Whilst trying to decide what to drink with today’s roast lamb, La Patrona called from the other room (yes, as with every other married couple we only conduct conversations with each other when we are in separate rooms) asking where I was. I replied (never helpful this one) “I’m in here.” “Armenia?” came her reply? And thus due to this misunderstanding, and also the fact that all the Rioja in my cellar is either too young or just enough out of reach, I opted to open my lone bottle of Armenian wine.
My opening pun is not necessarily the strongest but I think you can Agassi what I did there. I will take this opportunity to Cher with you some notes and musings on Armenia and its wine. I’m struggling to come up with puns for Eric Bogosian and Gary Kasparov…although maybe to use the latter name would be too much of a gambit? Hang on…I can work in some chess material here (I cater for many different audiences)
Chess is an ancient game of knights and castles; just as with the mythical Skeikh-Mat, Armenia has a long and rich history, especially where wine production is concerned. It is thought that Armenia may be the very cradle of viticulture and that the vine was first domesticated in the mountainous regions of what is now Armenia. In 2011, a joint project between UCLA and the Armenian Institute of Archaeology & Ethnography uncovered the world’s oldest wine making facility, in the Areni Caves, dating back to 4100BC. This landlocked country is home to petrified remnants of some Vitis Silvestris material that is over 1 million years old. I didn’t know Stephen King was writing stuff that long ago.
Featured in the works of Herodotus and Strabo (I’m hoping you all got the email and did the necessary pre-post assigned reading) today Armenia is home to 17,000 hectares of vines. The production hits 7.5 million litres. To put this in perspective, that is .5% of California’s total production. 70% of plantings are white and it is believed to be home to 500 unique and indigenous varieties. Great…as if us students of the vine didn’t have enough to learn.
Armenia lies at the same latitude as Sicily but grape growing conditions here are somewhat different. It’s elevated and home to some of the highest vineyards in the northern hemisphere. Practically nothing is planted below 600 m.a.s.l. with some vineyards reaching the dizzying heights of 1700 m.a.s.l. Argentina bangs on about altitude all the time and we get excited about that so why not Armenia? Armenia also sits at the junction of the Eurasian and Arabian tectonic plates and thus experiences a lot of seismic activity. The resulting young volcanic soils are perfect for growing vines.
This wine is from Domaine Avetissyan, based in the town of Togh in Artsakh province. I did a stand up gig here once and let me tell you it was a Togh crowd. tumbleweed Artsakh is the 10th province of the ancient Kingdom of Armenia and has long been known as a place for viticulture. Volcanic soils mix with large amounts of clay in the mountainous terrain. The estate was founded in 2009 by Grigor Avetissyan and covers 11 hectares. The hand picked fruit comes from vines with an average age of 20 years. It’s cold macerated before a 20 day warm fermentation and then 12 months ageing in Caucasian oak. The name Kataro originates from a nearby sacred and ancient temple, said to have the ability to grant the wishes of those who write in a special book held there. Like a mystical trip advisor I guess…
It’s 100% Sireni. Don’t be alarmed (oh come on) if you’ve not heard of it, it’s one of those 500 native varieties. Known locally as Khndoghni [Kung-doo-knee], which is also an ancient Klingon dialect, this is full of coffee, bitter chocolate, black and purple fruits and leather. It’s fresh though and the tannins are huge but still well formed. The name of the variety is derived from the Armenian word Khind which means laughter. It’s as if this wine was created specifically for me to use in stand up. It’s an earthy, gritty and structured variety sure to make people think and ultimately bring joy. Actually…nothing at all like my stand up then.
This Sireni is singing (geddit?!) and it is both intriguing and alluring. Unlike the more well known sirens I think this is probably no danger if consumed at sea. Plato suggested there were 3 kind of siren; celestial, generative and cathartic. Writing (even this nonsense) is always cathartic and a glass did make me feel regenerated. By the end of the bottle I will surely be seeing stars…and chess boards