Dec 24: An interesting Tasting of Armenian Wines was organised by Reva Singh, of Sommelier India at her residence last Sunday evening, attended by H.E. Armen Martirosyan, Ambassador of Armenia and Gevorg Hakhverdyan, Consul, where 12 wines were presented by Suzanna Mkrtchyan from Armenian Vine and Wine Foundation, with several foods from Armenia presented as condiment, making it an interesting evening with wines as the protagonists , writes Subhash Arora who believes it was a great start that needs further impetus to succeed in entering this market
There are many who believe that wine is what tastes in the glass and nothing beyond. Then there are those to whom it’s the history, geography, sociology, geology and culture of the peoples matters as much. Fortunately, I belong to the latter minority and hence have a soft corner for Georgia and Armenia, the two oldest countries in the world making wine for over 6,000 years. Being under the Russian rule for decades which clipped their wings also makes them underdogs in the current world scenario.
Having visited Georgia a few years ago and tasted Armenian wines at different platforms outside India, it is always exciting to be able to taste wines from these countries. When Reva Singh of Sommelier India invited me for the Tasting last Sunday, December 17, where H.E. Armen Martirosyan, Ambassador of Armenia was coming, I just had to come out of my comfort zone on a lazy Sunday and attend the tasting. It was a pleasant surprise to see again Suzanna (Suzie) Mkrtchyan, an expert from Armenian Vine and Wine Foundation, who I had met earlier this year in Germany at a Tasting of Armenian wines during Mundusvini International Wine Competition.
Referring to Armenia celebrating 25 years of freedom from USSR, the Ambassador narrated an anecdote about his 98-year old grandfather who used to take a shot of vodka every day. He told him in 1991 that till 1920, he used to drink only wine; vodka was unheard of in Armenia. Russians brought the culture of vodka to Armenia, just as they made their satellite country, a source of supply of brandy at the cost of sacrificing the culture and quality of their wines. The red wine industry was practically decimated by the Russians. Then came another blow with the prohibition proclaimed by Gorbachev.
Renaissance of wine
There was a renaissance of Armenian wine industry in 1999- 2000 thanks to the investment by foreigners, including Diaspora in the world and especially with the US, France and Russia bringing in technology and investment. Armenian wines have now become important for exports. As Suzie pointed out, over 40% of the wine production of 7.5 million liters is exported. Brandy is still more important beverage in terms of consumption and exports, though.
Armenia makes about 70% of still wine as red, the balance 30% being white. About 10% are sparkling wines and 3% Rose (all approximations, more or less in the same proportion as in India). There are 6 wine regions but over 80% of the wine is produced in two regions-Ararat Valley and Armavir, said Suzie. While giving a brief synopsis of her country, she said the Armenian Vine and Wine Foundation was a government body formed in June 2016 to promote Armenian wines overseas and was supporting the export efforts.
The 12 wines from different Armenian producers were tasted in the following sequence (names in bold are those of producers):
1. Keush Sparkling –Voskehat Grapes, 12% Alc
2. Karas Sparkling by Tierras de Armenia: Blend of Chardonnay (20%), Colombard (35%), Folle Blanche (35%), Kangun (10%)
3. Getnatoun Voskehat 2015-Dry white wine made from 100% Voskehat grape, 14% Alc
4. Van Ardi Kangun White 2016: Dry, 12.5% Alc, Kangun (70%) Rkatsiteli (30%)
5. Voskevaz Karasi Collection 2015: 100% Voskehat grapes, Alc 13%. Gold Medal winner at Mundusvini 2017
6. Armenian Wine Factory Takar Rose : 100% Areni-surprising it is fermented in oak barrel with short maceration and aged for 3 months in oak –rather unusual for a Rose; the Areni grape does not take well to oak ageing. But the result is spectacular- the wine was very fresh, crisp and yet also complex
7. Gevorkian Ariats Rose 2015 – 100% Areni grapes
8. Anush Kataro
9. ArmAs Reserve by Golden Grape 2013: 100% Karmrahyut, Alc 13.4%, very balanced, elegant
10. Old Bridge Areni 2014: 100% Areni Noir, 13.5% Alc- slightly rough on the edges, tannins need to mellow down
11. Highland Cellars Koor Reserve: Areni (50%), Sireni (50%) Alc 13.5-14%
12. Shirakamut Haghtanak : 100% Haghtanak grape, Alc 12%
I loved both the Rose and a majority of the reds; ArmAs from local grapes was outstanding . One of the Whites was very interesting. At the end, there was also a brandy which I didn't taste but was told it was amazing.
It is not the wine quality, which varied from acceptable to excellent, but the fact that it is the oldest wine producing country, left by the wayside and stung by events of history, and has a different terroir and its own winemaking history and style that gives it an edge over the other producing countries for those like me who care not only for the taste in the bottle but also the trail of that taste, that will drive the export of Armenian wines to India and other countries.
The prices of wines tasted appeared a bit on the higher side for India, thanks especially to the high taxes, and the labelling though sporadically impressive, would need to be modified to meet the FSSAI Standards. However, Suzie said Armenian producers are flexible in their pricing and policies.
The promotion would need to be backed by their government to showcase wines continually for people in India to understand the background, present status and quality of Armenian wines. It is commendable that the Ambassador would spend a Sunday evening for such an optional task. This is a great initiative taken by him and if Armenian wines become popular in India during the next 5-10 years, he could take credit for a practically impossible mission accomplished. But it his bold initiative that has got the ball rolling!
Here’s a toast to Armenia and Armenian wines with ..Cheers! Jai Ho!!