Thursday, May 18, 2017

2014 Zorah Karasi Areni Noir: An Armenian Wine

Like the country of Georgia, Armenia has an ancient history of wine making, including the use of large clay vessels for fermentation and maturation. I know little about Armenian wines except what I've recently amassed. I don't recall ever seeing any Armenian wines in local shops, until recently at Streetcar Wines in Jamaica Plain, where I found the 2014 Zorah Winery Karasi Areni Noir (about $30).

The winery was founded by Zorik Gharibian, an Italian-Armenian, with the initial purchase of small plots of land in the Vayots Dzor region, about 1600 meters above sea level. As he wanted to make more traditional wines, Zorik sourced out karasi, clay vessels similar in many respects to the qvevri used by Georgians. The use of these ancient vessels, which extend back thousands of years, has been dying out. Zorik had to seek out used vessels, searching many different villages to find what he desired. He eventually acquired about 30 karasi and restored them all to working order.

Zorik's vineyards are phylloxera-free with sandy soil, rich in limestone, and the grapes vines came from cuttings from abandoned vineyards located at a nearby 13th century monastery. His wines are fermented in concrete vats and then matured in karasi for about a year. They are then lightly filtered and spend another six months in the bottle before release.

This wine is made from the indigenous Areni Noir grape, an ancient varietal that also extends back thousands of years. It is thought to have originated in the village of the same name in the Vayots Dzor  province. Within Armenia, it is used to make a variety of still red wines, rosé and even brandy. Considering the relative isolation of this grape, and its lengthy history, this is a grape that reflects Armenia, which provides a true sense of place.

This is a medium-red colored wine with a pleasing nose of red fruits and spice. On the palate, you truly experience its uniqueness as it presents with a complex and appealing melange of flavors, including red fruits, spice, herbal notes and an underlying earthiness. There is so much going on in the palate and there is also an exotic hint to the wine which will make you question its origins. It wasn't overly tannic, had plenty of acidity as well as more minerality. Delicious and food friendly, I strongly recommend this wine.

And now, I need to learn more about Armenian wines.

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