Near the end of a recent wine-tasting trip in the country of Georgia, archaeologist and Jet Wine Bar owner Jill Weber asked locals to suggest restaurants where she could enjoy a meal by herself. They were horrified.
“Eating there is a very social affair,” Weber said. “You eat and drink together, in a group. Eating alone, it just isn’t something that is done. They allowed it, but I think they were very sad for me.”
Weber will not be alone on Sunday, when she recreates the festive Georgian atmosphere at a barbecue in the pop-up garden at Jet Wine, which she owns with husband Evan Malone. The pay-as-you-go party will feature traditional Georgian food like kebabs, grilled imeruli (flatbread stuffed with farmer’s cheese), and pkhali, a spinach-and-walnut spread with pomegranate and grilled flatbread.
The event is also a chance to try Georgian wines that are rarely found in Philadelphia, but which on Sunday will be sold by the glass and bottle. Lisa Granik, Master of Wine and expert in Georgian wine and Eastern European history, will be on hand.
We have this wine garden and wanted to do some events, especially some experiences that are really immersive. We’ll have Georgian food made by our culinary director, Lucio [Palazzo], and Lisa will be there in the garden. She is basically the biggest experts you can find on Georgia, outside of Georgians, so she’ll be able to really help people who want to understand the culture. She’s great at putting it all into perspective.
Yes! There are three Georgian restaurants in Philadelphia now, I believe, in the Northeast. The food is based on meat, so a lot of kebabs, but it’s also very herb-y, with a lot of sauces and salads. They use a ton of tarragon. You sit down at a table and you’ll get a huge plate of basil, tarragon, and onions along with your food. Walnuts are also big in Georgian cuisine, so you’ll see that in a lot of dips and spreads, such as the pkhali. Probably the most well-known thing is the khachapuri, the grilled bread with the cheese and the egg. So, Lucio will focus on kebabs, a walnut spread, and a grilled bread.
What makes them special is that Georgia is probably one of the places where wine originated. They call themselves the land of 8,000 vintages, because there’s evidence of wine there dating back to 8,000 years. Their style is an ancient style called qvevri [pronounced kwev-ri] where wine is made underground in these 200-liter clay jars, and they just leave all the skins on, the leaves in, they might even leave the stems in, and they leave them there for six months. The longer they ferment, the richer they taste. They also make some wine in a Western style, using tanks and oak, but the Georgians are most proud of the qvevri style of products.
Yes, this style of winemaking is one that the natural wine world has picked up on. In Georgia, there is such history behind the winemaking, and I love to see that. It’s like taking the idea of farm-to-table and knowing where your food comes from, and sending it back 8,000 years ... We don’t really know how old the qvevri process is, but the first evidence of a wine production facility was found in Armenia, and that was qvevri. To me, it’s just so interesting to see these things are still in use. People talk about these populations as primitive, but there’s a nice lesson in seeing that the ancient wasn’t so primitive, and the modern isn’t so advanced.