Georgia the country (officially the Republic of Georgia) is a rising destination for its mountains, wines, beaches, and rich culture at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. But it has a problem. Everyone confuses it for a certain US state known for its peaches. We’re here to help.
Georgia the country is geographically located in southwest Asia, identifies itself as European, and can be geopolitically considered the Middle East. Which gets confusing. As a shape, it resembles a squashed panini crammed between the Sochi part of Russia and eastern Turkey, with a short coastline on the east edge of the Black Sea. It’s about half the size of Georgia the state with about a third of the population (3.7 million to over 10.5 million).
It uses its own alphabet. Literally nobody else uses the Georgian writing script except the Georgians. Are they being stubborn? Probably. And incidentally, Georgia doesn’t call itself Georgia. Its official name is Sakartvelo. So the easiest way to tell the difference between the Georgias is to call the country Sakartvelo (as Lithuania started doing this year) and let Georgia the state keep its name. Easy.
Both Georgia capitals – Tbilisi and Atlanta – are linked in that they advertise something by nomenclature. Once a flourishing part of the Silk Road, Tbilisi is named for “warm water,” due to all the sulphuric springs in the area. Atlanta got its name in the 1840s from a suggested railroad name, the Atlantica-Pacifica.
Tbilisi’s warm waters doesn’t mean warmer temperatures. It’s about 10 degrees cooler than Atlanta, on average, except in summer when their temperatures almost match. Also, both cities are positioned about as far as one go from their respective coastlines.
Yet Elton John only has a home in Atlanta.
Georgia the state was one of the USA’s biggest wine producers in the 1800s, and was the sixth-largest wine-producing state in the early 1900s. Then Prohibition cast a wet blanket on everything until the 1980s, when Georgia’s homegrown vintners started winning awards on the world’s wine stage.
Still it’s nothing to Georgia the country, which is one of the world’s oldest wine-growing regions. (And, frankly, better to taste.) Wine is part of Georgia’s national identity. The country produces whites and reds from more than 400 grape varieties. As in France, Georgian wines are defined by region, such as the respected Kakheti region in eastern Georgia.
Fun fact: Georgia’s kvevri method of fermenting grapes in underground clay vessels is more than 8,000 years old and has been awarded special Unesco status. Tbilisi’s landmark statue, of Kartlis Deda, is a 66-foot woman made of aluminum holding a cup of wine (and a sword). In other words, don’t cross Kartlis Deda and maybe she’ll offer you wine.
Georgia the state is so fond of toast that its chefs concocted a peach French toast using the state’s famed fruit. But Georgia the country takes toast to far greater heights. No country toasts food and drink and friends the way the country does.
To toast, or dalotsva, literally means to say a prayer. Toasts come at each course of sprawling meals that last hours, often with a set toastmaster, or tamada, giving philosophical, quick-witted, emotional stories with every raising of the goblet.
Or a horn. The most important toasts are followed with a bottoms-up drink of Georgia wine from a horn. This is a little like downing a full can of wine in one gulp. It’s considered best when you do this and still appear sober. Good luck.
Most people have heard Ray Charles singing “Georgia’s On My Mind.” Few have heard Georgia the country’s folk song “Chakrulo,” a stunning polyphonic three-part drinking song depicting preparations for battle.
The song has not just been awarded special Unesco status, it now lives forever in space. It joined 26 others songs from Planet Earth on a golden record that blasted off aboard the Voyager 2 spacecraft just after Star Wars came out in 1977. Hear it now, on Earth.
The notorious Soviet leader Joseph Stalin might be the most famous Georgian (his birthplace in Gori is now a museum), but perhaps the most famous Georgian these days is singer Katie Melua.
Born on the Black Sea Coast, she grew up in the UK and has been a popular pop singer for the past decade. Recently she returned to Stalin’s hometown, but not for Stalin. Instead she came to record with the 23-piece Gori Women’s Choir, and she’s touring with them across Europe this year.
Fun fact: Katie Melua made international headlines in 2014. She was hearing strange noises in her ear. Her doctor later discovered a spider had been living inside of her ear – for more than a week! So, of course, she posted a photo of the spider still in her ear on Instagram, to the horror of just about everybody.