In France, winemakers sometimes greet visitors with gougères, airy cheese puffs that go so well with a glass that serious buyers warn against indulging in them (they make everything taste better). In the Republic of Georgia, the winemaker’s weapon is khachapuri.
Every region—and household—has its own variation: The Instagram-famous “cheeseboat,” a vessel-shaped bread topped with an egg and a knob of butter, hails from the Black Sea coast; inland, where most of the country’s wines are grown, you’ll find flat, cheese-stuffed Imeruli (from Imereti) or Megruli (similar, but topped with additional cheese.) Sometimes the breads are yeast-risen; other times, they’re made with baking soda and a fermented milk product like kefir or yogurt. The cheeses that fill them vary as well, though most rely on [ital]sulguni[/ital], a cow’s milk round akin to low-moisture mozzarella in texture and taste, though it’s a bit tangier and saltier.
Regardless of the exact recipe, warm, cheesy khachapuri seems uniquely designed to show off the country’s white wines. Unlike most Western bottles, Georgian whites are traditionally fermented with their skins and stems in large earthenware vessels called qvevri. The results are often amber-hued and as tannic as a red wine. This can be surprising to drinkers used to bright, smooth Western whites, but when there’s khachapuri nearby, the strong sips make lots of sense: The tannins cut right through the cheesy fat and ready the palate for another bite.
Today, khachapuri are turning up on menus across the US, from Oda House and Cheeseboat in New York City to Supra in Washington, D.C. and Kargi Gogo in Portland, Ore. Or, you can make your own (find a recipe at culturecheesemag.com/make-khachapuri).
Either way, here are some wines to check out with your cheese bread.
“This is the most famous wine in Imereti; it’s what people drink at home,” says Zurab Ghviniashvili, the director of Vartsikhe Marani, a winery in Western Georgia. The local grape makes whites that are lightly floral and almost crunchy with bright acidity—an easy introduction.
Vartsikhe Marani 2017 Tsolikouri
Wine Thieves Imereti Tsolikouri
Rkatsiteli is not only widely planted in Georgia, but it’s also made its way around the world, to places like Australia and New York. High in acidity, it’s often crisp and slightly herbal, yet balanced with juicy fruit.
Niki Antadze Kakheti Rkatsiteli
Dr. Konstantin Frank Finger Lakes Rkatsiteli
“This is theGeorgian wine: high tannins, high alcohol,” says Beka Gotsadze at Gotsa, his family winery outside of Tbilisi. Mtsvane thrives here, getting riper and richer than rkatsiteli (in fact, the two are often blended). It can meet a khachapuri head-on in flavor, yet, thanks to its acidity, remains refreshing.
Gotsa Kakheti Mtsvane
Shalauri Cellars Kakheti Mtsvane
“We started this winery for the love of kisi,” says Eka Tchvritidze, owner of Danieli winery. It’s one of the prettiest Georgian grapes, with floral scents and sweet pear flavors that feel succulent even when bone-dry. Danieli’s version is clean and bright, made in stainless-steel tanks; qvevri versions, like Schuchmann Vinoterra, add earthy complexity.
Danieli Kakheti Kisi
Schuchmann Kakheti Vinoterra Kisi
“No matter how sweet it gets, krakhuna always keeps its acidity,” says Archil Guniava at his eponymous winery in Imereti. It’s rare but worth seeking out: Guniava’s example is a powerful white, with honeyed apple flavors and a marzipan richness, as well as the tannic muscle to cut through the cheesiest khachapuri.
Archil Guniava Imereti Krakhuna
Amiran Imereti Krakhuna