Wine of the Month
Grape Variety: 100% Areni
Production Zone: Vayots Dzor, Armenia
Vinification: grapes are fermented with only indigenous yeast in temperature controlled concrete vats. The interior of the vats is kept rough to allow breathing.
Aging: wine is aged in traditional clay amphorae ‘Karasi’ for twelve months. After a very light filtration wine is moved to bottles and aged an additional six months.
Color: deep ruby red
Founder: Zork Gharibian
August already and we are still trying to get back to normal after the flood. I found joy one day, when my antique cement birdbath was unearthed from the mud; though most of my joyous moments were found via wine. One wine in particular, Zorah’s Karasi Areni Noir actually gave me chills!
When choosing a wine, I always hear the faint voice of my father saying, ‘Never choose a wine based solely on the label.’ Yet, when I was trying to decide which wine to review, this label drew me in; it is sincerely beautiful and once I learned of its inspiration, it became even more incredible. The gorgeous motif, which reminded me of an Art Deco inspired peacock, is actually the letter ‘Z’ from the Armenian alphabet, taken from the fifth century Armenian Illuminated Manuscripts. At that time, manuscripts were written and illustrated by monks and were adorned with colorful fantastical creatures and birds. Below the ‘Z’, are symbols that spell out Karasi (clay pot). These symbols are inspired by Sumeric inscriptions which were found at an archeological site, dating back 3000 years, where they found 480 Karasses buried ¾ in the ground, etched (in Sumeric) with capacity and vintage of the wine. Just think, 3000 years ago, Armenia had commercial wine and the concept of recording vintage year*. I am so intent on telling you about the label because it emphasizes how Gharibian embraced all of the history of Armenian wine, down to the label. It is this sort of commitment that I truly admire and I believe leads to greatness.
Prior to drinking this wine, I merely read the back of the bottle. Can you believe, I have never, ever, tried an Armenian wine? I am going to believe this true of most of you as well, or am I the only philistine? So began my adventure of researching Armenian wine and its history. I found it interesting that while Armenia was under Soviet rule, wine production really slowed down and vodka production increased. After Armenia gained independence from the Soviet Union, in 1991, wine production picked up again and all I can say is, we should thank our lucky stars!
It is believed that wine production in Armenia goes back 6100 years; the Areni grape may be the oldest existing grape in the world. Because Gharibian uses this indigenous grape, with no grafting, only root-based plants, there is very little concern for disease. He took ten years to produce his first marketable wine. He scoured the countryside for Karasses to age the wine as it was originally made. Gharibian’s wine-making style takes traditional old-world practices and unites them with new-world practices, modernized but still mirroring the ‘old way’. The piece de resistance being the aging in the Karasses.
When I opened up this newly discovered treasure, my nose was immersed in wild red fruit, warm unique herbal notes, and an intriguing earthiness. The wine clings to the glass and drips down lovingly, inviting you to take a sip. Upon hitting my tongue, I was immediately greeted with a burst of red and black wild berries encapsulated in that enticing and exotic herbal flavor, with a little bit of white pepper. A hint of earth exists, but different from the earthiness we are all familiar with, and I suspect that is from using the Karasses. Zorah’s Areni Noir feels light in the mouth with very little acidity; it is on the lower end of a full-bodied wine. The tannins meander and creep but are far from overwhelming. Minerality seems to dance around existing until the finish, keeping the sip fresh. Each sip is surprisingly refreshing, riveting, it definitely leaves you wanting more. There is magnificence in the simplicity.
Our neighbors brought us dinner that evening, therefore, I first paired the wine with smoked filet of salmon, potato salad and Brussel sprouts fried with turkey bacon. It was honestly perfect for the moment. The richness of the Brussel sprouts was its best partner. It paired even better with kabobs, stacked with savory rare filet mignon and grilled vegetables. Lots of seasoning and aromatics are key. Karasi Areni Noir would also pair well with a bottle opener and wine glass, food is not a must.
This should be a special occasion wine or an any occasion wine. In lieu of flowers, leave the bottle on the table, as with each look you will discover another intricate detail. For music, Joe Cocker, (someone else who had respect for the old and then added his own personalized touch), raspy and soulful should do you right.
What a special wine; creating many joyous moments, as well as driving me to delve deep into Armenia and the wines they create. If boutique wine production grows even more in Armenia, and if the producers follow the lead of Gharibian and continue with indigenous grapes and old-world practices, I have no doubt that they will surpass the trifecta (France, Italy and California) and stand tall and proud above the masses. This wine is definitely worth the price. It looks like I was able to yet again, fall in love.
*Thank you to Simona at Zorah Wines for supplying me with all of the information regarding the history and inspiration of the label.