Disclaimer: The Armenian wines reviewed here were samples
Living in Suisun Valley, just a few minutes drive from Napa County has many advantages. However, it does tend to bias the wines we drink. Over 90% of the wines in our collection are from the US, with 80% from California. Thus, we always welcome opportunities to taste outside our usual sources of wine. This was doubly true when we received two bottles of wine from Armenia. For it is a country whose wines I had not previously tasted.
Armenia borders Turkey and Georgia. Whilst geographically it is in Asia, culturally and politically it is closer to Europe. The country has a long wine tradition – probably the longest. Archeologists have found evidence of a winery in Armenia that is about 6100 years old. That is the oldest evidence of wine making yet found.
Both of the wines we tasted hail from the Vayots Dzor region of the country. As can be seen from the map above, this are lies in the Southern half of Armenia.
The first of the two Armenian Wines we tasted was a sparkling wine made in the traditional method. However, the grapes used were anything but traditional: 60% Voskehat and 40% Khatouni. The latter grape is so rare that the application I use to track my wine does not list the grape.
The nose was of freshly baked bread. Taking a sip I encountered a creamy texture with lively bubbles and a taste of bread. There is not much by way of fruit, although there is a tang of green apples. The finish is long with cream and ginger. Keush Origins is a delightful and distinct sparkling sip.
Zulal Wines are a newcomer. Although with a history spanning millennia, I suppose all current wine businesses in Armenia are recent. Founded in 2017 by Aimee Keushguerian, the name comes from the Armenian word for pure. The name reflecting the mission to express the purest characteristics of the country’s native grapes. Zulal make about 10,000 cases a year. For comparison, the two Lodi wineries about which we recently posted, Jeremy Wine Co and Klinker Brick, make 6,000 and 85,000 cases respectively
We tasted the 2018 Areni Reserve. Areni is a thick skinned grape, well suited to growing at altitude under intense sunshine. The grape shares its name with the village in which an excavation found the aforementioned oldest winery. The fruit for this wine was harvested from vines that date back fifty to a hundred years.
The wine was translucent with a purple tinge. The nose was of earthy notes and cherry lightly sprinkled with fresh ground pepper. The first impression was of a bright medium bodied wine. The flavours were earthy, with herbs and mushrooms. These savory elements were balanced by sour cherry. A zing of pepper emerged in the finish. It reminded me of an old-world Pinot Noir; though Areni is clearly a very different grape than thin-skinned Pinot.
This was an exciting wine. Don’t read that adjective to imply the wine was good just because it was different. It was balanced, complex, drinkable, yet clearly different. Recommended.
Buying Armenian Wines in the US
Both of these wines as well as several other Armenian Wines can be purchased through Storica Wines. The Keush Sparkling wine sells for $26. The Zulal Areni Reserve is $33. That is an excellent price for both wines. Storica also sell a non-Reserve Areni for $22.