Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: Shalva Khetsuriani

The next top sommelier I'm introducing to you is from the country where the first wines ever were made around 6000 b.C, Georgia... Please allow me to introduce to you Shalva Khetsuriani who's life mission is strengthening and development of the culture of wine in Georgia and introducing their wines to the world. Basically a man that is very proud of his country and the good products that are produced there!! I can personally say for a fact that I've already had the pleasure tasting a few beauties from Georgia!! Definitely something worth exploring.

Shalva Khetsuriani is founder of Queen Tamada LLC, a very important agency in Georgian wine tourism. Next to that Shalva is also founder and a President of Georgian Sommelier Association and Honorary Wine Ambassador of Georgia. Shalva is also a founder and principal of Tbilisi Wine School. Shalva is a teacher of many Georgian wine master classes. It is also thanks to him that in 2014 the Georgian Sommelier Association joined the ASI (international sommelier association) making that who wins the title of best sommelier of Georgia can also participate during the ASI Sommelier world Championship and open doors for many young people. And next to that he also helps out on the winery of his family :-) A very busy bee I'd say

The only down-side of being sommelier in a country like Georgia (although it has a very important place in wine history) is that the job as sommelier is very under valued... that is also why Shalva together with Georgian wine organizations have recently started a campaign to make the job as sommelier and jobs in the wine business more attractive as it can give lots of great opportunities to lots of young people both nationally as international . All of this obviously is good for job creation, but also to lift up the Georgian quality of services in the tourism sector and on its turn attract more people... I am always very impressed of people with wonderful initiatives like this that they do with so much passion!!

Enjoy the reading of what this inspirational top sommelier has to say :-)

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

I won’t be original in answering this question – Georgia. This is not only because I love it but because Georgian Wine development epoch has been started. We live in a historical period – Georgian wine, which used to be locked within the bounds of the Soviet Union, is being introduced to the world wine society. The most favorite region in Georgia is my native side – Lechkhumi. First I had my wine inspiration in this region. As well as, I love Kakheti – the “main” Georgian region, and Imereti – “Georgian stomach”, the “main” gastronomic region of the country. Generally, my favorite regions are Burgundy, Bordeaux, Piedmont, Toscana… and many others.

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

A good sommelier should be honest, educated, multilaterally developed, communicable, and kind-natured, with decent behavior, and curious like a small child, to have encyclopedic education on drinks and gastronomy, to be aware of different regions of the world not only in terms of wine/beverages but of their traditions, culture, interesting places, etc.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

In my country a sommelier is not valued at such a level that would make me happy, but, comparatively, it is valued, as: 15 year ago nobody was aware of this word, 10 years ago at our school we had only 10 students in the group, and now there is a competition to be accepted at our school in despite of the high cost of study. However, from ancient times my country had professions of “Chashnagiri” (taster), “Meghvinetukhutsesi” (wine expert), and “Mechurchletukhutsesi” (treasurer). Wine and the culture related to wine has never been only the gastronomic product for Georgian people – it is the part of our identity.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

It happened in 1998, in my native village Ghvirishi, Lechkhumi Region, when I appeared for the first time in the 150-year old house of my ancestors. The Khetsuriani family tradition, which was started in 1860, was violently ceased by the communists in the 20th century… There I had an idea to reestablish our family marani (wine cellar) - thus, “Marani Khetsuriani” was reestablished. And, in 1999, I got acquainted with many Russian sommeliers, became the member of the newly established Russian Sommelier Association and I myself also became a sommelier. In 2003 I established in Georgia “Sommelier Association” and “Tbilisi Wine School”, which function till present very successfully. In 2004 I received a letter on my mail with caption “You Won!” I thought it was some spam-lottery but before I deleted this mail I checked the sender and found that it was Jancis Robinson: she was congratulating me with winning the Geoffrey Roberts’ Award, and thus, I had the most unforgettable trip in my life: I spent a month in the best Chateaux and Domains of Bordeaux and Burgundy that had rather a big influence on my thinking of wine, of course, with keeping our ancient traditions. This means that replacing national traditions with international ones has not occurred in my mind.

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

For me the greatest examples are “Great families” – not only because they represent the histories of great successes. During centuries they were able to find not only their own terroirs but they also used to produce great wines and what’s more important, to keep them during centuries. Why namely these families? It was in the same way in Georgia – before the communists came… my family also had a big tradition, and we have started reestablishing this tradition in 1998. Georgia was called by Hugh Johnson “the inventor of wine” in the movie shot by us (Prime Meridian of Wine), and our country has 8000-year continuous history of wine producing

What is your approach for pairing wines (or other beverages) with dishes?

- Harmony.

- After having first bite and first sip – when you again have a desire to have it for the second, and for the third time.

- Experiments, new tastes.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?

  • Bordeaux – this is a very big tradition, it is classic. Because this is the highest league.

  • Burgundy – how can be reached in such small plots such a diversity and high class. Because this is the highest league.

  • England, London – how can be gathered such a big diversity of the entire world in wine?

  • Burgenland – modernity, the most beautiful architecture, wonderful wines.

  • A number of regions of the new world – the taste, the taste, and, once again, the taste. Fair prices.

For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?

For Georgian wines which were produced before the Soviet period – very small quantity of these wines are kept in state collections.

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?

My memory not of the hotel management school, but of the wine school – this is the school “Enotria”.

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop, etc…?

For me there exists that minimal “Collection of Gentleman’s features” that each cultural person (not a sommelier, generally, a non-professional person) should have: the rules of wine tasting, some imagination of wine diseases and defects, different wine regions of the world, “main” species of vine, “great wines”, the cuisines of different regions of the world, some other drinks besides wine, cigars, tea, coffee, cheese, and many others.

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