Armenia is a small wine country but definitely not a new one. Here, in the region around present-day Armenia and Georgia, wine was made for the first time around 8000 years ago. At least, that is what archaeological finds tell us. From here, the art of making wine spread south to Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), to Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and the other countries around the Mediterranean and beyond.
Armenian wines have been totally unknown for most of us until very recently. This is mainly because the country was a Soviet republic between 1922 and 1990. Each of the Soviet republics had its own speciality, and for Armenia, it was brandy production. But now the country’s wines are again being appreciated around the world. The volumes are relatively small, and we are not talking about low-priced wines. The producers are focusing on quality wines with character.
Armenia is sandwiched between Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran. The country has only 3 million inhabitants, but there is a large diaspora of Armenians worldwide. The mighty Caucasus Mountains make their mark on the landscape, and many vineyards are located at high altitudes, 3300-5000 feet above sea level. The climate is continental, with hot and dry summers and winters with temperatures that can drop to 5 degrees F and even lower in some regions.
Armenia has four main wine-growing regions. The most famous is Vayots Dzor in the southern part of the country. This is where one of the world’s oldest wineries was discovered, 6000 years old.
We have recently tasted two red Armenian wines from Vayots Dzor, made from the local grape Areni Noir.
Armenia has plenty of local grapes, which the producers now want to bring forward. One of the most cultivated is Areni Noir, a hardy grape that can withstand chilly nights at high altitudes and periods of drought. It has thick skin, some tannins but can feel quite smooth on the palate, with aromas of red fruit and spices. The winemaker’s decisions play a significant role in the character, not least whether the wine is oak-aged or not.
Trinity Eh Areni noir 2017, Aghavnadzor, Vayots Dzor, Trinity Canyon Vineyards, Armenia
Bright in colour and light in style with high and refreshing acidity and lovely fruit aromas. I like its easy-drinking, refreshing style. The wine has been aged in oak barrels for 18 months, but the oak is well hidden behind the fruit, which is good. This wine benefits from having the fruit aromas as the centrepiece. Trinity Canyon Vineyards was founded in 2009. (~35 USD)
Old Bridge Reserve 2017, Areni Noir, Arpa Valley, Armenia
A balanced wine with complex and well-developed aromas, quite soft but with a fresh acidity that gives structure. Delicious. The property was founded in 1998 by the Khalatyan family. The old bridge is close to the estate, and Marco Polo crossed it in the 13th century. (~35 USD)
History, whether it was 8000 years ago or just 800, is always present in Armenia.
Try these two wines, or any others you can find from Armenia, to discover a new wine country.