Drinking Wine from Mt Ararat
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On the slopes of Mt Ararat in Armenia at an elevation of 4600 ft/1400 m grow Areni Noir vines established 12 years ago. Though the land was undeveloped at the start of the Zorah project, local village knowledge traces the site to old vineyards back at least to the 19th century. Zorik Gharibian began the project after first searching several years for land, also studying the climate and soil conditions through two Italian viticultural universities.
Gharibian’s family originates in Armenia. However, during the Soviet Union they migrated into Iran, where Gharibian was born. After the disposal of the Shah, Gharibian moved to Venice completing his education at an Armenian boarding school there. Growing up with an Armenian education, Gharibian’s dream had been to visit his ancestral country. In 1998, with the fall of the Soviet Union he finally got the chance. There he fell in love with the culture and countryside and began a business that would bring him back regularly for years. His hope became too to find land. As he describes it, Gharibian has long been a wine lover. His time in Armenia led him to great appreciation for the richness of Armenian wine culture and quality as well.
The Search for Land
After the demise of the Soviet Union’s control over Armenia, the country’s land was distributed among residents producing a collection of small parcels. Homes and land in the villages, then, belong to its residents. Though the property ownership system is admirable, it proved difficult for Gharibian who wanted to invest to his family’s homeland. The creation of a vineyard would depend on having a more sizeable parcel but to purchase enough for planting would mean buying land from people that would then be uprooted without homes. Gharibian was unwilling to take such a route. Instead, he kept searching for other possibilities. Eventually, Gharibian found that in the area he’d already been looking was a larger size parcel that was owned by the village as a whole, rather than any one person, and had been dormant for decades. The land proved invaluable for vineyard development as well, full of rocky soils and bands of limestone with a 20 degree Celcius/68 Farenheit diurnal shift, and enough dryness to avoid issues of mildew. He was able, then, to buy the property from the village and invest in its development. As he’s grown he’s invested in organic practices as well.
Because of his commitment to Armenian wine and culture, Gharibian has chosen to develop the Zorah project using only indigenous grapes. Working with Alberto Antonini as the oenologist, and Stefano Bartolomei as the viticulturalist, Gharibian has worked by planting small experimental parcels to determine the best planting style and grape types for the site. As they’ve gathered insight they’ve then expanded the plantings. With phylloxera never arriving in the Yeghegnadzor region in which Zorah grows, the vines are established on own roots.
Considering their Method
Currently, Zorah focuses centrally on the Areni Noir grape, the country’s signature variety believed to originate in the Southern regions of Armenia thousands of years ago. Gharibian tells me the team is developing a white wine project as well, but only slowly. The slower pace, he explains, arises from a commitment to creating only the highest quality, but it also comes from the remoteness of their location. “There are no examples here to draw from. So, we do trials and try things.” He explains, “We cannot ask our neighbors what they did. We have to start from scratch. I do not want to rush because I started this from passion.”
The oldest known wineries in the world have been found in Armenia dating back over 6100 years. Gharibian explains that in studying the ancient winemaking methods of the region, “Zorah is using an updated version of the same techniques.” The wine is primarily made in karasi, with a third being put in French and Armenian oak. Gharibian’s view is that the karasi concentrate the expression of the fruit, allowing a greater focus on site, a view shared by Italian winemaker, Elisabetta Foradori in her use of Spanish clay tinajas. Recently, the Zorah team has begun experimenting with fermentation in cement tanks as well.
Drinking the Wine
2010 marked the first vintage release for Zorah’s Karasi. The wine was initially released in Britain, with the 2011 just now arriving in the United States. I was thrilled to receive the bottle for sample, and even more pleased to enjoy the wine itself. The 2011 Karasi gives a smooth, lush presentation with a feel of refined wildness. The wine has poise and shares its passionate roots as well. Areni Noir offers a beautiful light side of medium weight (comparable to the presence of the grape Blaufrankisch), moving the flavors through an open mid-palate and long finish. The focus is on a lightly-feral red fruit melange, carrying with it spice, and the freshness of tomato leaf. I’ll admit I’d like to try this same wine without the oak, as the vibrancy of the fruit is intoxicating. However, that is not to say I dislike the wine as it is now. More oak would be too much. The oak spice does show here lightly but layers in complexity, and richness. I am especially pleased by the plush texture in the mouth. The wine rolls through with juicy acidity on a body of fine cord, smooth tannin. This is a wine of good quality.
Vine Street Imports has just begun importing Zorah to the United States. The pallets just arrived. Be excited.
Thank you to Zorik Gharibian for taking the time to talk with me. I enjoyed it very much.
Thank you to Ronnie Sanders.
To see more on the Zorah project find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zorahwines?fref=ts
and also: http://www.zorahwines.com/
To read more on the oldest known wine press and winery found in the Areni-1 Cave Complex (BECAUSE IT IS SO OHMYGOD COOL): http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/01/110111-oldest-wine-press-making-winery-armenia-science-ucla/
Zorah Wines at Vine Street Imports: http://www.vsimports.com/region.php?id=52
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