Sarah May Grunwald, @tastegeorgia, describes herself as ‘official Georgian wine ambassador’ so she should know where to eat and drink in Georgia’s capital. See this guide to all the entries in our travel writing competition that have been published so far.
Tbilisi’s history dates back to the fifth century when it was founded on the hot springs from which it gets its name. Tbilisi in old Georgian, means ‘warm’ and legend has it that King Erekle was so impressed by the sulphur springs, he founded a new city then and there. Tbilisi was one of the most strategically placed cities in the history of Eurasia. It’s right at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, and its role in the past on the Silk Road always made it prone to foreign invaders, ranging from Persians to Mongols to, more recently, the Soviet Red Army. All have left their marks on the city, with its huge range of monuments and stunning architecture, as well as marks on the flavours in typical Georgian cuisine.
As Georgia’s capital and largest city, Tbilisi offers plenty of things to do, especially for wine enthusiasts. Archaeological evidence at the National Museum shows that wine was cultivated as far back as 6000 BC! [And see news of this latest discovery – JR] While traditionally the majority of wine produced has been drunk locally, Georgian wine is becoming more and more popular in the international market. There is no place better in Georgia than Tbilisi for discovering these exciting wines. In general, wine is ever-present at the Georgian table. It’s as important as the food itself. You'll rarely drink without food and rarely eat without wine. Toasts are abundant and poetic, so when you inevitably meet new friends and are invited to a supra, a traditional Georgian feast that features a tamada or toastmaster, you will need to learn to pace yourself.
Walk down the Rustaveli Str, which gets its name from Georgia’s national poet, Shota Rustaveli. It's a great homage to turn of the century architecture and includes a range of building styles such as surprisingly airy and spacious Stalinist and lovely art nouveau. Finish up at the National Georgian Museum, go upstairs immediately and pay your respects to wine history, for it is here that there are several ancient wine vessels including a prototype to the qvevri which is between 8000 to 9000 years old.
G Vino 6 Erekle II Street; tel +995 322 93 21 21
G Vino has taken the wine bar experience to new heights. This modern new go-to spot was opened in March 2015 on Erekle II Street by the same owner as the stylish Boutique Hotel Number 12, so the design choices are no surprise. The interior is cosy and glowing with warm light, set as a perfect exhibit of contemporary Georgia. The wine list is quite extensive, with a focus on natural and organic producers. The wine by the glass menu focuses on organic and local producers including some of the best Georgian qvevri wine producers available, such as Lagvinari and Gotsa.
Vino Underground 15 Galaktion Tabidze Street; tel +995 322 30 96 10
At its opening, Vino Underground was the first bar in Tbilisi to focus solely on natural wines. In fact, it is owned by six of Georgia's best-known natural wine producers, and they can be regularly found there hosting tastings or helping guests learn about the wine of Georgia. Conveniently located near Freedom Square, Vino Underground is like a home away from home and a nice respite from the bustling city. Its underground location beneath gorgeous arched masonry, with a warm and rustic interior, gives the place a very old world feel. This is a place for great wine and good friends; solo travellers, in particular, should visit because meeting locals of the Georgian wine scene is a guarantee. Top tip: be sure to try the sunflower oil with bread!
Dadi Wine Bar Shalva Dadiani, 4 Tbilisi, Georgia 0105; tel 995 555 51 79 03
Dadi Wine Bar is another new wine bar just off Freedom Square. The owner is Russian and has a great love of old Georgian books. He has a great selection of vintage wine books that he proudly displays in the bar for guests to peruse. The wines are all organic producers but what is exciting here is the food. It’s truly exquisite. One of the few places with artichoke on the menu in Tbilisi. It is detail-oriented with exquisite flavours that pair perfectly with whatever wine you are drinking. Order a bottle of sparkling wine from Ori Marani. The winemaker is a young man from Champagne who married a lovely Georgian woman and they decided to make wine together in Georgia using the wisdom and technologies of both of their countries. They make Georgia’s best traditional method sparkling wine.
Restaurants with great wine programmes
Barbarestan D Aghmashenebeli Ave 132; tel +995 322 94 37 79
Barbarestan takes its name from a very famous and almost lost aristocratic cookbook of the same name that was written by Duchess Barbare Eristavi Jorjadze. The concept was developed by Gastronaut, a local culinary concept company, and realised by chef Levan Kobiashvili. Chef Levan has taken the concepts and modernised them, creating a current twist inspired by the 19th century cookbook. Barbarestan is on the left bank, boasts a stellar wine cellar, and a cosy atmosphere. It is a great place to go when you are looking for something elegant, and need a break from khatchapuri [the traditional Georgian dish of cheese-filled bread].
Chveni 8 Tchorokhi Street; tel +995 593 76 77 13
Chveni is a relatively new addition to the food and restaurant scene in Tbilisi but its chef Guram Baghdoshvili is not. He hosted a culinary show that discovered the best home cooks in Georgia and has developed the menus for other establishments in Tbilisi, including the wine-themed Vinotel (see below). He has opened a Georgian restaurant in Dubai. What makes his kitchen special is how he combines the home region of Javakheti with his long experience in Spain and Portugal. He’s become a favourite chef in Tbilisi, bringing something new and innovative to the plate. He is high energy, and can often be found on the restaurant floor, eating and chatting with guests. A real treat is booking seats at the shared table in the open kitchen. It is nice to meet fellow wine lovers and foodies and experience the energy of the kitchen. The cocktail and wine programme are fantastic and it is easy to find just the right wine for your meal.
Cafe Littera 13 Machabeli Street ; tel +995 577146392
Located in the heart of the Sololaki neighbourhood in a turn of the century Georgian Art Nouveau building, Cafe Littera pays homage to its setting in what is known as the Writer’s House, which was the centre of Tbilisi’ cultural life for almost a century. Unlike many familiar types of cafes in Europe, the setting has been revived by Tekuna Gachechildaze, the woman who gave birth to modern Georgian cuisine and whose mission is to re-educate the Georgian palate. She is single-handedly reviving Georgia’s culinary traditions, which she says have always included foreign influences. Regular Georgians may be reluctant, but she is winning over the hearts and minds of foodies the world over with her modern reinterpretations of Georgian classics with a twist.
Gvino City Wine Hotel Dimitri Uznadze Street 82
The hotel, situated on the hip, and less touristic, left bank, is brought to you by the owners of the fabulous G Vino wine bar. It is a gorgeous boutique hotel with quiet comfortable rooms and one of the best breakfasts in town. It has an eclectic and artistic design. Each room is named after a rare Georgian grape variety. The owners Mamuka and Lida are also real dog lovers, so look forward to a cuddle with one of their adopted dogs. They work closely with local rescue groups to save as many dogs as possible. They are also very lucky to have chef Tamta Kikaleishvili who developed the menu based on regional dishes and seasonality. The wine bar has an excellent wine list. You don’t have to stay at the hotel to enjoy the food and wine. The restaurant is open for dinner and they regularly host events with Georgian winemakers.
Vinotel 4 Elene Akhvlediani Street
The Vinotel isn’t so much a hotel but more of a wine destination in Tbilisi. The movers and shakers of the wine world all seem to be at this wine-themed hotel, built in the historic Deutsches Haus/German House. Careful attention has been given to every single detail in this place, from the texture of the paint to the tastefully chosen antique furniture. Vinotel and its wonderful staff will have you convinced that you’ve finally come to your dream home. The food is exquisite, and the service exceptionally good. There are always musicians in the restaurant. Reserve a table for dinner and enjoy dishes developed by chef Guram from Chveni. If you arrive early, the staff will be happy to give you a tour of their cellar and tasting room, which makes the visit worth it.