The Art of Dinner Conversation, Georgian Style

Posted by: WendyLane in: Food/Beverage -

I recently returned from a trip to the Republic of Georgia where I met with the Ministry of Agriculture to discuss marketing Georgian wines in America.  My host on the trip was Paata Tsiskarishvili from Telavi Wine Cellar.   The cellar’s vineyards are nestled in the middle of the vast and quiet Alazani Valley in the Kakheti wine region, with the snow-capped Greater Caucasus Mountains on one side and the Tsiv-Gombori mountain range on the other.  The vineyards were first planted in 1742, and today, Telavi Wine Cellar exports wine to more than 16 countries around the world.

One of the highlights of my trip was visiting this Kakheti wine region with Paata.   As we drove further outside of Tbilisi on our way to Kakheti, the flat landscape gradually changed to rolling plains covered with grass, small walnut trees, spring wildflowers, lilacs, and newborn lambs and calves.

When we reached the small hill town of Signakhi, we met and had lunch with John Wurdeman, a young American artist dedicated to resurrecting many of the traditional Georgian handiwork crafts.  John owns Pheasant’s Tears, a winery solely devoted to making qvevri wines: wines that are fermented and aged in clay vessels.   His winemaker, Gela Patalishvili, writes poetry and is from a family boasting eight generations of winemakers.

During lunch, John taught me about the 10 essential toasts of a Georgian toastmaster (tamada). Leading a form of structured dinner conversation among those gathered, the tamada begins with a toast on one topic, and then others in the group make toasts expanding on the same topic.  Once the entire group has spoken, the tamada moves the discussion on to the next topic.  The topics are major life themes, and the order is always as follows:

1. Glory to God
2. Glory to those with whom you share a roof, such as family, friends, monastic brothers, etc.
3. The purpose of gathering together
4. Parents, ancestors and the blood in your veins
5. Women at the table and women in your life
6. Those who have died and their families
7. New life with children and hope
8. The homeland
9. The grape and wine
10. Beauty
11. Love
12. The Mother of God, the one that gave birth to God.

Sitting in this 300-year-old building in downtown Signakhi, enjoying lunch surrounded by my new friends, I listened to the lively conversation and thought to myself that the art of dinner conversation must certainly have begun in Georgia.

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