Laying claim to an 8,000-year-old winemaking heritage (the world’s oldest) and over 500 native grape varietals, the small, ex-Soviet country of Georgia is a surprising destination for oenophiles.

There is certain protocol for receiving wine in a restaurant. First, there’s the wine list ushered forth by a trained sommelier. A bottle is selected and presented for inspection: First the label, then the cork. A taste is poured into polished, varietal-appropriate stemware. Finally, the wine is swirled, sniffed, and sipped.

The first time I encounter wine in Georgia, it’s nothing like this. Sat in Sormoni, a no-frills Soviet-era restaurant outside of the city of Kutaisi, west of the capital Tbilisi, a fat jug of wine is inelegantly plopped down on the plastic tablecloth that’s already crowded with dishes of pastoral fare.

In its glass vessel, the wine’s the color of the sun on a hot day—almost white and thin. There’s no fancy glassware either; it gets sloppily sloshed into stout tumblers that, at most, hold a few ounces at a time.