The Hunt for the Holy Grail
2017 Poliphonia Pheasants Tears a 417 Georgian varietal field blend
by Chris Hamm
All Wine Century Clubbers are always on the hunt for new unique grape varietals. Especially on the hunt for a multi unique varietal blend. Historically in the Wine Century Club “the White Whale”, was Cento Uve, from Mario Giribaldi Vineyards in Tuscany, with a purported 152 unique wine varietals. My wife and I got a couple of bottles of that wine 2 years ago, when we vacationed in Scotland and England. In advance of that trip I had called the Mario Giribaldi Winery in Tuscany directly, to place an order for a couple of bottles of Cento Uve, and arranged to have them shipped to our hotel in London. We brought the wine back to the U.S. when we left London, in July 2018.
One “White Whale” vanquished. Next to look for something a bit bigger.
In early 2019 a Wine making friend in Oregon was watching a show on Hulu last year called “The Wine Show”, a United Kingdom based show, that explores Wine, and Winemaking. In season 2, episode 3 the show visits Pheasants Tears Winery in Khakheti, Georgia. Here’s the back story. A few years ago, the Georgian national government took over a project to preserve locals strains and unique native Georgia in a “host” Vineyard. John Wurdeman, co-owner of Pheasants Tears agreed to do so. 500+ varietals were planted on his Estate Vineyard in Khakheti. After nurturing the multitude of new Vines for a few years, Wurdeman, in conjunction with his Winemaker decided to do a 417 varietal field blend. At harvest time, the field erupts in a “rainbow” of color, with red, pink, gray, yellow and green grapes. The grapes are harvested in four sweeps across the Vineyard to pick the grapes at the respective peak of their ripening. All the grapes are combined in a Qvevri, a huge Clay winemaking container lined with BeesWax, fermented and buried in the ground. The Wine is left on the skins for a couple of years, then bottled.
The Wine name Poliphony means “multiplicity of sounds” in the Greek language.
This “Wine show” episode addresses Georgian Winemaking, Pheasants Tears Winery, and in particular, the 417 varietal Wine, “Poliphony”.
The hunt was on for Poliphony. A trip to Wine Searcher yielded a couple of answers. One Wine shop in Tblisi. One in London. One in New Zealand. One in Australia. None in the U.S. Note, here is the best part about the Wine. It costs around $26 U.S. dollars. Since I live in the U.S. I had to find a way to travel to a location selling the Wine, or make arrangements with a friend or family member to traveling to London. I contacted the Wine shop in London and confirmed they would ship to a Hotel in London for me. Next I contacted two family members who had planned business trips to London in early 2020. I started to make arrangements to purchase the Wine and have it shipped to their planned Hotel in London. Then of course, Covid 19 entered the equation. All International travel squashed.
Plan B. No solution on Wine Searcher. I had heard about a Blog/website called 1000Corks, which had a proprietary search logic to track down rare Wines. I visited the website and typed in Pheasants Tears Poliphony. Guess what? I found a Brooklyn shop that had 1 bottle left. I purchased it and had it shipped across the Country. Next how to quantify/document all of the varietals. There are a few web based articles that cover the Wine and the Winery. I gleaned some information from these. I contacted the Winery directly, and opened a dialogue. I got a little information but could only learn about 25 – 30 varietals incluced directly. Exhausting all other sources, I went to the VIVC international database, and got a listing of all documented Georgian Varietals. There are 550 in this database. All with a varietal number based upon, when it was verified and documented. The lower the number, means the varietal has been documented a long time. The higher the number means the varietal was documented and confirmed more recently.
I sorted the list in numerical order. I eliminated varietals that looked to be clones or, had no grape type documented, ie, Red or White, Rouge or Blanc, etc. I also eliminated any varietals that were just listed with a number. I was left with about 500 entries. Then I picked the remaining 390 or so varietals, I had not yet been able to document as being included in the Poliphony blend.
We had a social distancing Wine tasting party in July. Georgian wines only, and Georgian food only. Poliphony is unusual for sure. A bit sour. Pink to Strawberry in color. A broad range of flavors, that changes every few minutes you let it remain in the glass. Enjoyable, especially when it’s chilled a bit. A once in a lifetime type of Wine.
Good luck finding one.
I bought four bottles several years ago and still have one unopened. Like you, I’ve been trying to see which “new” (to me) varietals are in Polyphony – and like you, I’ve had no success. More than two years ago I traded emails with John Wurdeman, and he assured me that he had the info and just needed to type up the list. I waited a few months and queried again, only to receive an “I’m too busy” response. So I waited a few more months and tried again, this time receiving a rude response basically saying he didn’t want to bother. More recently, I tried asking the US distributor for the info and never got a response at all. While the back “story” is appealing, I’m not sure there’s anything more to the 417 than there is to Heinz’s “57 varieties.” It may SOUND good, but that’s about it. Isn’t it a little strange to sell a wine by emphasizing the number of varietals in it but then not be willing to document them?
It is strange that Pheasants Tears hasn’t provided documentation yet. Wurdeman marches to a different drummer. Still I plan to visit the Winery some day.
I have created a group on mewe.com for all Wine Century Club people to share comments and PDF or XLS Applications. I expect a bubbly and exuberant reception!
FRIENDS OF WINE CENTURY CLUB
Stephen, thanks for setting it up.
Special pussy – http://clickfrm.com/zDx2
I recently read about a walled plot in SE France with 200 yr old vines and about 15 varietals. The wine produced is by Clovallon and the label is ‘Les Indigenes’. Rosemary George MW mentions in her blog.
Rich, thanks for the heads up.
My guess is that the notoriety has led to the winery offering help by listing the grapes on the back label. I just found a bottle at Astor Wines in NYC and had it shipped out. I was expecting the same kind of search/research everyone here has mentioned, but the back label states “Varietals found in Poliphonia”. It has “only”128 listed, but still…
Found a bottle of this one down here in Australia, it went down quite well. Would love to know (at least some of) the grape varieties that went into it. Any ideas anyone?
Here are a few….ABKHASURA SHARI
Dave. If you email me directly (email@example.com), I can send you the full list. A long Excel file.