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Wine story: JancisRobinson.com chief editor speaks about her wine adventure in Armenia (exclusive)

18:47, April 27

Tamlyn Currin, an accomplished wine journalist and editor-in-chief of the influential online magazine JancisRobinson.com, went on an exciting wine adventure to Armenia last year. Tasting dozens of Armenian wines, Tamlyn began a real study of their character, capturing her impressions in more than a hundred fascinating notes. But the most exciting thing about this journey is not only the taste of the wines and their aromas, but also the multifaceted story about the living heritage of Armenian winemaking. Her vivid reporting on the unique aspects of Armenian wine culture was so impressive that it was shortlisted for the prestigious Fortnum & Mason Food and Drink Awards Drinks Writer of the Year.

Tamlyn spoke in more detail about her impressions, wines, and winemakers of Armenia in an exclusive interview with NEWS.am STYLE.

Unique characteristics of Armenian wines and their taste characteristics

As with wines from any region of the world, the taste depends not only on where the wine comes from and what its variety is, but also on how the vines are treated in the vineyard, when they are harvested, how they are handled in the winery, whether they are fermented local yeast or commercially selected yeast, in what containers they are fermented and how they are aged. The taste also depends on the taster! For example, I find pomegranate notes in many red wines, but I'm very familiar with pomegranate because I eat it quite often. Those who don't eat it much will be closer to berry notes, such as rosehip, hawthorn or cherry.

The standout Armenian wines that I tried were those that, firstly, were obtained from mountain vineyards on rocky soils, grown with minimal use of chemicals, and, secondly, were produced in a winery with very light processing (spontaneous fermentation , very little or no new oak, not too much cold fermentation for whites and very, very gentle maceration for reds).

When Armenian wines are allowed to fully express themselves, they create a sensation of tingling in the spine, an electric current of energy and freshness that feels like a cold wind blowing from the high rocky mountains. There's a mineral purity that I usually only find in wines made from volcanic soils. Red wines have tannins that feel like the border between earth and sky, while white wines have a purity and richness reminiscent of a summer sunrise. These are wines that you feel with your whole body even before you begin to distinguish their taste.

The most common misconceptions about Armenian wines

The biggest problem is that very few people even know that wine is produced in Armenia. When I talk about Armenian wines, I often hear something like:

“Where is Armenia?”

“Do they make wine in Armenia?”

“I thought they made brandy in Armenia.”

The second problem is that when people find out that wine is produced in Armenia, they assume that it will be “rustic” and either sweet, or very alcoholic and heavy, or over-aged (these are winemaking mistakes that many immature wines make wine regions, and features characteristic of the mainstream wine industry) are all now associated with the wine regions of the former Soviet Union.

Armenian producers whose wine styles reflect the world's modern understanding of wines that taste "local" rather than rugged winemaking make these wines worth exploring. These wines are unique due to their rare and exciting indigenous varieties, their ultra-high altitude vineyards, the extreme climate in which they grow, their finesse, grace and incredible energy. Wine lovers should try them because they are unique and delicious:

- Made from some of the oldest and rarest indigenous grape varieties in the world.

- They are obtained from ungrafted vines.

- Many of them are produced from very old vines, some even more than a hundred years old

- They are grown on some of the highest vineyards in the world.

- The terroir is completely unique.

- They are fresh and full-bodied, with very clean fruit flavors and strong minerality, even though they are rich and ripe, thanks to the high altitude, long hot summers, plenty of bright sunshine and wide diurnal range.

- Some of them are made using the Karas method (which is very different from Georgian Qvevri wines).

- Armenians have an ancient heritage, but a very modern, innovative approach.

Of course, it is surprising that Armenia has one of the world's oldest winemaking histories, as well as a rich cultural heritage, but it is important for Armenians not to dwell on the past. A long history of winemaking does not guarantee great wine today. Armenian wine producers should not rely on the past to tell and carry their story - all that matters is how their wines taste today and now, in the glass that a person is holding in their hands right at this moment.

Armenian winemakers' approach to wine production

The Armenian winemakers I met have very diverse approaches to wine production. I saw different philosophies and schools of thought in action, from old-fashioned and industrial to cutting-edge and technological. Some producers are experimenting with a wide range of technologies, others are modernizing traditional technologies, such as Karas wines. I see in them a lot of innovation, curiosity, open-mindedness, a willingness to learn, experiment and make mistakes, and a real hunger to move forward.

Terroir of Armenia

The Armenian terroir is unlike any other in the world. This is truly a terroir woven from stone and sky. Very few wine regions in the world can rival its altitude, which gives Armenian wines its superb minerality and freshness. The complexity and diversity of soils, ranging from the fertile Ararat plateau to the rocky, arid areas of Vayots Dzor [Province], create unique conditions for the development of winemaking. Here you can find a wide range of wines, ranging from bright and fruity to refined and austere flavor profiles. There is a huge variety of wines in Armenia, but all of them are somehow connected with stone and sky.

Advice to Armenian winemakers to further improve the quality and identity of their wines on the world stage

My first advice to Armenian winemakers is to take care of your existing vineyards - learn as many secrets as you can about pruning and caring for old vineyards. Contact organizations such as the Old Vine Conference, the South African Old Vine Project, the Catena Institute, etc. to share information and network with people who know a lot about preserving old vineyards. Also work with geneticists from universities around the world to learn as much as possible about the autochthonous varieties and old vine DNA material that exists in Armenia. This is an invaluable heritage and treasure that Armenia possesses. It deserves huge investment.

Secondly, I would ask Armenian winemakers not to grow “international” varieties. The world is replete with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, etc. Countries have long been producing exceptionally high-quality wines from these varieties. There's nothing new about them, and we have plenty of them at every price. We don't need any more. Please choose varieties that grow in Armenia, are unique and interesting.

Next, I would like to appeal to Armenian winemakers for cleaner and more natural production practices, focusing on the expression of terroir and grape varieties. Avoid overly technical approaches! Do not use commercial yeast, which may give your wine the conventional taste found on the world's wine shelves. Don't mix your varieties with international grape varieties in an effort to "improve" your wine. Try to minimize the use of oak, especially young oak. Avoid adding enzymes, oak chips, acidity, capitalization and, above all, excessive extraction of substances from the grapes. Wine lovers value above all its purity, freshness, individuality, sophistication, versatility for pairing with food and richness that energizes the appetite.

Finally, Armenian winemakers have the most beautiful stories to tell. These are stories that intertwine culture, history, courage, generosity, food, architecture, art, community, music and family. They must tell their stories. Visit Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook. Create websites, update them and bring your wines from Armenia to share with other storytellers so we can spread the word.

 

Liana Aghajanyan

 


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