In my post on Kangun, the first Armenian variety I featured for my rare varieties series, I told you about the discovery of the Areni-1 cave complex. These ancient 6,100-year-old caves are home to the oldest and most complete wine production facility in the world. Moreover, the Areni cave findings highlight Armenia as the birthplace of winemaking alongside Georgia.
Armenian Wine History Continued
Well, if that wasn’t quite enough evidence of Armenia’s profound wine history, just wait. There’s more. The Kingdom of Van, also known as the Araratian Kingdom, was the leader in winemaking & viticulture in Western Asia in the beginning of the first millennium B.C. When ancient Armenian kings conquered new lands, rather than destroying old cities or building new ones, they would plant vineyards and construct channels instead. Thus, bringing heightened prosperity to the land via viticulture.
Additionally, ancient Armenian kings would make sacrificial rites for abundance in the vineyards at the temple of Khaldi, their head diety. These rites would occur alongside the lifecycle of the vine – at flowering, during the growing season, and at harvest. Excavations of cellars dating back to the Kingdom of Van unveiled sulfur dioxide residue alongside unearthed clay winemaking vessels. These findings indicate that Armenians could have been using an advanced winemaking technique, preserving wine with SO2, as we do today.
In the 1940s, an exceptional archaeological finding at the Teishibani Fortress uncovered evidence proving that viticulture was a vital part of this civilization’s agriculture. Dated as far back as 786 – 735 B.C., the fortress was a 150-room underground complex. Excavations from 1949 – 1955 unearthed over 400 karasi (clay winemaking vessels). The second floor of the fortress held 150 more vessels. Researchers estimated that in order to produce enough wine for these vessels, this civilization likely cultivated 300 hectares of vineyards. That’s a significant production for winemaking in an ancient civilization.
The Variety: Sev Areni or Areni Noir
Areni Noir is one of Armenia’s most cherished varieties. Also called Sev Areni within Armenia, this native variety grows throughout all of Armenia’s wine regions. However, Areni Noir is most prevalent in the Vayot Dzor region in southeastern Armenia. Does the name sound familiar? That’s because the village of Areni, where the historic Areni-1 cave complex is located, sits within the Vayot Dzor region. Certain Areni Noir vines in this region are older than 120-years-old.
Thick-skinned, large berries, and more compact clusters are characteristic of this variety. Areni Noir is resistant to disease and adapted to the extreme growing conditions of Vayots Dzor. The variety is quite vineyard hardy and yet graceful in the glass. Young wines made from Sev Areni are often deep in color and very fresh with bright acidity. Wines from this variety often aged in Caucasian oak, which comes from the nearby Caucasus mountain ranges. Oak aging provides a more velvety, enriched texture while developing more blackberry, cherry, and perhaps black olive notes in the wine.
The Region: Vayots Dzor
Due to its vicinity to Areni-1, Vayots Dzor is considered the jewel of Armenian winemaking. In addition to Sev Areni, the region is also known for producing Voskehat, Tozot, and Khatoun Kharji. If you recall from the last blog post on Armenia, the country’s terrain is extremely mountainous and hilly. Vineyards of Vayots Dzor are planted between 1,000 – 1,700 meters above sea level. Offering mostly light brown soils and a lot of sunny days, the region sees 319mm average rainfall per year. Vyaots Dzor has 1,200 hectares planted to vineyards between its two sub-regions, Areni and Aghavnadzor.
Areni sits at around 950 – 1200m up, compared to Aghavnadzor’s elevation at 1,000 – 1,650m above sea level. Aghavnadzor boasts the largest production of Areni Noir at 400 hectares of vineyards and is home to Trinity Canyon Vineyards’ Areni Noir. This sub-region has volcanic soils with some sand and gravel, along with a continental climate and an average of 250 days of sunshine per year.
Trinity Canyon Vineyards
In 2009, three wine aficionados dreamed of making wine in their country’s most historic region. With the help of consulting winemakers and viticulturists, they established a winery and vineyards founded on passion in Vayots Dzor.
Trinity Canyon Vineyards, Areni Noir, 2017
This wine is made from 100% Areni Noir grapes. After the grapes were destemmed and crushed, 15% of the juice was bled off prior to fermentation. Later, there was an extended post-fermentation maceration. Both techniques typically increase color and flavor in the wine. The latter technique is enhances phenolic compound extraction. The wine aged for 18 months in Caucasian oak barrels.
- Beautiful bright ruby color, medium-minus intensity
- Medium pronounced aromas of brambly blackberry, stewed cherries, earthy spiciness, black pepper, cocoa powder, vanilla, caramel
- Medium bodied, medium acidity, medium tannin, definitely dry – astringency present
- There were concentrated black fruit flavors on the palate with a medium length finish where the dusty cocoa and earthy flavors linger on the palate