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Wine Story: Story of first Armenian Riesling and Alexandrea Winery unique wines

20:23, April 2

Riesling is a type of white wine with a mysterious allure, whose flavor palette ranges from dry to rich-sweet—depending on the terroir and the style of the winemaker. And now that type of wine is produced in Armenia. Alexandrea wine factory is the first in Armenia to start producing Riesling, which is grown in the vineyards of Proshyan village. NEWS.am STYLE spoke with the director of Alexandrea Winery, Grigor Stepanyan, about the wisdom of mixing the first Armenian Riesling, as well as Chardonnay and Voskehat.

Alexandrea Winery was founded by Armenian American philanthropist and businessman Adam Kablanian in 2017. It is interesting that Kablanian has nothing to do with winemaking as such. In the US, his business is concentrated in the Silicon Valley. But Kablanian is a connoisseur of wine, and he has his own vineyard in the US.

MR.KABLANIAN2.jpg (54 KB)

 Founder of Alexandrea Winery Adam Kablanian

According to Stepanyan, the aforesaid wine factory was created to create jobs in Armenia, develop viticulture, give people the opportunity to live in the homeland and produce the best wine from local grapes, which will compete with the best samples of popular and recognized wines not only in Armenia, but also beyond its borders. "In other words, our mission is to help the consumer discover new tastes," he said. For this reason, "foreign" grape varieties adapted to the local climate began to be grown in the vineyards of Alexandrea, thanks to which unique wines, as well as blends with local varieties were obtained.

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For example, the White Cuvée 2021 is a blend of Chardonnay and Voskehat, which won a silver medal at the Decanter World Wine Award 2023. Fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks and French, American and Armenian oak barrels, this wine perfectly balances citrus and green apple flavors from the grapes and smoky chestnut from the oak.

The Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Noir are grown in the Alexandrea vineyards of Proshyan village, while the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Blanc, as well as the Merlot, Cote (Malbec), Shiraz, and Petit Verdot are grown in Nor Yedesia village.

Stepanyan notes that the terroir samples were sent to Spain. "After receiving the answer, we selected the grape varieties and cultivars. Currently, we have three terroirs: in Vayots Dzor [Province], Proshyan, and Nor Yedesia. In Vayots Dzor, we are going to grow Armenian endemic grape varieties. We focused on terroir and climate during the selection of varieties."

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"It was decided to give preference to internationally known varieties, which will be produced in our country under the label ‘Made in Armenia.’ As a result, we have Chardonnay, which is produced in Armenia. There is Riesling; we are the first to produce this wine in Armenia, no one in our country grows this variety and does not produce wine. Trying to find out how the German Riesling differs from the one grown in Armenia, we realized that we managed to get quite a successful wine."

Each bottle of the 2022 High Altitude Alexandria Riesling Limited Edition combines the freshness and minerality that are so characteristic of this variety. On the palate, there are flavors of green apple and lime zest. Stepanyan is sure that the Riesling 2023 will be more interesting. "We haven't bottled it yet, but we have already stopped the fermentation process. It will be a semi-dry Riesling. Usually we get dry wines. Our founder and winemaker from the US is more inclined towards dry wines. But this Riesling turned out to be very original…"

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Stepanyan explained that the selection of grape varieties is also related to the fact that they are more familiar to the foreign consumer. "Now he sees Armenian Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon and compares it with the already familiar flavors. Thus, he discovers for himself the unique flavors of Armenian wine, as, for example, the taste and aroma of the French Chardonnay and the Armenian are, of course, different. The Armenian Chardonnay, being Chardonnay itself, that is, preserving all the taste qualities and aromas characteristic of this type, stands out with its uniqueness."

According to him, the characteristics of the wine are related to the terroir. "The soil, the content of mineral components, the climate, etc., all this matters. After that, the winemaking process begins; it is very important what yeast is used during the fermentation. For example, we use a yeast that no one in Armenia uses. Our winemaker, American Jeff Ritchie, advises us at every phase of the technological process."

"The taste of wine depends also on where the fermentation process takes place: in an oak barrel, or in a tank. If it is a barrel, it is also important which oak it is: local, American or French. At what temperature is the wine aged and for how long? It's all important in terms of the flavor we want to get."

Rieasling 2.jpg (56 KB)

At Alexandrea Winery, wine is aged in three types of barrels. In particular, the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) oak, which has now become a huge deficit for well-known reasons. "The Artsakh oak gives a unique taste to the wine, which is more aggressive, it gives a very bright taste and aroma. Unfortunately, there are no more Artsakh oak barrels. We acquired them at the time and have some in stock. But mostly we import barrels from abroad. It’s about American and French oak barrels.

Wine ages in barrels from 4 months to 1-1.5 years; it depends on what flavors they give to the wine. After that we put it in stainless steel tanks. Everything depends on the objectives as to what [kind of] wine we want to get."

Speaking about mixtures, Stepanyan noted that it is important to preserve the taste and unique characteristics of grape varieties during the mixing process. For example, in the case of White Cuvée, it is important that the blend expresses both the flavor bouquet of Chardonnay and the wonderful floral aroma and flavor of Voskehat. And to achieve this, it is important to determine the proportions of each grape variety.

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In terms of future plans, Stepanyan informed that this year Alexandrea Winery will delight connoisseurs with several types of Chardonnay, including the Reserve. "Armenian Pinot Noir is also in the plans. The first harvest will be this year." In addition, Stepanyan promised an original Areni wine of 2023 vintage, which is unlike any other Areni produced in Armenia. "Usually Areni is a more aggressive, saturated, heavy wine. Ours will be lighter thanks to the appropriate technological processes."

Grigor Stepanyan is sure that the winemaking in Armenia is experiencing such a renaissance that "we can already compete with the world's leading producers." "This is evidenced by participation in international exhibitions and awards received by Armenian winemakers... The number of vineyards is increasing [in Armenia]. They are mostly small wineries that place the emphasis on the quality of wine. So that this trend is not only preserved, but also winemaking continues to develop in Armenia, the support of the state is needed. In order for us to be able to participate in international exhibitions, to raise awareness about Armenian wine, to declare Armenia as a wine-producing country, we need a marketing strategy in that domain at the governmental level."


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