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Lab Notes


Grape Spotlight: Areni

September 12, 2023

Karin Rockstad, Spanish translator/English editor, WSET Educator, SWS, FWS, IWS, Albariño Ambassador, Certified Advanced Cava Educator, Sommelier 1


Who's heard of it? Who's tasted it? Come on, raise your hands! Ok, ok, I'll let you off the hook...

This is an ancient black grape variety native to Armenia. The Republic of Georgia and Armenia are considered the birthplace of wine. The grape is named for the town of Areni, where, what is considered the world's oldest winery, was discovered in a cave - dating back to 4100-4000 BCE!

Areni (sometimes called Areni Noir) is the most important red wine grape of the country. It's sometimes blended with other grapes, but in the Vayots Dzor region, they usually make varietal wines with it. This is also a hearty grape, surviving winter cold and the wide temperature shifts because of the high altitude of many vineyards.

What does it taste like? Many have compared it to a cross between Pinot Noir and Sangiovese, or a mash-up of Pinot Noir and Merlot. It has medium tannins, medium to high acidity, and is light- to medium-bodied. Aromas and flavors vary between red and black berries, cherries, black olives, and a bit of spice. If aged in oak, smoky notes come through and the texture can be silky or velvety.

Armenia was under Soviet rule for a long time and bulk wine and brandy were in demand then, but quality is key now. Luckily, there is investment in new equipment, training, and education. However, many traditional methods are still used. If you're familiar with Georgian qvevri, the Armenian have their karasi, which are buried clay amphorae, just like in Georgia. Grapes go in and they're left to do their thing - the wild yeasts start fermenting when they feel like it. This is the ultimate in "no intervention" winemaking.

The Areni that I tasted is a 2018 from Zulal, which means "pure" in Armenian. Aimee Keushguerian founded Zulal in 2017, after working with her father in sparkling wine at Keush. I met Aimee at the 2022 Women in Wine Expo and then again at this year's Expo. She's passionate about Armenia's history, terroir, and indigenous grapes.

In the glass, the wine was bright, nearly blood-red in color with aromas of blackcurrant, anise, black dirt, cherry, red plum, and blackberry. These were fresh and lively. On the palate, the flavors were sour cherry, cranberry, and a touch of black pepper. The tannins were medium, with medium plus acidity, and a light body. Aimee makes this wine in stainless steel so that the aromas and flavors are fresh and pure, as the name suggests.

The delicate Spiegelau glassware was provided by Vessiere Cristaux.

I paired this Areni with a white cheddar/cranberry cheese and some olives. The red and black fruits of the wine went beautifully with the mild cheese and salty olives. I can also see this wine at the table with grilled vegetables, cured meats, and pasta dishes. This wine will be my pick for Thanksgiving too! It will not overwhelm the turkey and will pair well with all the side dishes.

Zulal (and Keush) is available throughout the Twin Cities and online too. You can learn about other Armenian wines and wineries here. This is a fascinating "new" ancient place to discover!

Thank you again to Vessiere Cristaux for the opportunity to try out the Spiegelau "Definition" glasses.



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