Armenia is an interesting country for wine. With its neighbour, Georgia, it is the cradle of vine domestication – this is where it all began, when humans first began cultivating wild vines, selecting the best, and then planting vineyards. From the wild Vitis sylvestris, still present here, the Vitis vinifera varieties grown today have descended (it seems there were two domestication events, one here and one in the Iberian peninsula quite a bit later).
Armenia boasts the most famous archaeological site in the wine world. The Areni-1 Cave is an archaeological site with the oldest winery on earth, dating back 6100 years.
There are 16 000 hectares of vines in the country, and the average elevation of the vineyards is 1000 m. There are five wine regions, and the highest is Vayots Dzor which averages 1500 m. This region has the northern hemisphere’s highest vineyard, at 1800 m, which is used to make sparkling base.
For a period of almost 70 years the Soviet era pushed Armenia to focus on brandy production, to the detriment of table wines. This damaged the wine scene here, but it has recovered, and the varietal mix is still dominated by local varieties.
I tasted through a small range of Armenian wines at the BeWine festival in Kyiv. I’ve also added my recent notes on perhaps Armenia’s best known winery Zorah. This is a country to watch: it has good vineyard sites, indigenous varieties, and a link with history.
Tariri White 2018 Armenia
This has a really nice nutty edge to the grapefruit, pear and spice, with good acidity. A stylish wine with a touch of oak, it’s pure and fine with good texture. 90/100
Zulai Voskehat 2019 Vayots Dzor, Armenia
Zulal is a new winery founded by Aimee Keushguerian in 2017. This is from the Voskehat variety, and it is fruity and pure showing nice texture to the pear and spice palate, with a touch of tropical fruit. Nicely layered, this is pure and distinctive. Ripe but still fresh. 90/100
Takar Kangun 2019 Armenia
Kangun is a local variety that used to be used a lot for brandy. This is vinified in stainless steel and then spends 12 months in French and American oak. Nutty and spicy with grapefruit and a bit of spice. There’s some mandarin-like richness. Good oak integration. A ripe, appealing wine with crystalline citrus fruit on the finish. 89/100
Tus White 2018 Tavush, Armenia
From the north, this is made from the Lalvari grape variety. It’s a more humid region, and the altitude is 400 m. 40 year old vines. Tight, showing nice linear citrus fruit with crisp acidity. Clean and stony with nice precision. A really pure wine. 91/100
Takar Areni 2019 Armenia
Areni is an ancient Armenian red variety. Stainless steel fermented and aged. Stony and slightly cedary with nice bright pure cherry and plum fruit. Very bright and textured with nice purity to the fruit, and a spicy finish. 90/100
Hovaz Areni 2019 Armenia
Fruity, supple and drinkable with black cherry and plum fruit. Rounded, sweet and textural with a supple, sweetly fruited character. This has a lovely sense of harmony. 93/100
Hovaz Areni Reserve 2019 Armenia
This is aged for a year in American oak. Supple and very drinkable with a bit of spicy oak and some vanilla hints. This is stylish, but needs a bit more time to integrate the oak. Very refined, though. 92/100
Zorah Voski 2017 Armenia
This is a blend of local white varieties Voskeat and Garandmale, 1400 m altitude, concrete fermentation and ageing. Nutty and stony with nice texture. Smooth with some richness, showing pear and white peach fruit with some delicacy. Very harmonious. 93/100
Zorah Karasi 2017 Armenia
This is 100% Areni Noir, fermented in concrete and aged for a year in amphora. Very supple with red cherries and raspberries. Nice elegance here with a supple palate. Silky with nice grainy structure. Very stylish. 93/100
Zorah Yeraz 2015 Armenia
This is from 1600 m altitude, made from very old bush vines planted 150 years ago. This is fermented in concrete then aged for two years in amphorae. The wines are then blended in large wooden casks and go back to amphorae for a year. Very fine-grained, nicely structured and elegant with lovely purity and finesse. This has amazing purity and quality: very textured. 95/100
Zorah Heritage Chilar 2019 Armenia
13.5% alcohol. The idea behind Zorah’s heritage series of wines is to showcase a uniquely Armenian variety, and in doing so help save it from extinction. This Chilar is fermented with skins in traditional amphorae (in Armenia these are half in and half out of the ground). It’s a beautifully balanced, textural white wine that’s quite pale in colour (considering the skin contact) with rounded but fresh flavours of pear and white peach, a hint of fennel, a bit of grainy structure and a long, pure, linear citrus finish. This is really fine, and so harmonious. There are no edges here. Such purity, delicacy and depth. It doesn’t have much of tat skin-contact character at all. The wine holds up really well three days after opening, too. 94/100