I had the pleasure of tasting several different Armenian wines the other night at a charity event and two wineries were represented at the tasting with only one wine apiece. During the last forty plus years that I can account for, there has been a dearth of wines from Armenia, recently we have seen some Brandy, but in one evening I had a wonderful chance to try some wines that were under the radar. I am sure that part of the reason is that Armenia since their ill-fated period of independence, found themselves under the heavy oppression of the Communists in the Soviet Union. The Socialist structure was against the concept of any form of capitalism, unless the proper individuals could get more comfortable while those around them maintained their suffering. Thankfully Communism and or Socialism failed even in Russia and all the smaller entities were given their “independence” and left for the wolves. Armenia for the most part has struggled to start life anew and to grasp onto business as a way to make the country great and to prosper. Viniculture is one of the avenues that have seen success, and it is understandable as this is the part of the world where wine making began.
Koor by Highland Cellars was formed in 2014 when a group of Armenian friends, that returned to the homeland from other lands met and climbed Mount Ararat. From this endeavor they decided to stay and join the reviving wine making industry in Armenia and to only use indigenous grapes. The name Koor is an homage to the ancient Armenian riverboats that aided in the commerce of merchants from Armenia to Babylon down the Euphrates River. Koor Wines at the moment offers two red wines, a regular and a reserve and one white wine, and it was the white wine that I tasted. I can only speak for the Highland Cellars “Koor” Vosketehat Vayots Dzor 2017. The grape varietal Vosketehat translates from Classic Armenian as “the golden seed” and has been in the area since history began. The grape is floral with a natural acidity that makes it work well with foods, more savory than sweet. There are four major regions for Armenian wines and Vayots Dzor is one of them. The wine was very interesting with a subtle floral nose and delivered very soft traces of stone fruit, but the terroir of volcanic soil and limestone had the most pronounced impact on the finish. I was listening to several people that thought it was a terrible Chardonnay, but I did try to explain to some that it was not a Chardonnay at all, but so many people see a white wine and think of that grape. I would have it again, at the beginning of a meal, especially with cheese and charcuterie and even Armenian Toorshee, which is usually a mixture of pickles, cabbage, peppers and carrots, as I think the spiciness of the different pickled entities would be a great compliment.
The other wine that I will discuss is the Yacoubian Hobbs Areni Noir Vayots Dzor 2015 that I had actually read about and was glad to see its presence and I was looking forward to trying it. Paul Hobbs of California has been partnered with at least two wineries outside of the United States and here with the Yacoubian family. The partnership began in 2008 and a new vineyard was planted in 2014 near the Areni – 1 Cave, the site of the world’s first commercial winery. The Areni Noir grape is ancient in Armenia, but a fresh newcomer to the international wine community; it is a dark, thick skin grape that is perfectly adapted to the major temperature swings in the high elevation plateau where the grapes grow best. This wine is also from the Vayots Dzor region. The wine was fermented and aged in Stainless Steel and eleven-hundred cases were produced. As I stood in line to get a taste of the wine, the couple in front of me, took one sip, poured the balance of the wine into the spittoon, and immediately rinsed the glass with water, looked at me, and told me not to bother, but I had to try it. They were absolutely right, I could find no redeeming qualities to the wine, and I really would prefer not to say that. The entire wine was off, the nose was non-existent and the wine had nothing worth noting, I could not even find any words to describe what I was tasting. That was a disappointment, but there were still other wines to try, and I don’t stop, just because of one wine.