Notes From Hairenik
March 26, 2012
As I've written before on this blog good Armenian bottled wine is hard to come by. Whereas five years ago you would be hard pressed to find something undrinkable, nowadays it's common to buy a domestic wine, uncork it, and pour it down the drain moments later.

Several times I've found much to my chagrin that what was supposed to be red wine simply wasn't. The color was a shade between a rose and a full-bodied red, a strange translucent liquid that only people who didn't know any better (aka, a sizable number of Armenians) wouldn't realize it's not wine. I can imagine being a fly on the wall at one such factory producing their so-called wine -- take some watered-down grain alcohol, add some deep red coloring, or what the hell, actual wine for color, throw in some tea bags to give it that dry bite you expect, then filter it into some bottles, slap on a label that says "Areni" and ship it.

Indeed there are so many Arenis to be had in the stores that you can get dizzy trying to differentiate between them. Once a few months ago I decided to sample two Arenis produced by two different wineries. One was from a winery creatively called Armenia, and the other one was bottled by Getnadoun, if I'm not mistaken. I didn't pay attention to the year because I didn't care -- I just wanted to know if I could tell the difference between them. And I don't know why I was surprised to discover that it was unmistakably the exact same wine, as if it had been purchased from the same source and bottled by different companies. There was nothing really special about it either, it was... well it was ordinary, dry wine. Nothing complex about it, nothing that made me want to buy a case of the stuff the next day. Another time I tried an Areni bottled by the Ijevan wine factory, which at one time used to produce a nice unobtrusive white. You can recognize it on the store shelf with its navy blue label, which makes it seem "elite" somehow I suppose. That featured strong hints of turpentine and mouthwash, and down the drain it went.

A few years ago I wrote about a random visit to the Voskevaz winery factory store on Gomidas avenue, which sold what I still believe to have been the best wine I have ever tasted in this country. But last summer when Bertrand was visiting Armenia to research winemaking here I was disappointed to learn that the store had closed when we went to the location. We even walked up a few blocks, with the thought that maybe it had moved up the street, but no such luck. Then we went to two different supermarkets to find that wonderful Karmin I had been telling him about, but none was to be found. I started to believe that the winery mysteriously closed down or was bought out. Until I just happened to one day find the wine with a totally different label and name, simply called Chateau Voskevaz Select Red (I later learned that they also produce a semi-dry and a white). There were only three bottles on the shelf at 1800 dram a piece and I bought them all. Once home I immediately opened a bottle and poured some into a glass, then held it to my nose. It was wine, alright. Then the taste... fabulous, with subtle hints of blackberries and rose-hips.

In December when I was stocking up for the New Years feast I stumbled upon another Armenian wine I had never seen before at a SAS supermarket located not far from where we live. It was bottled by the Artsakh factory, known for its excellent aged mulberry vodka, which is more like a brandy in color and finish. Their wine was called Shushi, and it was bottled in that region according to what the label read. I assumed it was going to be something special, but I couldn't have been completely sure having been disappointed many times, so I bought one test bottle. It turned out my presumption was right on -- another unique wine, with a tart, sort of nutty flavor. Unsurprisingly, a mulberry-infused nuance was also discernible.

So here's some advice -- if you really want a decent Areni go to the source and find someone like Haigaz, who produces some great homemade vintages (that he as well as everyone down there pours into washed out soda bottles). But if you can't make the ride, you cannot go wrong at all with the Voskevaz or the Shushi. Assuming, of course, you can find either one.

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