Notes From Hairenik
April 23, 2009
As I wrote briefly in my previous post I found a magnificent Armenian wine called Karmin, produced by Vozkevaz Winery located in Aragatsotn. I don’t know how this wine eluded me before but I’m ecstatic that I finally became acquainted with this particular vintage from 2005.

Karmin is a robust, full-bodied dry wine produced from the Kakhet grape. It has hints of black currant, dark chocolate and fresh walnut, followed by a slight cantaloupe finish. Although I love what Maran Winery has been bottling, the 2005 Karmin is perhaps the best mass-produced Armenian wine that I have had to date. And priced at just above $5 a bottle, it’s a steal.

The other day in a supermarket on Mashdots Street I stumbled upon another dry wine produced by Vozkevaz, the 2004 Karmreni, which is a lighter, fruiter wine, reminiscent of a good Areni. Although it’s also made from Kakhet grapes, it doesn’t come close to the 2005 Karmin in terms of flavor and character. Judging from what I saw at the factory store on Gomidas Street (the sign simply reads “Armenian Wines – In Vino Veritas”), Vozkevaz certainly has a wide selection of wines, including semi-sweets and whites. Some are very young, immature wines while others have been aged for several years, a decade or more. I still have a lot of experimenting to do, and it seems the folks at the factory store are more than happy to oblige me. The other night when I went back there to buy the Karmin the store manager offered me (insisted is more like it) another Muscat to taste, and he invited me back to try other wines. In Armenia I have only sampled wine in villages, never before in stores, so it’s a unique place to shop.

Now a word about what Armenian wines to avoid. By all means—and this is a must from someone with a considerable amount of experience—do not purchase the Areni 2004 or the Vernashen (no production date unsurprisingly) from Vedi Alco, unless you want to have a splitting headache five minutes after taking a sip. The lame Areni is identified by a red label with the word Areni printed in large, white capital letters on a checkered background, presumably a design that is supposed to represent an Armenian carpet. You cannot mistake it for a different Areni. The nasty Vernashen, which can be easily mistaken for poison, has a mostly black label with a poor-quality color photo of an ambiguous Armenian church. These wines are to be avoided at all costs. They are found in virtually all grocery stores and supermarkets, and for some reason you will find them even in good restaurants as well as in people’s homes. If you’re visiting someone and they only have the Vedi Alco wines on the table, drink juice or something else instead. Even soda is better than that crap.

A note about the demise of quality—when I first visited Armenia nine years ago I drank an excellent vodka made from wheat distilled by Vedi Alco. At the time it was better than any Russian vodka I had been exposed to—clean, crisp, no harsh aftertaste, no headache in the morning. I was so impressed with it I even took some back with me to Boston. That vodka has since been discontinued, and the other offerings available now by the factory are just about equivalent to moonshine. And lately each time I drink a Kilikia beer, which was one of my favorite ales, it tastes and even looks different, sometimes pale like Budweiser. For some Armenian companies producing wine and spirits nowadays quantity takes huge precedence over quality, so you have to be very careful with what you select.

If you must drink Vernashen, try one produced by Getnadoun Winery. It is a good semi-sweet wine with some vibrant, berry-like characteristics. Or else find a semi-sweet produced by Vozkevaz; you most likely won’t be disappointed.

The Karmin is calling, back to the pour....

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