was once home to the legendary Golden Fleece and is today a popular travel destination because of its diverse geography, reaching from the subtropical to the alpine.

As a fortified wine, Kolkheti has had additional alcohol added to the normal wine process. However, fortified wines must be distinguished from spirits made from wine; spirits are the result of a distillation process, whereas fortified wines have spirits added to them. Kolkheti, produced since 1977, has an amber color and a harmonious taste, working well with deserts. It contains 18% alcohol, 7% sugar and has 7%, titrated acidity.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

GUAM Supports Georgian Wine

In the face of the Russian ban on Georgian wine, the GUAM group of countries (consisting of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) gave a show of support for the Georgian wineries by hosting a wine festival in Kiev last May.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (pictured above), along with the other heads of state, was on hand for the event. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who was elected the first president of GUAM, told reporters "I am firmly convinced that our region has great potential and that it will become one of the most promising regions in modern Europe. This concerns not only energy or transport projects."

A new name was also coined for the group, the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, though the GUAM moniker is likely to also remain in usage.

Ukrainians holding a rally in support of the Republic of Georgia.