ARMENIAN WINE

The land of snow-peaked mountains, fast-flowing rivers and ancient monasteries, Armenia boasts several millennia of winemaking history. Yet the country remains one of the best kept secrets of the world of wine. No wonder that in recent years, interest for Armenian wine in the UK and across the world has only been growing. 

Wine lovers, brace yourself for one of the most thrilling and surprising wine journeys you could ever imagine. The plethora of Armenian indigenous grapes is truly mind blowing. So is the quality of Armenian wine! The best examples resemble some of the finest Old World counterparts. At the same time, Armenian wine remains truly unique and authentic. Volcanic soils, high altitude vineyards and old vines are just some of the things which make Armenian wines standout. In a word, sipping Armenian whites and reds is like discovering a new planet, beautiful and unexplored. Discover fine Armenian wine.

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ARMENIAN WINE HISTORY

Armenia: The Birthplace Of Wine

According to the Bible, Noah planted a vine at the foot of Mount Ararat after the Flood.

Needless to say, Armenians proudly claim that this was the nation’s first vineyard.

While you may or may not take the Bible as a historical document, there is sound evidence that Armenia truly is one of the most ancient winemaking civilisations in the world.

Descent of Noah from Ararat - Painting by I. Aivazovsky
A Phoenician ship carved on a sarcophagus, 2nd Century AD

Wild vines appeared on this land over a million years ago. Later on, sea-fairing civilisations including the Phoenicians and Greeks spread the vines throughout much of Europe. Eventually, the plants adjusted to new soils and climates. As a result, they evolved into the grape varieties which we know today.

Fascinatingly, just as all humans are related, all modern grapes share the same distant ancestors. Furthermore, many of these ancestors are very likely to have come from the territory of modern Armenia and, broader speaking, the whole region of Caucasus.

Areni-1 Cave, world's most ancient winery, Armenia
World's most ancient leather shoe found in Areni-1 cave, Armenia

Areni-1 Cave: World’s Most Ancient Winery

Moreover, about a decade ago, archaeologists made a break-through discovery in the south of Armenia, next to Areni village. In a huge cave they found the world’s most ancient winery. Amazingly, the cave contained a wine press, parts of clay vessels used for winemaking and even the world’ oldest leather shoe. All of these finds date back to 4,100 BC.

Naturally, the scientists examined the traces of wine which they found in the clay jars. It turned out that the wine was made of a local grape, Areni Noir. This grape is still widely grown today, making some the country’s best reds. It also happens to be the most acclaimed Armenian wine in the UK.

A mural on the walls of Persepolis - Armenians bringing a gift of wine and horses to Darius the Great
Close up: mural on the walls of Persepolis - Armenian man with a wine jug - Armenians bringing a gift of wine and horses to Darius the Great

Armenian Wine In The Ancient World

Wine was an important part of Armenian culture as early as several millennia ago. In fact, located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, what is now modern Armenia widely exported its wines. Wine export was a common thing here as early as in the 5th Century BC.

According to Herodotus, merchants transported the wine in leather-covered rafts. These sailed down the river Tigris to the kingdoms of Mesopotamia. Other nations highly valued Armenian wine. Indeed, a famous mural found on the walls of Persepolis shows Armenians bringing a gift of wine and horses to the legendary Persian king, Darius the Great.

An Armenian religious tradition - Blessing of the grapes

In 301 AD Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as the official religion. Thus, wine became an important part of religious traditions. Interestingly, religious beliefs still influence the country’s grape growing and winemaking. For example, no one harvests or eats grapes until the special Ceremony of Grape Blessing. This colourful ceremony usually happens in mid August, on the day of the Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God. The Grape Blessing takes place right after the Divine Liturgy.

Areni Noir - Armenian indigenous grape

Armenian Wine In The 20th Century

Unfortunately, throughout the 20th century Armenian winemaking suffered from a long period of decline. During the Soviet times the government nationalised private wineries, Brandy (a.k.a Armenian cognac) became the state’s priority. At last, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, came the revival. In the last 10-15 years, many Armenians living abroad repatriated to their homeland and started heavily investing into vineyards and winemaking technologies.

Armenian WINEMAKING

Areni Noir wine - one of the most acclaimed Armenian wines in the UK and across the world

Small boutique family-owned wineries have been shaping the face of Armenian wine for the last decade. These wineries champion native grape varieties and terroir-driven wines. At the same time, Armenians are very much open to adopting international winemaking methods and techniques. A handful of enthusiastic winemakers have paved the success of the Armenian wine in the UK and across the world. 

Ancient Armenian karas used to make wine
Ancient karases with traces of Voskehat grapes discovered at Teishebaini fortress (Urartu Kingdom, territory of modern Armenia)

Karas: Armenian Amphora Wines

Karas winemaking is a unique Armenian tradition and a signature trademark of Armenian wine. These big clay amphorae have been used to ferment and age wines for several millennia. The method was almost lost over the 20th Century. Fortunately, in the mid 2000’s a few winemakers have realised that the karas method is part of the unique identity of the Armenian wines. As a result, today, more and more wineries are experimenting with this method.

Traditionally, around two thirds of karas are buried underground, while one third is left above the surface, creating a natural temperature control. Interestingly, exactly the same method was used as early as 3,000 years ago in Urartian Kingdom. Specifically, an ancient Urartian wine cellar in Karmir Blur, Armenia, proves this point. 

Ancient wine karas discovered in Karmir Blur, Kingdom of Urartu (modern Armenia)

The advantages of the karas winemaking lie in the shape, as well as the material of the amphorae. Specifically, clay pores allow some oxygen during the fermentation. This, as well as the egg shape of the karas, has its positive effects on the wine. As a result, the wine obtains a velvety texture and richer, more pronounced flavours. At Wine Origins, we offer a selection of some of the top karas-made Armenian wines in the UK.

Armenian Oak

Another distinctive feature of Armenian wine is the use of Armenian oak, a.k.a. Caucasian oak which can be up to 250 years old. This unique type of wood originates from forests in eastern Armenia as well as in the Artsakh region. Armenian oak is considered more powerful than its French counterpart, as such it requires less contact time with the wine. Additionally, it enriches wine with complex flavours including sweet tones of vanilla, spices and notes of eucalyptus.

Armenian oak barrel used to age wine at Voskevaz winery, Armenia
Ripe Armenian pomegranate used to make a traditional drink - 'pomegranate wine'

Armenian Pomegranate Wine

This is another exciting tradition of the Armenian winemaking. A well-made pomegranate wine has a beautiful red brick colour and pronounced aromas and flavours of juicy pomegranate. A refreshing palate with soft tannins comes hand-in-hand with a subtle, delicate sweetness.

It is a marvellous match for Persian food, as well as other Middle Eastern cuisines. We are proud to offer a truly refined Armenian pomegranate wine in the UK. 

Armenian WINE REGIONS

While Armenia has no formal system of appellations, it has a few distinctive, historically and geographically defined wine regions.

Armenian wine regions map

Vayots Dzor

The most prominent winemaking region is Vayots Dzor, often named “the jewel of Armenian winemaking”. It is home to the world’s most ancient winery: the Areni cave. It is also the birthplace of the country’s most famous grape variety, Areni Noir. Vines grow at altitudes of 1,000-1,800 metres above sea level. The climate here is notoriously dry. Summers are hot and winters are frosty with temperatures sometimes dropping to -30℃. In these rough conditions only the strongest vines survive. As such, Vayots Dzor wines show plenty of character. 

Ararat

Second largest wine region of Armenia is Ararat. This region has grape growing traditions which date back to the 7th Century BC. The vines are planted at altitudes of 800-1,000 metres above sea level. The main grape here is the black variety, Kakhet.

Armavir

Armavir is the largest viticultural region of Armenia and probably the hottest one. Summer temperatures sometimes reach 40℃. It is the land of brandy (a.k.a. Armenian cognac), however some high quality white wines also come from here. Vines grow at altitudes of 900-1,100 metres on volcanic soils. The main grape varieties are white Kangun and black Hakhtanak.

Aragatsotn

The region of Aragatsotn in the western part of Armenia has seen some of the biggest investments into winemaking in recent years. As a result, a few new modern wineries popped up here. This and close proximity to Yerevan, makes Aragatsotn an attractive destination for wine lovers. Vineyards are planted at altitudes of 1,100-1,400 metres. Volcanic lava makes up for a big part of soils. White Kangun, black Areni Noir and white Voskehat are the main grapes here.

Armenian GRAPES

Armenian wines in the making: high altitude vineyards

Out of 400 Armenian indigenous grapes, nowadays over 30 varieties are actively used in winemaking. We offer a range of Armenian wine in the UK with a strong focus on some of the most acclaimed indigenous grapes. 

Areni Noir

Areni Noir is undoubtedly the king of Armenian red wines. It makes elegant wines with a silky texture and is often nicknamed the “Armenian Pinot Noir”… read more

Voskehat

If Areni is the king of Armenian grapes, Voshehat is definitely the queen. This white variety makes stunning full-bodied wines with a creamy texture and an array of fruit and pastry flavours… read more

Kakhet (Milagh)

This authentic black grape variety is responsible for structure and flavour in many of the best Armenian red blends. It also makes outstanding Port-style sweet fortified wines… read more

Kangun

Kangun makes white wines with enchanting aromas of fruit and flowers and is also the key grape used for Armenian brandy… read more

Haghtanak

Haghtanak is the Armenian big bold red with a tremendous ageing potential. These wines show ripe tannins, robust structure and rich flavours of blackberry, blackcurrant and plumread more

Muscat Vardabuyr

A rare Armenian Muscat which comes in both sweet and dry styles. The wines are known for their striking aromas of tea rose petals, candied fruit and honey.… read more