I am SO excited to be featuring Armenian wines this month for my Rare Varieties series. I must admit that Armenia was not high up on my list of countries to explore next. Honestly, Georgia or Greece were both likely contenders. Then, Tushpa Wines out of the Ararat Valley in Armenia reached out to me on Instagram after seeing an episode of Rare Varieties on IGTV. Tushpa suggested that I delve into the wines of Armenia next. My first thought was that I’ve never even seen a bottle of Armenian wine before, let alone tasted one. I knew right then and there that it was time to shine a light on the wines of Armenia.
Next, I placed an order with Cedar Wines, one of the few online retailers in America actually selling Armenian wines. Then, I started doing my research. I discovered the impressive history of wine in this country, one which rivals Georgia. Additionally, I learned of the sheer number of indigenous Armenian varieties and knew that I had made the right choice.
One of the most compelling things about wine is how long it has been made on this earth . The depth of history and connection to other cultures we are able to experience through wine is second to none. Wine has been a dance between man and nature for centuries. In the case of Armenia, that dance has been going on for over 6,000 years.
A Bit About Armenia
I’m going to venture to guess that some of you reading this might not be all too familiar with Armenia. So, let’s talk a bit about the country in general.
Where is Armenia?
Armenia is one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Georgia is located just north of Armenia and is another country that’s been producing wine for millennia, yet has only recently started gaining recognition on the international wine scene. Azerbaijan is east of Armenia while Iran and Naxçvin, an enclave of Azerbaijan, are to the south. Finally, Turkey borders Armenia to the east.
The great Caucasus mountain range is north of Armenia. In the same way, many of the world’s greatest wine regions are amidst mountains or hilly terrain, where microclimates abound. With mountainous terrain, vignerons can manipulate airflow and sun exposure to achieve their goals for the vineyard. I had a feeling that Armenian wines would be special when I learned about the the Caucasus Mountains. And I’m happy to report, I was right.
Actually, the Armenian terrain is extremely mountainous overall. The country’s average elevation is 5,900 feet (1,800 meters) above sea level. There are virtually no lowlands. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, less than one tenth of Armenia sits lower than 3,300 feet (1,006 meters). Notably, the climate varies with changing elevation and ranges from a dry subtropical climate to a dry continental climate up to about 4,600 feet. The climate officially becomes cold above the 6,000 feet threshold.
Armenia has over fifteen different types of soil. Much of the country’s soil is rich in nitrogen and phosphates from volcanic residue. You’ll also find alluvial soils in the plains, rich brown soils at higher elevations, and black chernozem soil in the higher Steppe region. If you read my Rara Neagra post, you might recall that chernozem is a super fertile soil with a high percentage of humus, phosphoric acids, ammonia, and phosphorous. Chernozem also has a high capacity for storing moisture. The Steppe grassland belt, which brings this soil to Armenia, extends all the way east near Hungary, Romania, and Moldova. Everything is connected!
A Glimpse of Armenian History
Various conquerors ruled Armenia throughout history. The Ottomans and the Persians each reigned over the country. Additionally, Russia annexed eastern Armenia while the Ottomans held the western half. The Ottoman occupation lasted from the early 16th century to the late 19th century. From 1894-1896, and even as recently as 1915, the Ottoman government was massacring Armenians and deporting them from their own country. According to Decanter, only 3 million Armenians are actually living in their home country with 7 million displaced throughout the world. Next, Armenia was part of the Soviet Union from 1920 – 1991. The Armenian wine industry suffered under the Soviets, just as we saw in Moldova, as the focus turned to quantity over quality. During this time, Armenian wineries belonged to the government. Vineyards were planted to high-yielding grapes as the Soviets designated the Armenian wine industry for mainly brandy production.
Once the soviet union fell, Armenian producers were able to shift the focus to quality winemaking once again. In recent years, the wine sector has become increasingly unified. Moreover, the government has even recognized the wine industry as crucial to the Armenian economy.
Armenian Wine Inspires
Actually, think of the hardships Armenia has faced (and I have only mentioned a few). Then, imagine being a winemaker who dreams of pursing his passion, only to be stuck making Soviet regimented wine. Then, struggling to diversify and enliven your country’s vineyards again once the Soviet Union fell. Yet still, working to improve Armenia’s reputation on the international wine scene after decades of Soviet production, which was not representative of the country’s potential. Be that as it may, here I am. Sipping on a fabulous Armenian white wine, made from one of many thriving indigenous grapes. Talking about Armenian wine, made perhaps all the more special by that very struggle.
Armenian Wine History: Areni-1 Cave Complex
The history of wine in Armenia runs deep, to say the least. Rather than laying a ton on you at once, I’ve decided to share a piece of the country’s wine history with each Rare Varieties post on Armenia. In this post, we’ll start at the beginning with the Areni-1 Cave Complex.
Located in southern Armenia, this cave is tucked away near Areni Village in Arpa Canyon. In ancient times, pagan Armenians would come here to find the “divine dawn,” a.k.a. perform spiritual rituals. And these ancient rituals involved wine.
Excavations unveiled ancient wine presses, jars, karasi (Armenian clay vessels), cups, charred remnants of grape seeds, and inscriptions of the Araratian kingdom era. By studying the wine karasi and human remains found in the caves, researchers determined that sacrificial rituals were carried out here thousands of years ago. Further research studies carried out at Oxford and California Universities indicated that this cave complex was the oldest and most complete wine production facility in the world – 6,100 years old to be more precise.
The discovery of the Areni-1 Cave Complex proved that some of the world’s first wine production began in Armenia.
Kangun – A White Armenian Variety
The Vine & Wine Foundation of Armenia has a seriously impressive website for a one-stop-shop on everything you would want to know about Armenian wine. Honestly, that was the only place I could really find any decent information on Kangun, this week’s Armenian variety. So, I apologize for not having more info on the actual variety here. Finding good information about the lesser known varieties of the world is always a challenge. But, I am planning to change that once I start my dream import business for the rare wines of the world. Wait and see!
Kangun is one of the most abundant native Armenian grapes. Jancis Robinson says that this is a hybrid grape from a crossing of the Bukholimansky Bely and Rkatsiteli varieties. Kangun mostly produces still and sparkling wines. However, the majority of Kangun yields produce Armenian Cognac. Wines made from Kangun are characterized by light straw-colored hues with aromas and flavors of white fruits, wildflowers, honey, and quince.
Tushpa in the Ararat Valley
“You’ve tasted the Old and New World. Now say hello to Ancient World Wines.”Tushpa
I absolutely love this quote on Tushpa’s website and feel that these words embody the spirit of Armenian winemaking. Tushpa, like so many other Armenian producers, is very proud of their country’s tradition of wine and fully embraces their native grapes. These varieties have older roots than most Old World regions. More recently, they have even produced their own offspring and clones – all completely unique to Armenia. Intrigued in the seemingly untapped potential of Armenia yet, wine lovers?
Tushpa produces wines in the Ararat Valley, one of the oldest winemaking terroirs in the world. The Ararat Valley is the second largest viticultural region in Armenia with 4,713 hectares (11,646 acres) under vine. This is one of Armenia’s sunniest regions with the highest average temperatures, too. Vine growing in the Ararat Valley dates all the way back to 685 – 645 B.C. Now that’s some ancient wine history!
Tushpa was founded by Mihran Manasserian, a man with a wine dream. Mihran studied enology at the Armenian National Agrarian University. During the Soviet era, he produced wines for numerous wineries, but never stopped dreaming of having his own winery one day. Mihran was able to make his dream a reality with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1992, he purchased land and begin building Tushpa from the ground up. Bearing this story in mind, I am so honored to be sharing Tushpa wines today.
Tushpa, Kangun, Ararat Valley 2018
- Brilliant, delicate pale straw yellow color.
- Medium pronounced aromas of honeysuckle and perfumed white flowers like jasmine.
- Notes of apricot, quince, fruity citrus notes of tangerine and Meyer lemon.
- Medium bodied on the palate, dry, with vibrant medium-plus acidity.
- Sweet apricot, quince, and blossom flavors on the palate with a long, luxurious finish where the fruits and florals linger long after each sip.
If you are interested in perfecting your palate, then you should definitely check out my free guide to crushing your next blind tasting. In the guide, I hook you up with a printable wine tasting grid to help you take more useful notes while wine tasting. I also break down helpful tasting terms and share the common characteristics and regional differences of the eighteen noble varieties. With practice, you’ll even be able to recognize the lesser known varieties of the world that I cover in this series.
A wine as elegant and bright as Kangun should be paired with dishes full of fresh flavors. Citrus salad with fennel and avocado. Fresh octopus salad. Greek dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) served with dill packed tzatziki. Braised chicken with lemon and olives. Citrus glazed halibut or roasted sea bass stuffed with fennel, citrus, garlic, and shallots. Herb, goat cheese, and orzo stuffed peppers. Grilled peach salad with basil, burrata, and prosciutto.