I could tell you about the cultural traditions of Georgia, how wine making allegedly originated in Georgia, or society’s sentiments toward the Soviet Union. I could bore you with all the textbook facts, but no. Instead I will tell you about my two favourite things…street dogs and Georgian cuisine. Oh, and the weirdness that is Georgian wine (Georgian wine lovers, please don’t kill me).
Wine is synonomous with Georgia (and may have swayed by decision to visit the country). As a wine fiend myself, visiting Signagi the heart of wine country in Georgia was at the top of my list. It’s a quaint town with cobblestone pathways and terracotta topped homes lining the rolling hills. I’ve never been to Italy, but I imagine it would be reminiscent of Tuscany.
“Wine tasting” signs scrawled across every other shop (yet when you ask for a tasting the attendant either doesn’t understand you or begrudgingly pours you an awkward taste).
Surprisingly, Georgia’s heart of wine country offered no tours to the surrounding wine region, nor were we able to get a taxi as none of the drivers understood enough English to escourt us. Instead we wandered the streets tasting wine in underground cellars and drinking bootlegged wine – homemade and dispensed from a 10 litre jug from the back of someone’s garage.
Georgian wine is very different to Australian wine. Most of it unfiltered and natural, displaying earthy tones and white wine takes on an orange or dark yellow hue. Lollie water, alcoholic grape juice, and goon bag were three of the most common flavour profiles. The vines date back to 600 years old, a stark contrast to our infant New World Aussie vines. Wine making methods differ greatly as well, with Georgian wine getting aged in terracotta vases buried in the earth.
Whilst the majority of Georgian wines didn’t tickle my tastebuds, the main saving grace was the price: a glass for $2 or a 1 litre bottle of homemade vino for $5.
We had a few good nights fuelled by red lollie water bootlegged wine. As cheap as Georgia is, I was surprised at the exuberant fees for wine tasting. While there are free options (generally in underground cellars), the average tasting fee ranged from $10-15 for 3 or 4 tastes. Why so costly when you can buy an entire bottle for $15? That is the mystery of Georgian wine which I will never understand.
When in doubt add cheese…
Must be the unspoken motto of Georgian cooks. Cheese and bread are the country’s two staple ingredients. Someone once told me Georgian food to Russians is Italian food to Europeans. It’s true. I virtually ate my way through the country. Pastry and cheese seem to be the main staples here. Savoury clay hot pots with slow cooked meats in a tomato sauce, juicy pork dumplings, rice and chive stuffed steaming pastries, and oven baked bread stuffed with cheese and topped with an egg, are some of the main dishes. And as an added bonus, it’s all cheap! Meals range from $5-8.
You can’t eat it for a long time (a true walking testament from all Georgians over the age of 50) but it certainly does fit the bill for comfort food.
And the dogs…
Oh my goodness…Georgian dogs! One of the first time things I noticed in Georgia was the prevalence of street dogs in every city we visited. Street dogs around the world have held a soft spot for me, and somehow the Georgian ones got my heart extra melty.
Firstly, mongrel dogs are WAY cuter than any purebred dogs.. I’m sorry but it’s true. If I ever get a dog, it’s going to be some kind of mongrel mutt. They wander he streets chasing cars, sleeping under trees and seeking pats. Tim and I made a routine of wandering the street each morning looking out for our favourite dogs. There was to-to a small mangy black and white matted fur stubby legged dog in desperate need of a bath, Bingo an energetic dalmatian puppy, and our favourite, Gorilla Dog, a scraggly brown mutt with wirey hair, who got his name because of his gorilla shaped face and beady caramel eyes.
Pat a street dog and it will follow you around for a day. Nothing makes you feel more important than giving love to a stray animal. Playing with the dogs each day was quite therapeutic although the possibility of contracting ringworm or some other strange stray animal disease remained very prevalent in the back of my mind.
All the dogs got me thinking, Melbourne should really start a stray dog program. The Uber of dogs, pets on call. The Georgian dogs were so friendly, and the community chipped in taking care of them and feeding them food scraps. They all had ear tags, so there must be some kind of identification or monitoring system for the dogs. When vaccinated and cared for properly the benefit to society could be enormous. And hey, They might be strays but they have pretty damn good lives; roaming the streets, sleeping in parks, sniffing other dogs butts, surely beats being cooped up in an apartment all day.