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Toasting Tradition in Georgia

Cheese and Toasting

There is a legend that when God was handing out land to the nations of the world, the Georgians were so busy feasting that they lost their place in the queue and there was no land left for them. But when they invited God to join the party, he enjoyed himself so much that he gave them the best bits of land that he had been saving for himself. Enjoying good food and wine is an important element of life in this part of the world and the local people have a wonderful toasting tradition in Georgia.

Toasting tradition in Georgia
Toasting tradition in Georgia
Toasting tradition in Georgia

We visited a number of families, ostensibly to see how they produced wine or made cheese, but everywhere we stopped we were greeted by the most amazing hospitality and generosity. Meals would last several hours and involve large quantities of superb fresh food along with overflowing glasses of wine and chacha (grape vodka). Most houses we visited grew their own grapes and made their own wine. Many had a still.

Toasting tradition in Georgia

Toasting is a tradition in Georgia. You don’t tend to drink at your own pace, but at the behest of a toastmaster (tamada). A merikipe is on hand to make sure that glasses are always full and the wine never seems to stop flowing. Georgians toast their enemies with beer (we had a hilarious enemy-toasting session with our guide one night) – it is wine and chacha that are appropriate for feasting. We didn’t go to a formal grand feast (supra), but had many, many meals at guesthouses and family homes and we followed the toasting tradition each time. Meals are designed to last the evening – they comprise several scrummy dishes laid out on the table. Everyone just helps themselves and offers food to their dining companions. And, of course, every meal included a ubiquitous, delicious and calorie-loaded cheese pie (khachapuri).

Toasting tradition in Georgia
At this feast, both wine (tall glasses) and chacha (small glasses) was offered.

Toasting Tradition in Georgia – Etiquette

At regular intervals throughout the evening the tamada proposes a toast. Everyone adds their wishes and much wine/chacha is consumed. If you are toasted, it’s appropriate to thank everyone for their good wishes and later ask the tamada if it is okay to reciprocate with a toast of your own. One guesthouse supplied us with a jug (probably about 4 bottles worth) of strong homemade red wine made from the Sapaveri grape, which was utterly splendid and eminently drinkable, to accompany the enormous evening meal they had provided.

We ate with the family. Our driver was both tamada and merikipe and led the toasting throughout the evening. (At the end of the day, naturally, when no further driving was required.) On finishing the jug our driver, an excellent merikipe, asked if we wanted more wine. We said we’d join him in a tipple but only if he was partaking, not realising that he would return with another enormous jug. Gulp.

You can toast anything and everything. We were toasted several times as ‘easy guests’ (people who were thoroughly enjoying the trip, didn’t make a fuss, and were always on time) as well as ‘guests that didn’t go to bed at 9pm but were happy to stay up late feasting and enjoying the hospitality of our hosts.’  We reciprocated by toasting our hosts, Georgia, Georgian hospitality, wine, food, cheese pies, family, friends, finding Mr Right (for our guide), young people, old people, men, women, happiness, health, friendship between our countries, anything. We easily knocked back the second jug. Amazingly we weren’t hungover the following morning. Just as well as we were due to visit three different vineyards for wine tasting – hair of the dog and all that. We did rather stagger round the Kakheti region that day.

What we didn’t realise until the last day was that we had been doing the toasting all wrong. We’d been having a sip/swig from the glass per toast which seemed to us to be the best way to regulate the drinking (we’d copied our hosts, who had the same idea). Apparently the toasting tradition in Georgia meant that were supposed to drain the wine/chacha glass each time. Oops!

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  1. You had me at the mention of vodka! ….. and then all that toasting with wine – where was my invite as this is the sort of party I love! This sounds wonderfully bacchanalian but I doubt I could have kept up with the copious amounts without falling off my chair.
    I defo would not have been able to do a tour the next day and take in more wine tasting!
    Love the fun of this article and I’ve now learned how to toast properly in Georgia (when I go there soon, hopefully) i.e. full drain of the glass not a sip ….hic ….

    • Thank you! We so enjoyed our time in Georgia and the toasting was great fun! (The feasting lasts all evening so the drinking pace slower than expected, even though much wine was consumed!) The food and wine were absolutely wonderful throughout our trip, as was the hospitality of our hosts – we are sure you will love it there when you go!

  2. That sounds like a wonderful experience and tradition. I love wine but I think the sheer volume may have done me in.

    • We know you enjoy wine and we loved visiting Georgia to taste the wine as it is made and stored in a very different to methods we know in Europe and the US. We drank some very sweet – and delicious – reds, for example. The great thing about the feasting is that it lasts all evening, so the drinking pace is slower than a restaurant meal.

    • Thank you! It was so much fun and we absolutely loved Georgia – we’d definitely recommend a visit.

    • Thank you so much. It’s a fantastic tradition and we so enjoyed joining our hosts – Georgian hospitality really is just wonderful.

  3. They sure do take their toasting seriously there – I love it! I’ve not been to Georgia yet, but I’m pretty sure Andie has many years ago. Anything I’ve seen or read about it, there is always major mention of the hospitality and generosity of the people there. I’d probably fall off my chair trying to keep up with the toastmaster, but I sure would try! Beautiful photos, and the feast looks amazing!

    • Thank you! You’re so right – the hospitality and generosity of the Georgian people was just wonderful. The dining and feasting was just brilliant and we absolutely had a blast throughout the trip.

  4. You can sometimes learn more about a country through their food and drinking culture than you can any other way. This sounds like it was a lot of fun. Georgia is one of those countries that I, and I think many Americans, know very little about. (I’m actually pretty sure most Americans wouldn’t even know it’s a country…)

    • Thank you. You’re right that you can really understand a country and its people through the eating and drinking culture – and it was so much fun learning! Georgian hospitality was just delightful. I guess that in America many people would immediately think of the state of Georgia?

  5. Haha, I’m not sure I would be able to physically manage the toasting traditions of Georgia (at least not without forgetting about it entirely the next day!). This sounds so fascinating, and I had no idea that this was a thing. Great post!

    • Thank you! We absolutely loved learning about the toasting traditions, even if we were doing them wrong! Georgia was a fantastic place to visit – the feasting was so much fun!

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