Prince Achille Murat, the nephew of Napoleon I, the emperor of France, and his wife, Salome Dadiani, played an extremely important role in the development of Ojaleshi production. The French noble and the Georgian princess couple radically changed the trend of winemaking in Salkhino and added industrial approach to the already-existing tradition. They brought Ojaleshi vines down from the persimmon trees where they traditionally grew and put them into classical rows, then started producing that nearly forgotten variety of wine, and then, exporting it to France.
The semi-sweet red table wine is made from Ojaleshi grapes and boasts a dark ruby color, with a delicate bouquet and a rich and harmonious taste. However, now the dry Ojaleshi is also produced, which is also a pleasant, medium-bodied, berry-forward wine.
The French traveler Jean Chardin (whose name is related to one of the most popular streets in Tbilisi today, always filled with tourists), after traveling through Georgia in the 17th century, spoke of the wines of Samegrelo with great praise, saying, “The wine of Samegrelo is remarkable, it is strong and sticky, very pleasant to drink, and easy on the stomach.”
Salome Dadiani’s father, Davit Dadiani, wrote in a letter dated 1852, “The first of all wines is Ojaleshi, which comes from the fruit of vines left to grow into the high persimmon trees of Salkhino”.
The French Kartvelologist Marie Brosset (who also deserved a street named after him in Tbilisi downtown), while visiting the Dadianis on Easter of 1848, noted, “Neither in the hall, nor the garden, nor anywhere else have I noticed even a single person who has drowned their mind in wine, and God knows what a sweet nectar Ojaleshi is… it is a little strong to drink, but it is good. I cannot help but compare it to the best Bordeaux, because I know of no other wine to rival it in Georgia, save that of Ateni. On the whole Earth, only Tokaji wine may be better, if any”.
The wine made by the Murats was sold at the local market and also sent to Russia and Europe. The bottle labels of Ojaleshi that were printed and sent to France are kept in the palace of the Dadianis.
In general, the export of Ojaleshi played a large part in deepening Georgian—French economic relationships in the 19th century. The importation of bottle labels started by the Dadianis which later reached a global scale with the Murats was also a major contribution to the economic relationship.
According to the research of Ivane Javakhishvili, the Georgian academic and founder of Tbilisi State University, combined “ja” meaning “tree”, and “oja-leshi”, which means a vine allowed to grow onto a tree.
The birth of this wine variety has not been identified in historical sources, but, judging from its properties and biological indicators, it is one of the oldest Georgian wine varieties.
Ojaleshi wine pairs exceptionally well with traditional Megrelian meat dishes, like fried goat, kuchmachi, kupati, and fried pig with cheese stuffing.
Ojaleshi is one of those honored Georgian wines that can be tried anywhere in Georgia, but the best experience would be to visit the Salkhino wine cellar in Samegrelo, and encounter the splendor of the Dadianis.