Image credit: Don Faisan
- Pheasant’s Tears, Rkatsiteli, Bodbiskhevi Village, Kakheti 2010
- Pheasant’s Tears, Kisi, Alaverdi Village, Kakheti, 2010
- Pheasant’s Tears, Saperavi, Kakheti, 2008
Q: How does one make a pheasant cry?
A: Make a wine so beautiful it will bring tears of joy to the pheasant’s eyes – or so the Georgian tale goes. This tale is inspiration for the name and label of perhaps the most well known winery from Georgia, Pheasant’s Tears.
With archaeological evidence of wine making dating back 8,000 years , wine is an integral part of the history and culture of Georgia. In fact, when the country first adopted Christianity in the 4th Century CE, the first cross was made of vines. 
The traditional vessel most closely associated with wine making in Georgia is the qvevri (quevri, kvevri), an egg shaped clay vessel available in all manner of sizes. When thinking of wine storage during ancient times the two images that come to mind are the amphora and the qvevri. After some not insignificant reading it would seem there are many different opinions on the differences, if any, between the two vessels. The most significant difference would appear to be that the qvevri was used not only to store the wine but the wine was actually fermented in these vessels which were also buried in the ground to maintain a cool and even temperature. Although similar in appearance, amphorae have handles and were used as more of a storage vessel for transportation and they were not typically buried in the ground (notable exceptions being in the northeast of Italy and Slovenia where amphorae are buried in the ground during fermentation and maturation).
Photos showing qvevris being prepared for burial and the final view after they have been buried, courtesy of The Georgian Wine Society.
At Pheasant’s Tears the qvevri are lined with organic beeswax and some of the qvevri at this winery date back to the mid 19th century. The cellar is located in the vineyard to minimise the time from when the grapes are harvested to when fermentation begins. In keeping with tradition the grapes are pressed and within hours are poured into the qvevri along with ripe stems, skins and pips. Fermentation occurs due to naturally occurring yeasts and maceration, or skin contact, can vary from 3 weeks to 6 months.
It is this last point that is particularly interesting when it comes to white wines. This is because in modern white wine making, the contact time between the grape skins and the juice is minimised, or at the very least is nothing like the length of time these traditional wines go through. The effect of leaving the skins and juice together in the qvevri for such an extended period of time is white wines that have an unusual colour and texture. The colour, depending on the maceration time, can range from a bright gold or orange to a brilliantly deep orange colour shot with red and purple hues.
The unusual texture of these white wines is created by tannins, which are compounds found in the stem, skin and pips of the grape. Tannins are also found in black tea and rhubarb and are responsible for the drying sensation in the mouth around the gums. For wine, this is usually experienced when drinking red wine. Adding stems, skins, pips and juice to the qvevri and leaving them for an extended time creates a noticeably tannic white, or amber, wine.
Similar cap management techniques as those used in red wine making are also used in making amber wine. After the juice, skins and stems are added to the qvevri, it is left open while fermentation occurs. The by-product of fermentation is carbon dioxide as the yeast converts the sugar in the grape juice to alcohol. The carbon dioxide bubbles rise to the top taking with them the grape skins and this mass of skins at the top is called the cap. To ensure the juice has maximum contact with the skins the wine maker will “punch down” the cap, forcing the skins back into the juice. This will continue until all fermentation has completed, at which time the qvevri will be sealed with a stone or wooden cap.  If you are interested in seeing a qvevri opened click here.
We tasted two white wines and one red wine from Pheasant’s Tears. All were produced in the manner described above and all from the Kakheti region in the southeast corner of Georgia. Blessed with valleys and the snow capped Caucasus Mountains together with long daylight hours in the summer (14 hours), it is no wonder Kakheti is the largest wine-producing region in Georgia.
Of the two white wines, the preference amongst the group was for the Kisi with its lovely perfume of orange and almond blossoms, honey and sweet tangerine. Flavours of tangerine peel, almond, lemon and fresh peach presented on the palate.
We tasted all wines in a glass and in a traditional clay bowl. It was agreed the red wine, the Saperavi, showed better in the clay vessel than the white wines. Saperavi means to paint or to dye in Georgian and the grape is part of the Teinturier group of grapes (you can find more information on these types of grapes in my article on rosé). This wine is also known as black wine in reference to its deep colour.
The complexity of aromas displayed by the Saperavi made this my favourite wine of the tasting. To begin, aromas of smoke and rubber reminiscent of a Pinotage could be smelt but these were followed by notes of red and black fruit lollies or candy, only to be finished with mint and black pepper aromas. The wine changed each time I went back to smell it. On the palate the tannins were grippy but rather fine grained and nicely balanced by the acidity and flavours which included black plums, black cherries and pencil shavings. We paired this wine with dark chocolate which brought the red fruit flavours to the fore, especially fresh raspberries, not unlike one of my favourite chocolates from the divine Koko Black in Melbourne – the dark chocolate raspberry ganache. Having said that, I could just as easily imagine drinking this wine on a cold night with a meal of roasted or barbequed meats whilst sitting next to a roaring open fire!
Pheasant’s Tears, Rkatsiteli, Bodbiskhevi Village, Kakheti 2010
A medium gold colour with red hues. Aromas of honey, apricot or peach blossoms, ripe tangerines, very ripe red grapefruit and not unpleasant notes of rancid butter. A dry wine with medium acidity, medium tannins and medium flavour intensity showing flavours of grapefruit, almond, lemon, honey and tangerine peel. A medium body with a clean mouthfeel and medium finish of bitter almonds.
Pheasant’s Tears, Kisi, Alaverdi Village, Kakheti, 2010
A medium minus gold colour. Floral aromas of orange and almond blossoms, honey, burnt butter, lemon and dried thyme. Medium plus tannins and medium plus acidity balanced by a medium, richly textured, body and flavours of almond, lemon, fresh peach and grapefruit. A medium finish of fresh yellow peach skin.
Pheasant’s Tears, Saperavi, Kakheti, 2008
A medium plus ruby colour. Rubber, smoke and some notes of varnish followed by sweet red and black fruits, mint and black pepper. Medium plus fine grained tannins nicely integrated with the medium plus acidity and a clean and elegant medium body. Medium plus flavour intensity showing characteristics of black plums, black and sour red cherries, raspberry leaf, pencil shavings and black pepper. Medium plus finish.
Where can you get these wines?
Pheasant’s Tears: Distributors.
Robinson, J. (ed) (2006). The Oxford Companion to Wine. Great Britain: Oxford University Press.
3. Domaine Georgia, Winemaking in Kvevri