Where wine is concerned, Taylor Parsons is almost never gobsmacked. The former wine director at République, the Hancock Park restaurant, author of one of the broadest, most idiosyncratic wine programs in the city, has managed the programs in some of L.A.’s finest restaurants, from Spago to Mozza. He has tasted wine from all over the world, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of the vinous arts such that the rest of us can only dream about. It’s hard to throw him off his game.
But Georgia — the country, that is — threw him off his game. A 2015 wine tour to this former Soviet republic in the eastern reaches of Europe left him both discombobulated and thrilled.
“The flavors and textures of the wines were unlike anything I’ve ever tasted,” says Parsons, 37, who like many sommeliers makes regular trips to the wine regions of France, Germany and Spain. “Very little of what they’re doing is reasonable by Western standards, but the wines are so expressive. And it’s all set in an incredibly ancient winemaking tradition where wine has penetrated deeply and completely into the culture, in ways that I had never experienced before.”
That is what happens when the country you’re visiting is the oldest wine region on Earth, surpassing 8,000 vintages — a country with as many as 100,000 micro-wineries, where it’s nearly impossible not to know someone who makes wine, whether a neighbor or friend or family member.
It’s a country where much of the wine is made in a traditional method that is ancient and seemingly unchanged, typified by the use of large clay vessels called qvevri, which are buried underground and filled with grapes in a process that seemed, to Parsons, at once archaic and yet strangely transformative and profound. European varieties like Riesling or Cabernet are all but unheard of.