Signagi, Georgia

Photo: Hotel Kabadoni

A trip to the countryside means only one thing for you: wine. From Healdsburg and Mendoza to Barolo and Franschhoek, you love small towns filled with tasting rooms and pairing-focused restaurants. You’re obsessed with the views of endless vines and small bunches of grapes with the sound of tractors moving in the background. You crave the hot summer days that eventually give way to cold winters. While nothing makes you happier than the thrill of finding a new favorite bottle to bring home.

So it’s surprising that a wine connoisseur like yourself hasn’t traveled to—or even tasted wines from—Georgia. The Eastern European country, which is on everyone’s travel wish list right now, is one of the oldest wine-making countries in the world. Kakheti, in Eastern Georgia, is both the most visited region and the premier wine-growing region in the country. Fortifications, castles, and monasteries surround the main town of Telavi. Plus small vineyards extend all the way to the Greater Caucasus mountains.

Though Telavi is a nice introduction to Kakheti, you’re staying in an even smaller town. Signagi sits on a steep hill in the foothills of the Gombori mountain range near the border of Azerbaijan. It was settled in the early 18th century, when a fortress was built as protection against invading Dagestani tribesmen. Five kilometers of the defensive walls still remain. They enclose narrow cobblestone streets, pastel houses with white balconies, and small Georgian Orthodox Churches. Views from the hilltop extend down the Alazani Valley and out to the mountains. It’s so picturesque that Signagi is called the City of Love. Many couples come here just to get married.

Photo: Hotel Kabadoni

Since you aren’t planning on taking any vows during this trip, your Signagi focus is solely its wine. First, you settle into Kabadoni Hotel, one of the area’s new boutique hotels, in the center of town. Much of the hotel is sleek and modern. It features open spaces, concrete floors, and muted shades of gray. There are traditional touches, too. Handmade carpets create cozy corners and hang from the walls. Hand-painted mirrors decorate the ceilings. Khinkali (dumplings stuffed with cheese and mushrooms) are served in the restaurant. Plus there’s an indoor pool with panoramic views and the Sunset Lounge with all-white furniture. You make a beeline for the Wine Bar to start tasting wines from the Alazani Valley.

Due to its warm climate, the Alazani Valley grows sweeter grapes than the rest of Georgia. Its most famous grape, Rkatsiteli, has grown here for thousands of years. Their juice was put in qvevri (clay vessels) and buried underground to ferment with natural yeast. The result was light, fruity wine that was easy to drink.

After learning a little bit about the area’s wine at the Wine Bar, you’re ready to dig deeper. Pheasant’s Tears is the perfect place to do so. The relatively young winery—it was established in 2007—is a collaboration between an American artist, who fell in love with the area, and a Georgian winemaker, whose family has been making wine for eight generations. They grow traditional grapes, like Tsolikouri and Tavkveri. They use traditional methods, including qvevri. They serve traditional Georgian feasts, featuring local meats, cheese, and khachapuri (cheese-filled bread). While their wines are considered good enough to make a peasant cry. You may be bringing home more than a few bottles from Georgia.

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