Now that I have some history with Armenian wines, shall I proselytize? I know it sounds glamorous to say that I have received wine samples, but I feel that it is a heavy burden to do my best to feature these wines. I have participated in some virtual wine tastings, where the people were drinking the wines before the tasting, and I think that is in poor taste. I feel that I have an obligation to give these wines the same consideration and respect, as if they were First Growths. Maybe, I am old-fashioned, but I have to use my own personal code of ethics. Not to mention, that as an Armenian, I want to be able to spread the news about Armenian wines, because most people have not heard of Armenia or that they are pioneers in wine making from ancient times. There will be arguments pro and con, about who was the first, and it may never be settled properly, but I am betting on the Armenians. The first Christian nation in the world, and still a Christian nation surrounded by non-Christians. The history of the Armenians is a long one, and they still perform mass in Old Armenian, as this was the mass that was taught to them by the Apostles. They also unfortunately suffered a cruel fate in the Twentieth Century and the word “genocide” was coined for the barbaric massacre of men, women and children; and unfortunately, Man’s memory can be conveniently short and another genocide was perpetrated against another religious group, and later included others as well.
Armenians love to eat and to share, when I was a kid, the tables always looked like they were going to collapse from all of the weight of the food that was on them, and that was only if just a couple of friends stopped by, otherwise if it was a crowd, one just had to get more tables. I and my Bride decided that Lahmajoon would be the perfect opening dish. For a lack of a better term and easy for everyone to envisage, it is a personal size pizza that is topped with triple ground lamb or beef in a tomato paste, spices and parsley on its own unique dough. I remember my grandmother making these by the hundreds, with barely a couple left for lunch the next day. My family has always been partial to adding red pepper flakes for some extra zing. This appetizer was going to paired with Keush Origins Vayots Dzor NV. Keush LLC is based in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. The wine is from Vayots Dzor, a mountainous region in southeastern Armenia, and one of the oldest documented wine producing regions in the world. Keush Winery is located in Khachik and the vineyards are limestone and volcanic rock. Vahe Keushguerian is an Armenian born in Lebanon and was in the wine business in San Francisco for many years. He then moved to Italy and had a wine business there for over ten years. His first trip to Armenia was in 1997 and he bought land and planted vineyards on original ungrafted vines and finally moved his family there in 2009 and founded the winery in 2011. The grapes are sourced from the village of Khachik and it is the highest elevation of any grapes used in the Northern Hemisphere for Methode Traditionelle sparkling wine. The wine is a blend of sixty percent Voskehat and forty percent Khatouni (Khatoun Kharji). Voskehat an ancient Armenian varietal translates to “golden berry” and is a late ripening grape that requires more time in the sun, and in a mountainous region, it gets that quite easily. Khataoun Kharji another indigenous Armenian varietal translates to “Madam Kharji” and is a yellow green grape that offers alpine flowers, citrus and pineapple. The fruit is hand harvested, aged on the lees for twenty-two months and secondary fermentation is in the bottle. There were four-thousand cases produced. At first, my Bride thought I should have done the pairings different, for this part of the meal, but she agreed, especially after hearing the others enjoy the Lahmajoon with the Keush Origins. The consensus of the group was that the wine had a nice floral nose, and everyone enjoyed the notes of lemon peel, golden apple and pear and a nice decent finish with mineral traces. For a wine that was made with two grape varietals that they had never heard of, or had before, this wine received rave reviews, and we were off to a great start.
Then we had Cheese Boereg, an appetizer that is made with layers of Phyllo dough that is folded over White Brick cheese. I guess depending on the cheese used, this dish could be sweet, but the version I know is savory, and it has been a mainstay ever since I can remember. It is also a hit, with anyone that tries it, and thankfully the Armenian caterer makes the dishes very similar to how my grandmother made the dishes, so unfortunately no one bothers to make these dishes from scratch. This appetizer was paired with Zulal Voskehat Classic Vyots Dzor 2019. The Zulal and Keush wines are imported by Storica Wines who offered the samples for my review. Storica Wines are interested in the growth of Armenian wines, especially with indigenous grapes, some of which have a six-thousand-year history with Armenia and its winemaking. Zulal means pure in Armenian. Zulal Wines was founded by Aimee Keushguerian in 2017 and the fruit is sourced from about forty grape growers in the villages of Aghavnadzor and Rind, as well as the Arpa Valley in Vayots Dzor region. Voskehat is one of the most recognized varietals in Armenia and some of the vines are Pre-Soviet era and definitely pre-phylloxera and the average age of the vines are fifty to one-hundred years of age. What saved this varietal is the demand by the Soviets for brandy and their version of Sherry known as “kherez.” The wine undergoes natural fermentation in Stainless Steel to preserve the acidity of the wine and is bottled directly from the tank, with a production of three-thousand cases. While they were enjoying the savory Cheese Boereg, I was explaining that this was pure Voskehat and this was a winner both in pairing and with drinking. The consensus here was that it had a nice floral nose, with enjoyable salinity (brightness) with notes of apricots and a nice finish of flint, is what they all agreed on.