Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Georgian Recipes Online

Today I discovered a wonderful blog of Georgian recipes, aptly titled Delicious Georgian Cuisine. I only regret that the blog had a rather short life and is no longer posting recipes. However, there are 48 on the website, and I'm looking forward to trying some. They run the gamut from soups and breads to meats and salads.

You'll notice from many of the pictures that Georgian cuisine, not surprisingly, pairs very well with wine.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Teliani Valley Tsinandali

The first two-story winery in recent Georgian history was built in Kakheti's Teliani valley in 1886; today, Teliani Valley PLC is heir to that tradition.

Teliani Valley describes their 2004 Tsinandali as a "white dry wine." Though not sweet, the wine lacks the crispness that most people associate with a dry white. To some palates this is a deficiency, but this simplicity of taste can also be seen as the wine's great virtue. When drinking this Tsinandali you are, quite simply, tasting grapes - 80% Rkatsiteli and 20% Mtsvane, harvested in late October - in a very balanced and smooth wine, with a gentle finish.

The makers suggest pairing this wine with white meats, vegetables or mushrooms, the last of which would work particularly well.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

David the Builder Defeats Turks, Ushers in Golden Age

Since the 1080s the Kingdom of Georgia had been a tributary of the empire of the Seljuq Turks. In this dark time, known as the Great Turkish Onslaught (didi turkoba), young King David IV (left and below) decided he had had enough. He determined to bring order to the lawless land, reign in the unsubmissive feudal lords, centralize the state administration and build an army which could drive the Turks from Georgia and indeed the whole Caucasus.

While the Turks were dealing with the First Crusade, King David gathered his forces, consisting not only of ethnic Georgians but also Kipchak and Alan nomads and "Franks" from Western Europe. Between 1089 and 1100, King David organized cadres of loyal troops to restore order and destroy isolated enemy outposts. He resettled devastated regions, revived the major cities, ceased paying the annual tribute to the Seljuqs and stopped their seasonal migration into Georgia. (At the same time he rejected the Byzantine title of panhypersebastos, roughly translated "prince," indicating his refusal to be the vassal of any nation.)

In 1101 King David pushed further, capturing the fortress of Zedazeni, a strategic point for control of Kakheti and Hereti. David began to penetrate deeply into Seljuq territory, as far as the Araxes Basin and the Caspian littoral, disrupting Turkish trade throughout the region. In June of 1121 he began laying siege to Tbilisi, an ancient Georgian city which had been under foreign rule for centuries.

Sultan Mahmud II of the Seljuqs did not look kindly upon King David's attempts to liberate his country and the sultan launched a major counteroffensive, lead by his brother and several leading officials of the empire. Islamic, Georgian, Armenian and Western European sources vary in their accounts, but all agree that the Seljuq army numbered somewhere between 200,000 and 600,000. King David’s had a mere 40,000 Georgians, 15,000 Kipchaks, 500 Alans and 100 Western "Franks." For every one man in his camp there was somewhere between three and ten in the enemy camp.

On August 12, 1121, an advanced party of 200 of David's men surprised the Turks and the king then fell with the bulk of his forces upon the flanks of the sultan's army. In a three hour battle at Didgori, the Seljuq forces were defeated, leaving behind large amounts of booty as they fled.

The victory at the Battle of Didgori broke the enemy's back and the next year King David captured the city of Tbilisi. According to one Georgian chronicler, it became "forever an arsenal and capital for his sons." Though David at first dealt harshly with the Muslims of Tbilisi, the Arab historian al-'Ayni records that he eventually relented and "respected the feelings of the Muslims more than Muslim rulers had done."

When he later went on to liberate Armenian lands from the Turks as well, he was given the title "Sword of the Messiah." In addition to his political and military skills, King David was also a writer, penning the Galobani sinanulisani ("Hymns of Repentance"), free-verse poetry.

King David died on January 24, 1125, and was buried at the Gelati Monastery (whose ceiling is pictured above). As he requested, he was buried under the stones of the gatehouse, so anyone coming to visit would first step on his tomb, an act of great humility from such an accomplished man.

A friend of the church and a promoter of Christian culture, David the Builder was canonized by the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The modern flag of Georgia began as the standard of King David and the Order of David the Builder is one of the most prestigious decorations awarded by Georgia. President Mikheil Saakashvili took his oath of office at the tomb of King David.

Memorial at Didgori

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Akhasheni Red Wine

Like many of Georgia's finest wines, Akhasheni red wine comes from the Kakheti region (whose David Gareja monastery is pictured above). This wine is made from Saperavi grapes from the Akhasheni vineyards of the Gurdzhaani district.

The wine is naturally semi-sweet and has a dark pomegranate color and a velvety taste with undertones of chocolate. It has 10.5-12.0% alcohol, 3-5% sugar and 5-7% titrated acidity. Akhasheni red wine has been manufactured since 1958.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Marjory Wardrop: A Friend of Georgia

Born in London on November 26, 1869, Marjory Scott Wardrop was a life-long friend of Georgia, its people and its literature.

She began her study of Georgian with nothing more than an alphabet and a Gospel. By the age of twenty she had chosen to devote herself to the study of Georgian. She would eventually master a total of seven languages, the others being French, German, Italian, Russian and Romanian. She not only learned to speak them, but studied the literature of each as well. He travels took her across Europe, to North Africa and to Haiti; she spent three years living in Romania and a decade in various parts of the Russian empire.

Her command of the Georgian language was so excellent that when she wrote to Ilia Chavchavadze (pictured right) requesting permission to translate The Hermit, a copy of her letter was published in his newspaper, Iveria, as a model of style. When she arrived in Transcaucasia in December, 1894, she was received with great enthusiasm. On this and subsequent travels she met a wide variety of Georgians from every class and formed a number of lasting friendships which resulted in a regular and extensive correspondence in Georgian. “There is hardly a household in the Western Caucasus,” one commentator writes, “where her name is unknown. Others, have studied the language, literature, and history, of Georgia; she in addition felt an affection for the nation, kept herself informed of all that concerned its welfare, and was sometimes able unobtrusively to do good work for it.”

Though fragile and weak of body, Wardrop was known for her “subtle humor, strength of mind and warmth of heart.” On three successive occasions – in Port-au-Prince (1902), in St. Petersburg (1905), and in Bucharest (1907) – she found herself in the midst of war, but faced violence and pestilence with calm resolve, always sharing in the perils of those around her.

She translated and published Georgian Folk Tales (London, 1894 - cover piece left), The Hermit by Ilia Chavchavadze (London, 1895), The Life of St. Nino (Oxford, 1900) and The Knight in the Panther's Skin by Shota Rustaveli (London, 1912).

She died at Bucharest on December 7, 1909 and was buried at Sevenoaks. Her brother, the British diplomat and scholar of Georgia, Sir Oliver Wardrop, created the Marjory Wardrop Fund at Oxford University “for the encouragement of the study of the language, literature, and history of Georgia, in Transcaucasia.” Her books and manuscripts now reside in Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Barakoni Red Wine

Barakoni red wine is grown on the steep slopes of the Rioni gorge in the mountainous western region of Racha (modern-day Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti). This wine, made from Alexandreuli and Mudzhuretuli grapes (the same grapes from which Khvanchkara is made), is naturally semi-dry. Barakoni is known for its light-ruby color, fragrance of violets, natural pleasant sweetness and a tender harmonious taste. After breathing for a bit, Barakoni contains 10-12% alcohol, 1.5-2.5% sugar and has 5-7% titrated acidity.

Produced since 1981, Barakoni wine is named after the Georgian Orthodox Barakoni Church of the Mother of God (Georgian: ბარაკონის ღვთისმშობლის ტაძარი), commonly known as Barakoni (ბარაკონი). It is an important surviving example of the medieval tradition of Georgian architecture.

Friday, April 25, 2008

New Edition of Georgian National Epic Published

A new edition of the Wardrop translation of the Georgian national epic, The Man in the Panther's Skin, by Shota Rustaveli (pictured left in a 1937 painting by Sergo Kobuladze) was released late last year in paperback form by Forgotten Books.

A brief passage from the Preface explains some of the appeal of the text:

The history of the poem makes it worthy of perusal, for it has been in a unique manner the book of a nation for seven hundred years; down to our own days the young people learned it by heart; every woman was expected to know every word of it, and on her marriage to carry a copy of it to her new home. Such veneration shown for so long a period proves that the story of the Panther-clad Knight presents an image of the Georgian outlook on life, and justifies the presumption that merits tested by the experience of a quarter of a million days, most of them troublous, may be apparent to other races, that such a book may be of value to mankind, and chiefly to those peoples which, like the Georgian, came under the influence of Greek and Christian ideals.

Shota Rustaveli presents his poem to Queen Tamar, Mihály Zichy, 1880s

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Uplistsikhe: Ancient Center of Georgian Culture

The name 'Uplistsikhe' (უფლისციხე) literally means 'the lord's fortress'; this ancient city on the Mtkvari River - complete with streets, churches, palaces, concert halls and living quarters - was carved out of the rock, beginning in the 5th century BC. Over the centuries, a unique combination of various architectural styles from Anatolia and Iran would emerge, with pagan and Christian structures eventually standing side by side.

Located just 10km east of modern-day Gori, Uplistsikhe is one of the oldest urban centers in Georgia and grew to be a key religious, political and cultural center in the Hellenistic period, in part due to its strategic location in the heartland of the Kingdom of Kartli (known as Iberia to the ancient writers).

With the establishment of Christianity in Georgia in 337, the city's importance declined, with Mtskheta and later Tbilisi emerging as the centers of Christian culture. However, due to its ancient greatness, medieval Georgian writers ascribed its foundation to the mythical Uplos, son of Mtskhetos, and grandson of Kartlos.

The city rose to prominence again in the 9th century and became a stronghold during the Muslim conquests, until Genghis Khan destroyed the city in 1240. By the 14th century it was deserted.

Several of the most vulnerable parts of the ruins were completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1920. Stability remains a key concern, prompting the Fund of Cultural Heritage of Georgia (a joint project of the World Bank and Government of Georgia) to launch a conservation program in 2000. Of the original 700 caves, only about 150 remain, though they are well known for their breathtaking beauty.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Georgian Dance Sensation Is Back

On April 29th the famed Erisioni dance company will premier its latest show, Samaia, in Bucharest. (As of this writing, tickets were still avaliable.) The performance takes its name from a traditional dance associated with Queen Tamar of Georgia, who is celebrated in the Georgian epic poem, The Knight in the Panther's Skin.

If this latest show from producer Pascal Jourdan is anything like the last two, it will be well worth seeing. In addition, award-winning singer Marika Tkhelidze (pictured) will be performing with the troupe.

The tour will also include a stop at the Festival de Cornouaille, where traditional Georgian and Celtic dance will collide on July 21st.

And if you need just a little more Erisioni in your life, check out this excellent video, which includes performance clips and interviews with a variety of people involved in the last tour.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Lelo Fortified Wine

Made from Tsitska and Tsolikauri grapes, grown in the Imereti region, Lelo has a golden color, a fruity aroma and a well-balanced taste. (Incidentally, these are the same grapes used to make Kolkheti wine.)

Similar in many ways to the port wines better known in the West, Lelo is a fortified wine, meaning that additional alcohol has been added. Originally this was done to presever the wine, though now it has become a matter of taste. Due to the added sweetness, such wines are sometimes referred to as "dessert wines."

The alcohol content is 19%, sugar content 5 %, and an acidity of 6 g/l.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Badagoni Opens New Wine Factory

This video tells the story of the opening of the Badogoni wine factory and provides some interesting background on the importance of the Alaverdi cathedral (pictured below) in the history of Georgian wine.

Special thanks go out to Nadia Nijaradze for bringing this video to our attention.