Armenian Wine: Your Guide to The World’s Oldest Wine Producer
What’s the history of Armenian Wine? What are Armenia’s leading wine-producing regions? Which grape varieties are the most important in Armenia? What are the best Armenian wine brands? Which are the best wine bars in Yerevan? Read on to find out all about the cradle of winemaking.
Armenia tends to be associated with a lot of things, including the Kardashian sisters, chess, Mount Ararat, and more. But another product that this small country located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia should also be associated with is wine. While many countries argue that they are the homeland of winemaking, most point to Armenia as being the winner of this title. Armenians have been making wine over the course of several millennia, which was evidenced when the Areni-1 cave complex was discovered in the Vayots Dzor region. Over the past several years, Armenia has done its best to show tourists and locals that the country has yet another unique gem to offer. Read on to find out all about the cradle of winemaking.
Table of Contents
The History of Armenian Wine: Rituals of Wine Drinking
The Areni-1 Cave Complex
Discovered in 2007, this cave completely revolutionized people’s perspective on winemaking in the region and proved that Armenia might as well be the cradle of winemaking. Dating back over 6,000 years, the cave is located in the Arpa Canyon near Areni, Vayots Dzor. People used to perform ancient winemaking rituals at this cave, and evidence has shown some of the sacrifice rituals that were performed here.
Archaeologists found wine presses, containers for storing and fermenting the wine, and cups and jars that people would drink out of, all of which are over 6,000 years old. This cave has been confirmed to be the oldest winemaking site in the world.
The Kingdom of Van
Wine was also an important feature of the ancient Armenian kingdom of Van from around the 1st millennium BC. This kingdom was the best-known winemaker in the entire region. Historians and Assyrian royals were amazed by the fertile wine fields in Armenia. And unlike many other conquerors of the era, Armenians would simply build vineyards and orchards over the areas that they conquered to establish their authority. Wine was considered to be a bloodless sacrifice to the Armenian gods and bronze pots were used for storage. Evidence has also shown that sulfur dioxide played an important role in Armenian winemaking back in the day.
A winepress was discovered near the site of the Zvartnots Cathedral, located in the Armavir region near Ejmiatsin, which dates back to the 7th century AD. It is estimated that this winepress was capable of storing between 25 and 30 litres of processed grapes. The wine cellar was constructed in such a way that it had the karases (Armenian wine vessels) on their side during the fermentation process and upright when the process was complete. The wine produced was then offered to the Catholicos and members of the Armenian royal family.
Wine During Christian Times
Aside from the fact that Armenia was well-known across the region and beyond during ancient times for its wine, the traditions even carried on when Armenia became a Christian nation until today. The most famous tradition in the Armenian Apostolic Church is celebrated every year on or around August 15th, which is the Feast of St. Mary’s Assumption. This is when grapes are blessed, and traditionally, grapes can only be eaten and wine can only be made after a priest performs this ceremony. The grape harvest is blessed, which is meant to symbolize a fruitful and successful harvest.
The Armenian government nowadays sees that winemaking is a crucial part of the Armenian economy and culture. Over recent years, many companies, wine bars, and more have opened with the intention of promoting Armenian wine across the world.
Armenia’s Leading Wine-Producing Regions
While all of Armenia is well-known for its delectable wines, there are some regions of the country that are more popular than others when it comes to this important tradition.
Vayots Dzor: The Vayots Dzor region in southern Armenia is the birthplace of winemaking. This is where the Areni cave is located, which is where wine was first created. The region is home to many different monuments, varieties of grapes, and interesting winemaking traditions. The Sev Areni grape is among the different types that originate in this region.
Aragatsotn: This region not only has a long history of making wine, but many people have made investments in recent years to expand the winemaking business in the region. It’s close enough to Yerevan that anyone who visits Armenia could easily travel to the region to see all it has to offer.
Ararat: Ararat is the sunniest region of Armenia, which helps to ensure that the sugar levels in grapes are as high as possible. It is also the second-largest region in the country for winemaking and has an extensive winemaking history, dating all the way back to approximately 685 BC.
Armavir: Armavir is, perhaps surprisingly, the largest viticultural region in Armenia. Here, you will be able to find many different types of wine and cognac. New vineyards have popped up in the region in recent years, which have also introduced some international varieties of grapes.
Tavush: During the Soviet era, the Tavush region was heavily used for winemaking. You will be able to find vineyards throughout the region, most particularly in the northern part. The region is covered in lush forests where people cultivate several different varieties of grapes that produce delicious wines.
Artsakh: And finally, Artsakh is another region that is famous for its wines. Having been involved in winemaking since ancient times, it is possible to find many different vineyards here. Artsakh is also home to many types of indigenous grapes and ancient karases (vessels) have been discovered through archaeological excavations.
Most Important Grape Varieties in Armenia
Even though Armenia might not be one of the most well-known countries in the world, it does have many different varieties of grapes that are indigenous to the region. These are used to make the tasty wines that the country is known for. Here are some of the most popular and important varieties in Armenia.
Red Varieties of Armenian Wines
Areni Noir: This is one of the most popular indigenous grapes in Armenia and one of the oldest. You will be able to find it in most parts of Armenia, but most particularly in the Vayots Dzor region. It originates from the Arpa River gorge, where the oldest winery in the world is located.
Kakhet: This grape comes from Urmia, which was a part of Ancient Armenia. The name originates from the tradition of hanging grapes on nets during the winter so they could dry. This grape is most commonly grown in the Ararat region and is sometimes blended with other red grapes to produce tasty wines.
Haghtanak: Haghtanak, meaning ‘victory’ in Armenian, is a popular grape that has a late maturation period. These grapes are rich in colour and are usually used in wines that have the potential for ageing. You will usually find this grape in the Ararat plain.
Karmrahyut: Mostly found in the northern Tavush region, this grape is known for its deep red colour. The name even means ‘red juice’ to denote the intense colour that this grape gives off.
White varieties of Armenian Wines
Voskehat: This variety is dubbed ‘The Queen’ of Armenian grapes. It is possible to find vines in Armenia that are more than 150 years old and the grapes have been cultivated for over 3,500 years. This grape is most commonly found in Armavir, Ashtarak, and Ejmiatsin.
Khatun Karji: This yellow grape is more difficult to find and is mostly grown in the Vayots Dzor region. The grapes tend to be yellow or green, depending on how much sun they have received.
Kangun: Kangun is one of the most popular grapes in Armenia and is grown abundantly. Most people use this grape when they produce cognac and different types of wine.
The Best Armenian Wine Brands
Here is a list of some of the most popular Armenian wine brands that you must try when you visit. Many of the companies listed below have won medals in different wine competitions, including MUNDUS VINI and Decanter World Wine Awards.
The Golden Grape Armas brand is a favourite among tourists because of their progressive team. It was founded in 2007 and produces an estimated 1.5 million litres of wine every year.
Armenia Wine is a famous brand that was established in 2006 and its wines are produced with grapes grown in the Armavir region. Some of this brand’s most popular wines include Takar and Tariri.
This brand was established by a wine expert from Argentina. You can visit the winery any time you’d like in Areni. The brand produces 150,000 bottles of wine every year.
This wine is produced in the Hadrut region of Artsakh and is known for its rich flavour. Having been founded in 2010, it’s estimated that the brand produces 60,000 bottles every year.
Photo credits: kataro.am
Karas is another important brand that started to produce wine in 2010. They often use different types of European grapes in their wines. It is estimated that the brand produces 1.3 million bottles of wine every year.
This brand started to produce wine in 2014 and it is produced exclusively in the Vayots Dzor province. The brand produces an estimated 100,000 bottles of wine yearly.
Credits: Koor Wines
This is a small winery that produces its wines in the Vayots Dzor province. You can visit this wine factory and try some of their exquisite red wine.
Credits: Old Bridge Winery
This company was founded in 2009 and it uses grapes grown in the Vayots Dzor province. Allegedly, even Pope Francis enjoys this company’s wines.
Even though Tushpa was founded in 1992, the owners didn’t have any hope for the brand’s success and stopped making wine for a while. The grapes the brand uses come from the Ararat plain.
This brand was founded by a family from California and uses 5 varieties of grapes in its wines. Having wineries in the Aragatsotn region, the company produces 50,000 bottles every year.
Although the brand was founded back in the 1920s, it was revived in 2008. The wine is produced in the Armavir region and an estimated 50,000 bottles are made every year.
Credits: Voskeni Wines
Voskevaz is one of the oldest wineries in Armenia, having been founded in 1932. They are among the most popular wines in the country. Every year, the brand produces 300,000 bottles.
Credits: Vozkevaz Winery
Although the wines produced by this company might be on the more expensive side, plenty of people think it’s worth it for the taste. The wine is produced in the Vayots Dzor province. The Zorah Karasi wine was rated among the top ten wines in the world in 2012.
The Best Wine Bars in Yerevan
If you’re looking for the opportunity to taste some delicious Armenian wine right in the heart of Yerevan when you come for a visit, there are plenty of wine bars that have been popularized by locals and tourists alike. At these wine bars, you will be able to have an unforgettable experience for an affordable price.
In Vino EVN
In Vino is located on Saryan Street in central Yerevan. You can either dine with your friends or by yourself. It is known as being the first wine bar in Armenia, and you will be able to try over 850 different wines when you come to this bar. You can purchase a bottle for yourself, or you can have a glass while trying cheese, olives, nuts, and meat along with it. The bar also serves desserts from different countries in Europe, as well as Armenia. Prices start at 800 AMD (just under $2).
Wine Republic Yerevan
Wine Republic Yerevan is a romantic wine bar and restaurant that you should definitely check out during a night out. The restaurant is famous for its Mediterranean cuisine that absolutely must be paired with a glass of wine. You also will have the option of trying vegan and vegetarian food with your wine. The staff at the restaurant is knowledgeable about the different wines offered here and you have a large selection to choose from.
Voskevaz Wine Time
This restaurant is also located on Saryan Street in central Yerevan. It offers a combination of different foods and some of the best wine in Armenia. Many of the people who reviewed this restaurant were pleased with the large selection of wine, as well as the desserts, dinners, and other dishes served. You have vegan and vegetarian options here, too.
Enoteca is a wine bar that also offers international cuisine. It is a nice, laid-back place for you to enjoy a glass of wine and some food. Many customers were particularly fond of the pizza and, of course, the delectable wines. The wine bar is located on Sayat Nova Street, very close to the centre.
Armenian Wine Festivals
And finally, if you want to get a better taste of Armenian wine and all it has to offer, then you might just have to visit one of the famous wine festivals.
Areni Wine Festival
This is the most popular wine festival that takes place in Armenia every year. It is celebrated every year in the city of Areni, which is where a cave was found where people produced wine over 6,000 years ago. The festival began in 2009 and takes place in the Vayots Dzor region every year in October. You will be able to taste many different wines and see traditional Armenian art and handmade crafts. It’s recommended that you purchase the ticket worth $5 so you can try an unlimited amount of wine.
Yerevan Wine Days
Yerevan Wine Days is one of the most magical festivals to take place in Armenia. Every year in May, the festival takes place on Saryan Street in Yerevan. Over the course of 2 days, you will have the opportunity to try over 200 different wines that are produced by winemakers in Armenia and Artsakh. There is no cost to enter, but if you want to have more opportunities to try wine, it is recommended that you purchase a ticket, which is just over $12 (6000 AMD).
Artsakh Wine Festival
Every year in the Togh village of Artsakh, you will be able to experience the delights of Artsakh wine. Dozens of wineries participate in the festival, where you will be able to try out dozens of different wines. The festival usually takes place in September and the location is a famous archaeological site in the Hadrut region of Artsakh. Thousands of tourists from many countries visit every year, which shows that it’s a highly popular and loved event.
Learn more about Armenian Festivals and Events in 2020.