We’ve all been there—tasting a new wine for the first time, and exclaiming ‘this is so good!’ Just like that, you’re hooked on that particular varietal. But, how do you know if that particular wine is good? What if you find that it’s just okay? What if you really love it?

Ararat is one of the most popular wine regions in the world, and has an incredibly rich history of viticulture. The region is located in Armenia, and on the western side of the country, near the border with Turkey. The region consists of over 150 different wine producing regions, and is home to over 300 different grape varieties. The climate is hot and dry, which allows the grapes to produce strong, fruity wines that are also quite dry, which is why the region is also known for its red wines.

Armenia has been called the cradle of wine, and the area has long been a wine-making center. The country’s climate is ideal for the grape–it is sunny, dry, and cool, and the grapes grow rapidly in the region’s fertile soil. The country’s proximity to the Persian Gulf, also known as the Mediterranean Sea, means that the climate is moderate year-round. This area of the world has three seasons: spring, summer, and fall.. Read more about oldest wine in the world and let us know what you think.

Armenia’s fast-flowing rivers and high plateaus are framed by the steep Caucasus Mountains, which it shares with Georgia, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. In what is known as the birthplace of wine, ancient civilizations, ancient kingdoms, and a communist state have all existed.

The country’s wine sector is on the mend after a period of highs and lows. Here’s all you need to know about Armenia’s wine revival.

History of the Ancients

Whether or not Noah planted Armenia’s first vineyard after his Ark washed up on Mount Ararat, the country’s wine history is long and storied. The Vayots Dzor area claims to be home to the world’s oldest winery, which was founded 6,100 years ago. The Areni-1 cave complex, discovered in 2007, included indications of large-scale wine manufacturing and probable vine domestication.

Some people believe that wine use dates back much earlier. Patrick McGovern, scientific director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s biomolecular archaeology project for food, fermented drinks, and health, discovered evidence of wine on an 8,000-year-old Stone Age fragment of pottery discovered on a modern-day Georgian site.

9th century wine press at Tatev Monastery, Armenia / GettyTatev Monastery, Armenia, 9th century wine press / Getty

While the precise specifics of ancient winemaking remain romantically hazy, ancient writings verified by historians like as McGovern provide a glimpse of Armenia’s past grandeur. McGovern describes how the Urartian kings, an Iron Age dynasty that dominated the Armenian Highlands in the 8th century B.C., named Armenia “the country of the grapes” in his book Ancient Wine. Armenian wine was also mentioned by the Assyrians and Greeks in different sources.

When the Soviet Red Army invaded Armenia in 1920, the development of Armenian wine came to a stop. The nation was incorporated into the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic two years later. It was renamed Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, or Soviet Armenia, in 1936.

Private business was abolished, and innovation came to a stop. Vineyards handed over fruit for brandy distillation or bulk wine manufacturing when the Soviets transformed wineries into processing facilities.

Vineyards were planted in unsuitable areas to boost output, while others were ignored or abandoned. Wines that were formerly prized by Assyrian kings and exchanged with the Babylonian kingdom have fallen out of favor.

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Armenia achieved its independence in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Young Armenians and those with money started to appreciate the region’s traditional methods and long-standing wine culture. Armenia, in other words, holds the distinction of having the world’s newest and oldest wine industry.

Harvesting grapes in Armenia / AlamyArmenian grape harvesting / Alamy

The Grapes You Should Know

So far, 400 indigenous types have been identified from a stockpile of wild vines grown by early Armenians.

A few growers use foreign grapes, mostly for Russia and other former Soviet countries. According to Ara Sarkissian, head of wine at Storica Wines, an Armenian wine import business headquartered in the United States, this industry will shrink in the future years.

New quality-driven wineries, on the other hand, concentrate on regional varietals. However, committing to Armenia’s heritage grapes is more difficult than just growing them.

“During the Soviet period, a lot was lost, including knowledge about the characteristics of many indigenous kinds that were overlooked at the time,” adds Sarkissian. It takes years of testing to determine qualities like as soil compatibility, sun preference, vineyard aspect, and how much maceration and maturing the grapes can bear, a process that has been going in earnest for the past decade.

“Unlike their neighbor Georgia, where tradition rules everything,” adds Sarkissian, “Armenians are receptive to foreign information and technology.” “As painful as the break with the Soviet past has been in terms of losing tradition, it has also provided a chance for a fundamental reset, which is driving much of the current renaissance.”

Armenians, for example, have demonstrated tolerance with grape names that are difficult to say for foreigners. According to Sarkissian, Khndoghni has been renamed Sireni with almost universal agreement.

Areni Noir creates medium-bodied reds with cherry and strawberry flavors with a hint of black pepper. It is similar to Pinot Noir in terms of freshness, silkiness, and clarity.

Armenia’s trademark white grape is Voskehat. The wine, which translates as “golden berry,” has a light to medium body. Floral and stone fruit scents abound, with herbal and citrus notes thrown in for good measure.

Khndoghni, also known as Sireni, is a red grape native to Artsakh that produces wines with dark fruit notes, rich color, excellent tannins, and the ability to mature.

Important Wine Regions

A historical view of the mountain Ararat from Armenia, monastery Khor Virap and vineyards / GettyA view of Mount Ararat and vineyards from Khor Virap / Getty

Volcanic soils, high-elevation locations, and ancient vines are among Armenia’s viticultural assets. The lack of the phylloxera insect in vineyards allows farmers to sow vines on their own roots rather than graft them.

Varuzhan Mouradian, founder/winemaker of Van Ardi Winery in Ashtarak, just outside of Yerevan, explains, “This implies our grapes have been maintained true to their natural forms.”

“As someone who is accustomed to hearing the term ‘pre-phylloxera’ in discussion, it’s fascinating to hear Armenian winemakers categorize their vineyards as pre- or post-Soviet,” says Chris Poldoian, an American sommelier of Armenian origin who also works as a Storica Wines ambassador.

There are four major wine areas in the United States. The most well-known is Vayots Dzor’s south-central area, a long, narrow plateau renowned for its highest elevation vineyards, some of which reach almost 6,000 feet above sea level. “High elevation in continental Spain and Northern Italy is maybe 2,300 to 2,900 feet,” Poldoian adds.

Aragatsotn is at a lower elevation than Aragatsotn. Ararat, a sunny plateau; Armavir, a hilly territory in the southwest; and Artsakh, on the border with Azerbaijan, where Sireni flourishes, are all worth noting.

“Villages and slopes are being explored within the regions, and winemakers are discovering the peculiarities of particular vineyards,” Sarkissian adds.

Armenian spread of grilled vegetables and fish with melon, red currants, gooseberry and wine / GettyGrilled vegetables and fish with melon, red currants, gooseberry, and wine in an Armenian spread / Getty

The Modern Industrial Revolution

Because Armenian viticulture is the genesis tale of human wine drinking, it’s natural to be attracted to it.

Poldoian, on the other hand, is hesitant to concentrate on Armenian heritage. He’d rather focus on the “great wines being produced right now by smart winemakers.”

Armenians have spearheaded most of the resurgence, combining modern technology with traditional methods like as maturing in clay jars known as karasi.

Winemakers have found export partners thanks to a concerted drive for quality. “Armenia cannot create low-cost wines because it is a landlocked country,” explains Vahe Keushguerian, founder and winemaker for Keush and Zulal. It has to carve out a niche in a more expensive market.”

Zorah is the most well-known winery thus far. After visiting his ancestral country of Armenia in 1998, founder Zorik Gharibian, a prominent businessman in the Italian fashion industry, swung from breaking ground on a winery in Tuscany to Armenia. Zorah’s Areni, which was aged in karasi, fits perfectly into the popular genre of amphorae-aged wines, which serves to bring Armenia into the limelight.

The number of innovative wineries has expanded since Zorah’s inception. Storica imports four of them: Keush, which makes traditional-method sparklers; Zulal, which makes bright Areni; Oshen, which makes barrel-aged wines; and Shofer, which makes rosé. Also exporting to the United States are Hin Areni and ArmAs Estate.

It doesn’t hurt to get some international notice. During a trip to Armenia in 2005, Paul Hobbs, a California winemaker who has expanded his wings to Argentina, the Finger Lakes area of New York, and Europe, acquired a passion for the country.

In 2014, his most recent project, Yacoubian-Hobbs, a collaboration with Viken Yacoubian, broke ground near Areni-1. Its wines, which include a white blend and two Arenis, are available for purchase online, making them more accessible to Americans.

Sommeliers in the United States have taken note.

“Armenian wines are liquid history as the origin of viticulture,” says Kyla Cox, Atlanta-based wine expert and creator of Cork Camp. “Perhaps more than any other winemaking area, these wines convey a feeling of culture and place.” In her events, she often highlights the wines.

Small farmers in distant areas, on the other hand, lack the financial resources, infrastructure, and logistics to take advantage of such excitement. ONEArmenia’s Farm-to-Bottle initiative aimed to bring the customer closer to the farmer. In 2017, Momik Wines used a crowdfunding campaign to help construct the first “WineCube,” a cabin-style tasting facility in Southern Armenia.

Despite many obstacles, the atmosphere in Armenia is upbeat.

“Armenia is a tiny, landlocked country with a weak economy,” Mouradian adds. “What it does have, though, is tenacity, adaptability, and a desire to show the world its world-class wines. Armenian wine has a bright future ahead of it.”

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