As we discovered in previous posts on Armenian varieties Kangun, Areni Noir, and Voskehat, the depth of Armenian wine history is expansive. Yet this vast wine culture was on the brink of extinction under the Soviet Union. Thankfully, when the Soviet Union fell, Armenians began to embrace their rich wine heritage once again. Let’s take a look at the current state of the Armenian wine industry before exploring Haghtanak, this week’s rare varieties feature.
Today, there is an incredible renaissance underway in the Armenian wine industry. A new generation of winemakers and wine lovers are reviving the country’s ancient tradition in wine. In more recent years, Armenian wine producers have formed an increasingly united front to push Armenian wines onto the world stage. Now, amongst some of the world’s oldest wine producing regions, Armenian wine is gaining traction with sommeliers and wine consumers the world over. A growing number of wine consumers are seeking to diversify their cellars. While savvy wine consumers are after value driven wines made from unique varieties.
The Revival of the Armenian Wine Industry
After the fall of the Soviet Union, many vineyards were once again planted with indigenous varieties. Armenian producers returned to focusing on quality rather than quantity while using native varieties to spearhead the industry’s revival. Thus, allowing Armenia to claim a space in the wine world uniquely its own.
Notably, collaborations with famous “flying winemakers” illustrate Armenia’s ability to become a major player in the modern wine industry. These international winemakers have recognized Armenia’s potential. Highly sought-after Michel Rolland consults for Karas Wines in Armavir. Paul Hobbs, of his namesake winery in Sebastopol, CA, partners with the Yacoubian family in Yacoubian-Hobbs in Vayots Dzor. While Italy’s famed enologist, Alberto Antonini, consults for Zorah. When Zorah’s founder Zorik Gharibian first took the enologist out to a potential vineyard site, Antonini even proclaimed, “It would be impossible not to make great wine from this site.”
Armenians are embracing their rich viticultural history like never before, as new wineries and wine bars continue to open around the country. Additionally, two respected Armenian wine professionals are completing a micro-vinification project to better understand their indigenous varieties. Irina Ghaplanyan of Vineyards of Armenia and Vahe Keushguerian, winemaker and owner of Semina Consulting, are organizing the project. The micro-vinification involves producing wines from very small batches of individual native varieties to study the different flavor and structural profiles each variety is capable of expressing. Compellingly, they have found that a single grape variety can produce an immense number of diverse flavor profiles.
In short, we have a lot to look forward to coming from the Armenian wine industry.
The Variety: Haghtanak
Haghtanak is a native Armenian variety that belongs to a second group of rare grapes. The juice and pulp of this variety are red, which makes Haghtanak a teinturier grape. Alicante Bouchet, Chambourcin, and Saperavi are also teinturier varieties. In light of Armenia’s proximity to Georgia and this shared characteristic, I had a feeling that Haghtanak might be related to Saperavi. And I was right! Haghtanak is likely a Soviet era crossing of Saperavi and other Armenian varieties.
Primarily planted in the Ararat Valley, Haghtanak means victory in Armenian. This is a late-ripening variety capable of achieving high sugar content. Haghtanak is often used in blends due to its rich color. Though this variety also produces high-quality, age worthy single varietal wines. Characteristically, Haghtanak offers a rich tannin structure and notes of dark black fruits, like black cherry, blackberry, and black currant. Wines are typically aged in Caucasian oak, which contributes aromas of vanilla and clove. Haghtanak can also express aromas of coffee, cocoa, and pepper.
Located in the Ararat Valley, Tushpa produces wines solely from indigenous Armenian varieties. Winemaker Mihran Manasserian made wine under the Soviets for years. Now, Mihran is able to express who he is as a winemaker while showcasing the spirit of Armenian terroir. Tushpa is most definitely taking part in the Armenian wine revival. Mihran is helping to claim Armenia’s territory in the wine world by producing expressive, elegant, high-quality wines. For more on Tushpa, check out my post on Kangun.
Tushpa, Haghtanak Reserve 2014
- Grown in the Ararat Valley, Tushpa’s Haghtanak Reserve 2014 was aged for 14 months in Caucasian oak barrels.
- This wine has a stunning, deep crimson red color.
- The intensely perfumed bouquet exudes aromas of black cherry, blackcurrant, clove, vanilla, tobacco and even a slight floral note.
- I can detect the oak influence on the nose, though it is elegant and very well-integrated.
- On the palate, this Haghtanak wine has medium-plus body, medium-plus acidity, and medium-plus tannin.
- Juicy black fruit flavors show up on the palate first, followed by flavors of vanilla and clove.
- This wine offers a luxurious mouthfeel with an elegant, persistent finish.
Haghtanak is an ideal pairing for braised lamb shanks with potatoes and artichokes. Roasted eggplant with toasted pine nuts, parsley, and tahini sauce is another tasty dish to try with Haghtanak. Dolmades served with tzatziki, oven roasted herby harissa chicken, or chicken shawarma and turmeric rice bowls are also great pairing options.