Located in Eastern Georgia, Kakheti is the Georgia wine region that is taking the world by storm. It’s thought that Georgia is the birthplace of wine, oftentimes referred to as the “cradle of wine”, having found evidence of early winemaking in 6000 BC. The Kakheti wine region is home to hundreds of wineries. Some are large and are more suited to tourists, while the smaller family-run wineries are where you’ll learn about Georgian traditions and witness the real love of winemaking as families share with you their process and offer you their small-batch wines.
While there are numerous reasons that you should visit Georgia, coming to learn about wine and the impact that wine has on the country is one of the main reasons to visit. Georgia and winemaking are so deeply intertwined that you’re doing yourself a disservice by visiting if you don’t plan to make a trip out to Eastern Georgia to visit Kakheti. Below you’ll find details on how winemaking is unique in Georgia, learn about traditional wine tasting, find out where to wine taste, and even visit Georgia’s most romantic town – Sighnaghi.
Spending 2 Days in the Kakheti Wine Region in Georgia
How to Get to Kakheti from Tbilisi
Kakheti is located in Eastern Georgia, bordered by Russia and Azerbaijan. The region is easy to access from anywhere in Georgia, but specifically getting to Kakheti from Tbilisi only takes two hours depending on where in Kakheti you’re going. I recommend slowing down and spending at least a couple of days in Kakheti, especially if you’re a wine fanatic. However, being that it’s so close to Tbilisi, if you’re limited on time you can also make Kakheti a day trip from Tbilisi. No matter how long you decide to stay in Kakheti, the easiest way to get around the area is to hire a private driver.
In Georgia, there’s zero-tolerance for drinking and driving (however, enforcing it is another issue), so you want to make sure that if you plan to drink you also plan for a driver to drive you around. I recommend using GoTrip to customize a Kakheti tour. You can choose which wineries to visit and a driver will wait for you at each one and then take you to your final destination.
Tip: If you plan to wine taste for two days, make sure to book two separate trips.
If you’re planning on visiting the Khaketi region from Tbilisi, make sure to read How to Spend 3 Days in Tbilisi
Where to Stay in Kakheti – Telavi or Sighnaghi?
The two main cities in Kakheti are Telavi and Sighnaghi. They are about an hour and a half apart, Telavi north of Sighnaghi. Telavi is a much bigger city feel, while Sighnaghi is a small and charming town. In fact, it’s oftentimes called “the city of love” and it isn’t hard to see why. I personally enjoyed staying in Sighnaghi over Telavi and would recommend that you base yourself there while you drink your way through Kakheti.
For purposes of this post, the itinerary will focus on staying in Sighnaghi for two nights. However, you can certainly stay in Telavi on the first night and Sighanghi on the second night if you want to see both towns. If you plan to stay in Telavi, I recommend the Esquisse Hotel. If you plan to stay in Sighnaghi, I recommend the Kabadoni Hotel.
HIGHLIGHTS: SHUMI WINERY, SHALAURI WINE CELLAR, SIGHNAGHI
Leave Tbilisi early in the morning and head east to Kakheti to begin wine tasting. Start in Tsinandali, at Shumi Winery. Shumi is unique in that it’s the only wine museum on display in Kakheti. It’s a great place to taste because you’ll be able to learn about the history of winemaking, how wine is made in qvevri, and you can choose how many wines you want to taste plus if you want food with your tasting. I opted to taste five wines and paired them with the cheese plate for 30 Lari. I highly recommend making reservations ahead of time, which you can do through Facebook Messenger, and make sure to request the price list to choose how many wines you want to taste.
After leaving Shumi, head 10 minutes west to Telavi for a wine tasting and lunch at Shalauri Wine Cellar. Shalauri is an authentic, small, family-owned winery. The wine at Shalauri is incredible (it’s only made qvevri style), but the true highlight of Shalauri is the lunch spread that they serve. Like Shumi, you can reserve a wine tasting spot and lunch by contacting Shalauri on Facebook Messenger.
Once you’ve finished with lunch and wine tasting at Shalauri, head south to Sighnaghi. (If you’re planning to stay in both Telavi and Sighnaghi, it makes the most sense to spend night one in Telavi and night two in Sighnaghi).
As I mentioned earlier, Sighnaghi is one of the most romantic places in Georgia which is how it’s become known as “the city of love”. It’s a small town that sits up high on a hill and is well-known for its cobblestone streets, old fortified walls, and places to wine taste. On a clear day, from up on the hill, you can see the Alazani Valley laid out in front of you and the Caucasus Mountains in the background.
Once you arrive in Sighnaghi, check into your hotel and head out to see the town. Walk the fortified walls, for free, where you’ll get amazing views of the valley. If you’re interested in learning about the history of Sighanghi, make sure to stop in at the Sighnaghi National Museum for a lesson on history and to view famous artwork from the area. For dinner, head to Okro’s Natural Wine Restaurant for traditional Georgian food. (They also offer wine tastings if you’re looking to taste more wine).
HIGHLIGHTS: WINE YARD N1, CRADLE OF WINE MARANI, PHEASANT’S TEARS
On your second day in the Kakheti region of Georgia, make your way north to Wine Yard N1 in Kvareli. While Wine Yard N1 is nearby Shumi and Shalauri, I recommend visiting on a different day because I highly recommend eating lunch here too.
Wine Yard N1 is a fun and unique family-owned winery. It’s won several accolades including, “The best rural tourism”, and “The best woman entrepreneur in the tourism industry”, as well as features in multiple magazines/newspapers. Wine Yard N1 is unique in that they take Georgian traditions pretty seriously. I was given traditional Georgian drinking vessels to drink from and was even taught a traditional Georgian dance. To visit, you need to make reservations ahead of time, which you can do through Facebook Messenger.
After spending time at Wine Yard N1, head back to Sighnaghi for a wine tasting at Cradle of Wine Marani. Paul, an American, moved to Georgia with his wife and they opened Cradle of Wine together. Paul does an excellent job of going into detail about how wine is made in Georgia, is incredibly captivating, and even a great host. I did a walk-in wine tasting, but would highly recommend making reservations ahead of time to ensure that you can taste. Reservations can be made through Facebook Messenger.
After leaving Cradle of Wine Marani, walk down the street to Pheasant’s Tears for dinner. Pheasant’s Tears is one of the best restaurants that I ate at in Georgia and highly recommend dining here. The menu changes based on ingredients that are available at the market that day, and aside from the food, the Pheasant’s Tears wine is some of the best I had in the country. Like most places, you can opt for a wine tasting or just order a glass/bottle.
What You Need to Know About Georgian Wine/Wine Tasting
How Wine is Made in Georgia
In Georgia, wine is produced two different ways. The first being “European-style”, or what we would typically see when visiting tasting rooms/vineyards in Westernized countries. The second way is the traditional Georgian way, in qvevri. To make wine qvevri style, grapes, seeds, and skins go into a clay vessel that is then buried in the ground for months at a time. Each vessel varies in size from 100 to 3,500 liters. The process is fascinating and is worth traveling for, especially if you’re a wine fanatic.
Another unique thing about making wine in Georgia is that after the wine has fermented and is ready to be bottled, everything that is leftover (the pomace) becomes Chacha. Chacha is the leftover grape residue – skins, stems, seeds, that contains 40-60% alcohol and tastes similar to vodka or tequila. Almost every winery in Georgia makes chacha from leftovers, including families who make their own wine. If you buy chacha from a family, know that the alcohol content could be much higher than if you buy a commercial bottle of chacha.
Traditional Drinking Vessels
Most wineries in Kakheti will have you drink out of glass, however, some of the smaller wineries will allow you to taste out of ancient drinking vessels. Two of the most popular drinking vessels are piala and kantsi.
Piala is a handmade clay bowl, and kantsi is a handmade (oftentimes clay) drinking horn. From my impression, a smaller kantsi is usually used to take a shot of chacha, while a larger kantsi is used to hold wine.
Both of these drinking vessels change the taste of the wine, so I recommend trying the wine in a glass first, before transferring it to the clay vessel.
Tips for Wine Tasting in Georgia
The fun thing about wine tasting in Georgia is that most wineries are laid back and there aren’t any “rules” to follow. If you’re in a smaller, family-run winery you can usually taste as much wine as you want and you can also stay for as long as you please. The bad thing is that if you want to go to smaller, family-owned wineries it can sometimes be difficult to get ahold of someone, and reservations are usually a good idea especially if you want to request food. Below you’ll find simple tips to follow when you’re wine tasting in Georgia.
- Always make a reservation a few days ahead of time – most reservations are done through Facebook Messenger. If you can’t find a wineries website, search for them on Facebook.
- Always ask about food being served. If you want to eat lunch this is usually something that is arranged ahead of time. Lunch is also a set menu so you won’t be ordering your own food off of a menu.
- Inquire about what types of wine tastings are offered. You can usually do three, four, or five glass tastings.
- Carry cash. Most wineries don’t accept credit/debit cards.
- If you’re only doing a wine tasting, you can assume that it will take about an hour. If you’re doing lunch as well I would carve out two hours’ worth of time to spend.
- If a winery tells you that you can’t visit because there isn’t an English speaker present, ask if you can bring your own interpreter. If you’ve booked your ride through GoTrip, the driver is usually more than willing to come to interpret for you if you ask them about it ahead of time.
Kakheti, Georgia is a beautiful region that I encourage you to discover for yourself. Whether you have one day or a week you could lose yourself in the grapes of Georgia. I personally am looking forward to the day that I can go back and discover even more of the small family wineries that keep this wine region full of character while still maintaining their traditional roots.
If you’re planning to visit Georgia, don’t miss:
Have you been to the Kakheti wine region before? Let me know in the comments below!
If you want a more visual look at the Kakheti wine region, head to my Instagram page/highlight reel and search #ppingeorgia or look for the highlights “Georgia 2” and “Georgia 3” for more recommendations on things to see and do in Kakheti.