Eating Georgia – The country not the state

Georgia food tour hosted by Janice Kirkwood and Sue Dempsey

One of the best ways to get to know any country is through its food. The word for a Georgian meal is supra, which is best translated as “feast”. Hospitality in Georgia is generous and food wildly abundant.

Let us take you on a journey to discover the food, wine, culture and history of this remarkable country.

There are breads filled with cheese, beans and meat, chicken with pomegranate, grilled trout and kebabs, and juicy dumplings stuffed with all manner of tasty things. And there is always more. Tart tkemali plum sauce, kharcho stews, spicy adjika pastes, khachapuri, vegetable pkhali, blue fenugreek, marigold – it’s a whole new culinary vocabulary.

Georgia is also one of the world’s oldest wine regions dating back over 8000 years. The tradition fermenting of grape juice in clay vessels, known as qvevris, has made it onto UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. There are said to be over 500 indigenous grape varieties.

Food and wine are the main draws for Georgia, but hardly the only one. The Greater Caucasus are stunning, dotted with picturesque villages and ancient churches. The country was also one of the world’s first to adopt Christianity, in 337 A.D.

And then there’s Tbilisi, a city that has been sacked 27 times but emerged as a distinctively cosmopolitan place with contemporary architecture mixed in with the historic buildings, a rich café culture and a mushrooming wine bar scene.

The late Anthony Bourdain visited Georgia with his Parts Unknown series and had this to say about the food:

“I’m quickly finding that the cuisine here is really good, really complex with sweet-sour notes that are reminiscent of — I don’t know. I just know it feels hauntingly familiar yet utterly new and delicious.”

We start in the capital Tbilisi then venture throughout the country stopping at the markets and vineyards along with a side of history and culture.

We visit a fourth generation qvevri maker as well as several top wineries for tastings and long lunches among the vines. We overnight in Sighnaghi and Tsinandali and spend two nights in the Imeretian town Kutaisi.

Each evening Janice and Sue will take you to a carefully selected restaurant for dinner and lively conversation.

Eating Georgia is a 10 day/9 night tour for 8 guests.


  • Learn to make Georgian specialities at a hands-on cooking class
  • Visit local food markets
  • Take a walking tour through old Tbilisi
  • Visit a traditional qvevri maker
  • Eat khinkali dumplings, khachapuri bread, phkali and Imeretian cheese
  • Wine tastings and lunches at four select vineyards including renowned Iago
  • Dine at John Wurdeman’s Pheasant’s Tears
  • Relax for an afternoon by the pool at The Radisson Collection Hotel in Tsinandali
  • Visit a cheese maker
  • Travel from Tbilisi and overnight in Sighnaghi, Tsinandali and Kutaisi
  • Visit the Stalin museum in his home town of Gori
  • Dine under the stars in courtyard restaurants
  • See beautiful frescoes at Gelati Monastery
  • Listen to Georgian polyphonic singers over dinner


  • Hosts Janice Kirkwood and Sue Dempsey
  • Airport transfers 
  • Transport throughout Georgia in a Mercedes Sprinter
  • 9 nights hotel accommodation
  • 9 breakfasts, 7 lunches and 7 dinners
  • Events, visits and tastings as per itinerary
  • Local Georgian speaking guide


Summer 2020

31 May – 9 June( a second tour will run from 14 – 23 June 2020 subject to numbers)
Summer  2021

30 May – 8 June

13 June – 22 June


From $3895 per person (double occupancy). From $4495 per person (single occupancy).


Janice KirkwoodTel. +64 21 0721797

On the New Zealand Wine and Culinary Route – First Stop: Auckland, Part 1

First Published on Wine Journal Aug 16 2016

For most of the world, New Zealand is very remote and evokes iconographic thoughts of pristine shores and some of the most breathtaking landscapes on earth. Needless to say, tourism is booming, but if you can, set aside the boundless spectacular countryside, the vast mountain ranges and glaciers, the wilderness of unspoiled temperate and sub-tropical native forests, the ruggedly beautiful coastlines and impossibly stunning beaches. Many are discovering the best kept secret of New Zealand and that’s the wealth of enjoyment in wine and culinary tourism.

They say the best way to get to know a country is to eat food with the locals. Putting that in relative perspective, you won’t find Michelin-garnered restaurants or pilgrimages and temples of gastronomy or alters to extravagant wines in New Zealand. But you will find exceptional, wholesome and fresh produce, honest wines that over-deliver in price-quality rapport and an abundance of genuine, down-to-earth hospitality—often in far-flung locations with a spectacular backdrop, yet immersed in simplicity, which is the essence of the 100% Pure New Zealand lifestyle.

Diversity is the key. A remarkably unique diurnal at every level, in as much as the intrepid, adventure-seeking explorer can be trekking in the mountains, and yet within a few hours be lying on a golden-sand beach; so too can the pleasure-seeker be ensconced in some of the most exclusive and luxurious lodges in extraordinarily secluded locations, and yet never be too far from cosmopolitan sanctuary and cafe society. As the eponymous vigneron, Nigel Greening at Felton Road winery in Central Otago puts it, “The mean travel distance in New Zealand to a good cafe latte is very strategic.”

Getting around New Zealand can be equally dynamic, if not exhilarating, and comes in many shapes and forms at every level—both altitude and attitude. Some like to get around by helicopter, others prefer getting off-road on a mountain bike, or both. Many like to walk or trek and have done the length, breadth and peaks of the country, conquering the nine great walks.

Others see much more merit in the scenic window of a motorhome and fly-drive is orthodox, if not logical with Air New Zealand’s extensive domestic network and 22 destinations; or there’s always the Gandalf option and the Middle Earth great eagles of Manwë. You can also go by rail, taking you through an extraordinary range of scenery, and that doesn’t necessarily always involve a train. The New Zealand Rail Trail experience is awesome, as is the Alp2Ocean cycle trail, 301 kilometers from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean!

You can hitchhike, as backpackers and surfies do, and the buses work fine. Or maybe you’re more at home on the sea; with 15,000 kilometers of stunning coastline, sheltered sounds and island-dotted harbors, a sailing holiday is the ultimate New Zealand adventure. Experienced yachties can charter a vessel, or you can opt for a skipper and crew for sailing tours with everything from fully-fledged, ocean-going, maxi yachts and boats that rage in character and speed from restored, historic, square-riggers to the highest technology of New Zealand’s Americas Cup winners.

Whatever your mode or pace, always remember that basic and luxury go hand-in-hand here; sophisticated and unsophisticated coexist with a wonderful symbiotic relationship between the juxtaposition of raw nature and wilderness with the hedonist sybaritic.

Apart from Australia trans-Tasman routes, most international visitors will fly into Auckland, but please, don’t just head straight to Queenstown—even if it is the world’s ultimate adventure capital. There’s no hurry. Stay a few days or even a week, as there’s a plenty to do in the “city of sails” (there are 135,000 yachts and launches registered in Auckland with about one in three households owning a boat!); explore its environs, the Hauraki Gulf, Coromandel Peninsula, Bay of Islands and far north.

First stop and strategic priority, one of New Zealand’s best winery restaurants is a five-minute drive from Auckland airport. As you navigate through the Mangere industrial area, you could easily think you are lost—until you drive through the gates at 18 Montgomerie Road and the oasis of Villa Maria headquarters. The cellar door complex unfolds, the home of Sir George Fistonich, the indefatigable pioneering legend and doyen of the New Zealand wine industry— “From a one-man band to a global brand in just 50 years.”

The vineyard cafe has a perfectly framed view overlooking the Ihumatao Vineyard and a thoroughly idyllic, if not therapeutic disposition to while away the afternoon. While “cafe” serves to underline the informality open daily from 9 a.m., lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with a menu that brilliantly showcases the excellent local produce. Moreover, make sure you take advantage of the extensive wine list. Indeed, there is no better place to try Villa Maria and Vidal single vineyard and reserve wines, limited releases of cellared wines and experimental cuvees and varietals, many available by the glass. Make sure you try the Albariño— invigorating! It’s a popular place, so it’s vital you book in advance.

Still in Mangere and only a 10-minute drive from Villa Maria, it is well worth taking in the Mangere Arts Centre – Ngā Tohu o Uenuku. Indeed, this is a real hidden gem and a “must-do” if you want to explore and embrace local arts, crafts and cultural activities, particularly Māori and Pacifica visual/performing arts. The galleries are well-known for their cutting-edge visual exhibitions of regional and national importance, while the theatre is a multi-purpose space used for a wide range of performances and events. You can find out more about live performances and exhibitions on their Facebook page; the Our Auckland website is also an excellent resource for events.

For travel resources, including information on lodging, helicopter rides, mountain biking, hiking, sailing and getting around with public transportation in New Zealand, visit the 100% New Pure New Zealand website.

Marlborough Rising – Wellingtons other ‘local’ Wine Region

Reflecting on the brilliant and bountiful Wellington on a Plate festival held recently, I had the opportunity of frequenting the pop-up Match Wine Bar, a collaboration of 20 wineries from Martinborough, Gladstone and Masterton offering 40 wines by the glass and a pairing menu of 20 small plates created by legendary Chef, Ruth Pretty. Read More >

Seven go mad in Burgundy…

Nigel Greening, proprietor of Felton Road vineyard in Central Otago, New Zealand, vinous oracle, indefatigable gourmand and a true Wandering Palate gives a most fascinating account of ‘wandering’ in Burgundy. Read More >

Fontodi in Panzano

I’ve said it before, but fell for it again…don’t trust the sat nav. We made our way to the Tuscan hinterland and the charming little village of Panzano in time for dinner. We were due a few hours earlier…as I say; trust the map and one’s own cartography skills. The sun sets late here. You eat at 8.30, while there’s still light, and you’ve had you’re passagiata and built a hunger. Read More >

Another brilliant lunch at Carrick Winery, Bannockburn, Central Otago
I had lunch at Carrick Winery yesterday (Oct 15th) and can report that they are going from strength to strength with new head chef Gwen Harvie (previously Head Chef at Eicharts for many years) and she has clearly raised the bar with the food and menu. I also sense Carrick’s proprietor Steve Green has the place running in top form and the wines and vineyards all on song. Read More >
Butchery, Beef and Street Theatre

Our Wandering Palate correspondent in Shanghai, Michael Knuppel, is ‘wandering’ in Tuscany and encounters the famous Dario Cecchini, a butcher as mad as a meat axe! Butcher – Antica Macelleria Cecchini, PANZANO, CHIANTI, ITALY Read More >

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and On the ‘Middle Earth’ Wine Route

The second instalment of New Zealand director Sir Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Trilogy is set to hit the big screens in December 2013. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug follows the journey of Bilbo Baggins and company as they continue their quest to reclaim Erebor. The diverse landscapes of New Zealand will once again be on show when The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is released. Read More >

Marlborough Pinot Noir Rising

Reflecting on my New Zealand visit earlier in February this year, primarily to attend the Pinot Noir New Zealand Celebration 2013 ( held in sunny Wellington, one of the highlight’s of my trip was visiting the Marlborough region. Read More >

You can ring my Bell Hill

Continuing my account of Pinot Noir New Zealand Celebration 2013 held in Wellington in February and my travels around New Zealand’s vineyard regions. Admittedly I was on a patriotic high from this incredible four-day event but even more so, I felt a strong sense of absolution; that my visit to Bell Hill vineyard in Weka Pass, North Canterbury (South Island) was such an incredible experience it justified the whole trip. Read More >