We travelled from the Tbilisi airport directly into the wine country of Kakheti; our destination the high altitudes of Sighnaghi, a beautiful town with an ancient fortress wall that runs up and down the mountainside. We had dinner there at Pheasant's Tears, the restaurant/outlet of the winery of the same name.
What sets any meal in Georgia apart from its neighboring lands and perhaps most of the world, is its long tradition of table songs. These are sung during the meal, and after lengthy toasts that can wax poetic and philosophical, and always emotional. The singing tradition is a national treasure, and uniquely, it is polyphonic, and predates the coming of the Christian church.
That night we broke bread with four singers, who comprise the excellent group Teatraluris Kvarteti, headed by Lasha Kervalidze. From the very first note they sang, our table became hushed, and all became entranced. This is indeed an accessible and beautiful musical tradition. It was also a best possible way to establish that we were indeed in Georgia. We did not even realize that outside our windows, the skies had opened up and rain was coming down in torrents. I was told later that it was well that I fell asleep on the way back to Tbilisi, because the driving down the side of the mountain, in lashing wind and rain was harrowing.
By the way, wine is a long-standing tradition in Georgia, and by long I mean --are you ready?--well over 6,000 years of it. In fact, many of the grape varieties that are used in familiar European vintages originated in Georgia. Rather than aging the wine in wooden barrels, it is aged in huge ceramic jugs called qvevri which are stored underground. (The wines are superb, by the way.)
Georgian food is delicious, utilizing herbs nuts and fruits (think tarragon, walnuts and pomegranates) and although meat is a huge staple, there is enough variation in the cuisine to make a Vegan happy.
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