Have You Tried 'Chacha'? Sampling the Georgian National Spirit
And now for something completely different: chacha.
Chacha is the Georgian—as in the Republic of Georgia on the coast of the Black Sea—name for pomace wine. This spirit is distilled from the pomace, or the crushed or pulped grape residue left over after the crushing of the grape harvest in the winemaking process.
A bit about Georgia, Georgians, and Georgian wine
Located in the Caucasus mountains between Turkey and Russia on the Black Sea, Georgia is one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world. Georgians are fiercely proud of their winemaking traditions, claiming, in fact, to have invented the winemaking process itself—a claim that is supported to some extent by actual archeological evidence.
While the Georgians have been making and drinking wine for centuries, Georgian wine is still relatively unknown outside of the region. Georgia was the winemaking province for the former Soviet Union, so for this reason Georgian wine remains popular in Russia. Russia is also still one of the largest exports for Georgian made wine, although slowly western countries and others are discovering it.
Most Georgians produce and make their own wine from the grapes grown on their family plots and gardens. In my own personal interactions among native Georgians, a Georgian who does not know how to make wine is not a real Georgian!
The grapes are crushed, the juice placed in earthenware jugs called quevri. These are stored in the earth and sealed over with natural sealants. Here the wine process begins, the juice fermenting naturally from the yeasts formed on the grape skins and the sugars in the juice. Most Georgians will leave their homemade wine from the autumn until the summer to mature, only opening once they prepare for the new season.
To make chacha, a distiller or winemaker will then take the leftover pomace and use it to produce the potent clear spirit of very high alcoholic content. Traditional methods, not dissimilar from other distillation methods using copper stills are not uncommon. From here, a distiller can choose to keep the spirit in its natural state, or instead age in casks similar to the maturation process found in other spirit production processes around the world.
In other countries, the same process exists to produce grappa in Italy or piquette in France.
Where to try it
I have visited Georgia personally on two occasions on extended stays. I have sampled many variations of homemade chacha, some more potent than others. For my own tastes, the pure spirit is too strong to be enjoyed, but personally I can smell, and taste, some fruits like pears.
The best chacha I did find was on a wine tour in the lovely walled town of Signaghi, at The Pheasant’s Tears, a winery with a special story. They are a popular stopping point for American other Western tourists on tours through Georgia. Here you can also sample some fantastic Georgian cuisine al fresco, and see and learn a little bit more about the winemaking process.
But with a search round you can find and buy Georgian wine and spirits at home. In my own experience, having lived extensively in both the US and UK, I have found these in the boutique wine shops, but there are larger distributors as well.
If spirits are not your thing, try a Georgian red wine, Saperavi.
Signagi in the Republic of Georgia
How to enjoy it
Having been matured, it is best to be sipped from its own glass. I have enjoyed as a dessert wine, or with cheese after or before dinner. Try sipping from a cognac glass for good effect, or else any small dessert wine glass will work, too.
Being a strong liquor, best to be sipped and enjoyed. Labels will vary, but you will get fruits—as I mentioned, I usually get pears. Other tastes will be the lingering smokiness of the barrel aging process that mellows out the strong spirit.
If you have tried Georgian chacha, other Georgian wines, or even travelled in Georgia, I would love to hear what you thought of it!
Questions & Answers
© 2019 John Bolt