It’s nice to have some good news from Armenia, where last year’s harvest took place against a backdrop of war.

We have to be grateful that no harm came to our friends there, even if the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan wrought pain and destruction and its outcome was ultimately unfavourable to them.

One of the uplifting developments is the increasing involvement at Zorah of Zorik Gharibian’s son, Oshin. He’s loving getting stuck in, up in the mountain vineyards and down in the cellar. He’s also this year passed his WSET Level 3 with distinction and is now getting ready to do his Masters in Italy on vineyard management and organic/biodynamic farming. Exciting times to come!

And on top of that we have the fruits of another vintage arriving in Australia. The new edition of the Zorah’s Karasì Areni Noir is from 2019. A mild winter with a lot of snow was followed by an early start to the season at the beginning of March. Spring was unusually cool with a lot of rain, but then July turned on the warmth. There was no rain during the summer months, and August and September were unusually cool, especially during the evenings. Harvest kicked off in mid-October, when Zorik and the team selected only the very best bunches for this wine.

This latest arrival is offered alongside the Voskì white blend from 2018, and a tiny (12 bottles!) parcel of the sensational Yeraz bottling of Areni Noir from 2016.

2018 Zorah Voskì (Voskeat/Garandmak) $64

Ancient indigenous varieties, archaeological evidence suggests that both Voskèat and Garandmak have been present in Armenia for millennia. Voskèat translates as “golden seed” and is considered queen of Armenia’s grapes. It’s a delicate, gold-coloured grape with small, compact, relatively thin-skinned berries and bunches in the shape of a cross. Garandmak means “fat tail” and is one of the most popular grapes. It’s a much hardier variety, greenish yellow in colour, with larger, thicker-skinned berries and compact bunches.

Although both varieties are present throughout Armenia’s territory, the exceptional terroir of Vayots Dzor – with its high-altitude, low-vigour, phylloxera-free, rocky, sandy soils coupled with wide diurnal temperature range – yields distinctively balanced fruit. The grapes for Voskì are sourced from old vineyards at altitudes of 1400m from vines grown on original, ungrafted roots.

Fermentation with indigenous yeasts occurs in large, temperature-controlled concrete vats which are left rough deliberately to favour micro-oxygenation. Ageing then continues in concrete vats for eleven months with a further six months in bottle. Concrete is preferred to stainless steel as it allows the wine to breath over the maturation period. – Zorik Gharibian

2019 Zorah ‘Karasì’ Areni Noir $64

Possibly one of the oldest grape varieties in the world Areni has been present in Armenia for millennia. Never grafted and on its own roots, it is 100% indigenous to this land and with a unique DNA profile that does not match any other. Extremely resistant to disease and with a very thick skin, Areni Noir has developed the unique capacity to adapt perfectly to the extreme climate of Vayotz Dzor, its natural habitat. The pinnacle of high-altitude viniculture, Zorah’s vineyards are at 1400m above sea level. This is a phylloxera-free terroir with low-vigour, sub-alkaline, sandy soil rich in limestone and large stones.

In 2019 a mild winter, with a lot of snow, was followed by an early start to the season at the beginning of March. Spring was unusually cool with a lot of rain. July was warm but August and September were unusually cool, especially during the evenings. There was no rain during the summer months. Harvest began mid-October. The fruit was, as always, picked by hand with only the very best bunches selected for harvest.

Fermentation took place in rough, temperature-controlled concrete tanks using only natural yeast. Maturation in large local amphorae, known as “karasì”, buried three-quarters in the ground as per ancient local traditions, for around 12 months. The wine then has a further six months of aging in bottle.

The wine shows scents of dark berries, herbs, pepper and anise. It’s exotic and textured, a deep, rich wine with great fruit, a firm long finish and great tannins. – Zorik Gharibian

Such an interesting wine. It tastes of berries, olives and herbs soaked in brine. There’s a licorice-like note, and a sweet-berried-kirsch-like-note, but that briny aspect is defining. It’s a wine of considerable depth and yet, thanks to refreshing acidity, it feels fresh, almost zippy. Tannin, fine but assertive, picks it all out nicely, a fitting complement, like a sunrise over a pool of cocoa. Or a sunset, rather. It’s all terribly engaging.

93 points. Campbell Mattinson, The Wine Front

2016 Zorah Yeraz Areni Noir $275

Zorah’s Yeraz is a natural field blend. Much like colourful threads in a tapestry, the grapes come from small vineyard parcels which encompass a vibrant mosaic of varying strains within the ancient Areni grape variety which have survived and evolved through the ages. These individual vines create a multiplicity within this variety which cannot be seen as anything other than the whole of the vineyard.

This is extreme, high-altitude viticulture with ancient ultra-centennial bush vineyards at 1600m above sea level. It’s a phylloxera-free terroir with a combination of volcanic, sedimentary and limestone soils with no irrigation.

2016 was a year characterised by initial frost and a rainy spring followed by a long, hot summer with high day-time temperatures and strong sunlight balanced with fresh cool nights. Day/night temperature differences averaged 20°C during harvest. Conditions were dry until the end of September when picking started. We harvested the grapes by hand, with meticulous selection, at the end of September.

Fermentation took place in rough, temperature-controlled concrete tanks using only natural yeast. The wine was matured in traditional amphorae of varying sizes for almost 24 months, with short passages in large, untoasted cask to soften the tannins. The wine was further aged for 12 months in bottle.

The nose shows black pepper, cherry, cedar and earth. Soft and silky on the palate, leading to a seamlessly long and spicy finish. A medium-bodied wine with intense punch of flavour and remarkable finesse.

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