When we first brought in the wines of Zorah – way back when the Karasì Areni Noir came from the 2012 vintage – maybe we were the only people who thought it was a good idea.
Sure, Armenian wine was exotic and novel – but would anyone actually drink the stuff?
That question has well and truly been answered with the Karasì becoming a staple for many of our wholesale customers.
We’ve always taken a few bottles of the Yeraz, the Areni Noir super-cuvée named for Zorik Gharibian’s wife. Its incredible pedigree (vine and wine) has seen it judiciously taken.
The white blend, Voskì, has likewise found a legion of fans – a kind of floral-Chablis-meets-Rhône-white affair, it’s easy on some level to imagine how it would appeal. But then, before it came along that combination of qualities wasn’t easy to imagine.
And now, for the first time and hugely excitingly, we have our first shipment of two new bottlings that delve even deeper into Armenia’s vine heritage.
The skin-contact Chilar white and Sireni red are just the latest innovation from this ancient and wonderful estate.
You will really enjoying exploring these, and we highly recommend that you waste no time diving in.
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 30- to 40-year-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 11 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.
The wine is floral and spicy with rich vibrant stone fruit. It’s fresh on the palate with vivid acidity and a layered complexity, with real depth. – Zorik Gharibian, Zorah
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 long, firm finish and great tannins. – Zorik Gharibian, Zorah
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.
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 wine presents a lovely, ethereal nose and fine, elegant, pure and lingering flavour. Yeraz is like a blend of cru Burgundy mixed with top Sangiovese in character but with its own distinctive hints of spice and crushed raspberry. – Zorik Gharibian, Zorah
Chilar is an ancient grape variety endemic to Armenia and present in the highlands of Vayotz Dzor. The clusters are elongated and cylindrical with medium-sized berries which tend to be oval in shape with a greenish colour but more yellowish on the sunny side. The skin has a thin, waxy coating and is hardy, which protects the berry from disease and substantial day/night temperature variations.
It’s grown at the pinnacle of high-altitude viticulture, with elevations ranging between 1400 and 1500m. There are no vineyards dedicated to Chilar. The grapes are gathered from among random rows of 30- to 40-year-old vineyards surrounding the Zorah estate in the Vayotz Dzor region. It’s a phylloxera-free terroir, with all vines planted on their own roots. The soils are low vigour, sub-alkaline and rich in limestone and large stones with a ﬁrst layer of sand.
This wine is naturally fermented and aged in old, large traditional Armenian clay amphorae, known as Karasì, with around 60 days’ skin contact. Aging continues in the local clay amphorae for around nine months, before a further 10 months in the bottle. It receives a very mild ﬁltration before bottling.
It’s a beautifully balanced, textural white wine with rounded but fresh ﬂavours of pear and white peach. It has a slightly grainy structure and a long, pure, linear citrus ﬁnish. – Zorik Gharibian, Zorah
Indigenous to Artsakh, Sireni is a mid-ripening red grape variety which grows exclusively in the soft climate of this region. The bunches are compact with very dark berries. It’s resistant to summer drought but sensitive to cold winter temperatures. Ararati on the other hand, which takes its name from Armenia’s sacred mountain Ararat, is an indigenous white grape variety and grows well in the highlands of Vayotz Dzor. It has large juicy greenish, yellow berries. It is late-ripening and resistant to disease. Ararati has been largely ignored by locals and to this date no wines have been made from this variety.
Sireni can be found at elevations of around 400m in clay sedimentary soils. The vineyards from which the Sireni is sourced are dry farmed with no irrigation. In contrast the Ararati grapes are sourced from the highlands of Vayotz Dzor at elevations of 1300m. Despite its high potential this variety is on the verge of extinction. The grapes are gathered from among random rows of 30- to 40-year-old vineyards surrounding the Zorah estate.
The grape varieties are fermented separately in traditional Armenian amphorae which are three-quarters buried in the ground. The Ararati is given some skin contact. They are then blended together and aged for about two years in a mix of clay amphorae (karasí) and rough concrete vats with no epoxy lining. It’s released after a further 12 months in the bottle.
It’s a full-bodied wine with grippy tannins and notes of black fruits, pomegranate and liquorice. – Zorik Gharibian, Zorah