According to the Bible’s book of Genesis, Armenia is where Noah’s Ark first rested on land following the Great Flood. More specifically, the Ark found land in the Ararat mountains. Can you guess the first thing Noah did when he set foot on dry land again? He planted vineyards and became drunk on Armenian wine. Or so the story goes! Though, if I had just survived as dire a situation as the Great Flood, I would have likely done the same.
For this week’s Rare Varieties feature, we are exploring Voskehat – the Queen of Armenian grapes. But first, let’s wrap up our mini Armenian wine history lesson continued from the Kangun and Areni Noir posts.
Armenian Wine – The Rest Is History
Noah’s wine adventures are not the only famously documented ancient encounters with Armenian wine. The honored Greek historian, Herodotus, also had his own depiction. Famously, Herodotus wroteThe Histories, which tells of the war between the Greeks & the Persians around 485-425 B.C. Supposedly, his book is the world’s first historical writing. Herodotus also documented boats full of Armens’ wine traveling down the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. These leather-wrapped boats were importing wine from Armenia to meet the great demand in Mesopotamia.
Additionally, a Greek historian, philosopher, and soldier named Xenophon (430 – 354 B.C.) had an Armenian wine experience of his own. He described encounters with many tasteful wines and raisins in Armenian villages when he traveled across the country. Another Greek named Strabo (64 BC – 24 AD) was a geographer, philosopher, and historian. He described Armenia as a bountiful land veiled in vineyards “where exceptional wine is made.”
Wine was so entrenched in Armenian culture that folklore often involved wine or winemaking metaphors. Heaven was referred to as a vineyard, kings were compared to generous vine growers, and saints or martyrs were reimagined as grapes transformed into wine at the press.
Armenian Wine & Religious Tradition
Historically, many pagan rituals in Armenia included wine. This tradition continues in the Christian church where wine serves as a symbol of immortality. In the Armenian Apostolic Church, a wine-centered blessing that began in pagan times continues today. The Ceremony of Grape Blessing occurs on the Sunday closest to August 15th for the Feast of St. Mary’s Assumption. Following Holy Mass, the blessing of the grapes commences both in the vineyards and at church. No grapes can be eaten or harvested to make wine until the ceremony is complete. Furthermore, the blessing brings a bountiful and prosperous harvest.
Ancient Armenian Wine Presses
Finally, our last piece of Armenian wine history takes us near Zvartnots Cathedral. Archeologists discovered a complex of large stone wine presses here. Truly, they were a collection system for press grapes that would capture all of the must and juice from foot treading. Then, this system directed the must into the karasi (Armenian clay winemaking vessels). Each press could hold 4,000 – 5,000 liters, for a total production capacity of 22,000 liters. That’s no small feat for an ancient civilization.
I hope these glimpses of Armenian wine history I’ve shared in these posts will help you grasp the deep origins and expansive kinship available to you in every glass of Armenian wine.
The Variety: Voskehat
Voskehat is an autochthonous Armenian variety whose name translates to “golden berry.” The name refers to the fact that Voskehat is a late ripening variety and spends more time maturing under the sun. Many regions of Armenia cultivate this variety. However, Voskehat is prominent in Ashtarak, Ejmitsin, and Armavir.
Uniquely, Voskehat is an extremely vintage driven variety that achieves a wide range of aromatic profiles depending on the year and growing conditions. For example, 2013 was a very cold year, resulting in more stone fruit flavors, like peach and apricot, in Voskehat wines. The following year, 2014 was quite warm, so Voskehat showed more tropical notes, such as banana, pineapple, and mango. This variety also produces wines that are crisp and expressly aromatic with notes of white fruits, citrus, and wildflowers. Winemakers enjoy working with Voskehat for its array of expressions and are only just beginning to discover the potential of the variety.
KOOR by Highland Cellars
In Armenian, koor or kur translates to “bent.” Remember how Herodotus depicted leather-wrapped boats carrying Armens’ wine? KOOR references how the boat craftsmen would bend the wood to shape the round boats that would carry barrels of wine down the Euphrates and Tigris rivers to Babylon. Check out the KOOR website for an artistic animation of a boat in action and photos the beautiful Armenian landscape.
Like most modern Armenian wineries, Highland Cellars is passionate about preserving local winemaking traditions while promoting the revival of Armenian wine culture. They began producing KOOR at WineWorks, an urban winery in Yerevan that has been a big player in the Armenian wine renaissance happening now. I will cover more on the Armenian wine revival in my next rare varieties blog post.
The Wine: Highland Cellars, KOOR Voskehat 2018
- Beautiful, brilliant pale-yellow color with green reflections
- Medium pronounced and beautifully perfumed aromas of wild white flowers, lemon verbena, a hint of jasmine, juicy pear, white grapefruit, and just a touch of a crisp green note
- There was a symphony of aromas coming from this wine enticing me to take one sip after the next.
- This wine was dry with medium-minus body and refreshing medium acidity. Flavors of juicy pear, pineapple, and white grapefruit unfold on the palate to a lustrous finish.
- A decisively unique wine that exudes elegance both in aromas and on the palate.
A Voskehat with similar characteristics to the KOOR that I shared above would pair fantastically with an herb marinated goat cheese served with crostini. Other delicious potential pairings include a classic niçoise salad made with seared fresh tuna or a white bean and tuna salad with basil vinaigrette. Cod baked in parchment paper with leek and orange couscous, mussels with leeks and parsley steamed in white wine, or pappardelle pasta with crab, snap peas, basil, and lemon zest would also be delicious paired with Voskehat.