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Wine Enthusiast's Guide: Understanding Armenian Wine Starts with Local Grapes



Wine Enthusiast's Guide: Understanding Armenian Wine Starts with Local Grapes

The highly respected Wine Enthusiast has published an article about Armenian grape varieties to help you get to know Armenian wine better. The author suggests that to truly understand Armenian wine, it’s great to begin understanding these local varieties.


White Grapes


Voskehat


Known as the queen of Armenian grape varieties, Voskehat has been cultivated for over 3,000 years, most commonly in the cooler, forested province of Aragatsotn and higher altitude sites in Vayots Dzor.


Voskehat is known for its longevity and ability to withstand increasingly unpredictable climates, thanks to its thick skin and hardy vines. (It’s not uncommon to find 150-year-old plantings of Voskehat.) Because of these traits, wineries are starting to look to this grape as the future of the region amidst warming conditions.


Voskehat is also malleable to style preferences. Depending on the growing season or winemaking treatment, the grape can be formed to bring out vegetal and key lime flavors or richer tropical notes of white flower and beeswax.


“I appreciate Voskehat because of its similarity to Chenin Blanc,” says Danya Degen, wine director at Meli in Washington, D.C. “Both grapes blend floral flavors with moderate acidity and fuller body. Like Chenin Blanc, acidity and body also make it a fabulous blending variety for sparkling wine. Armenia makes some of the best non-Champagne, non-Prosecco bubbles from Voskehat.”


Khatoun


Scott Stroemer, beverage director of Galit in Chicago, describes Khatoun (also known as Khatun, Khatouni or Khatun Kharji) as “a total acid freak.” With a yellow-green hue and near-colorless juice, Khatoun is known for its tart lemon, alpine flower and pineapple characteristics. “It’s great as a blending grape for Voskehat, which can be a bit flabby on its own,” he says.


Kangun


Kangun (or Gangun, depending on who you ask) was born during Soviet rule and specifically created for brandy production. It’s the child of three grape varieties: First, it was crossed with the Ukrainian grape Sukholimansky Bely and the Georgian grape Rkatsiteli, then that offspring was later crossed with Chardonnay. It settled well in Armenian terroir and was adopted for not just brandy, but white and sparkling wines. Expect a light straw color, ample freshness and notes of honey, wildflower and quince.


Garan Dmak


The white grape variety—found most commonly in the Ararat region—is planted widely in the clay and higher desert soils of Armenia. It’s known for its vegetal and ripe pear characteristics, though Stroemer compares it to something more French in nature. “I want this to be the Sancerre of 2024,” he says.


Red Grapes


Areni Noir


“Areni Noir, often known as Sev Areni or Sev Malahi, is considered the pearl of Armenian grape varieties,” says Bertil Jean-Chronberg, the owner and operator of Bonde Fine Wine Shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It grows in the Vayots Dzor region—distinguished by a unique climate of mild winters and sunny days—at an average altitude of 3,000 to 5,900 feet. This terroir reflects the peculiar characteristics of this grape variety: In its youth, it produces wines with a pronounced acidity and a deep and intense color with delicate aromas of cherry, blackcurrant and black pepper. Aged in Armenian oak barrels, it becomes finer and more velvety and gains aromatic complexity and roundness.”


Areni Noir is “thin-skinned with bright acid,” adds Stroemer. “When grown in Vayots Dzor, Areni Noir becomes more Burgundian in presence with a black pepper finish.”


Tigrani


While Tigrani is Armenian in origin, part of its parentage comes from Georgia, the Caucasus’s other historic wine region. The grape is a cross between Saperavi, one of Georgia’s ancient grapes, and Areni Noir.


It’s seldom seen on its own. Instead, Tigrani lends fruit and florality to more tannic red varieties. The grapes are juicy, sweet and tart with deep natural color, a subtle spice and touches of ripe pomegranate.


Haghtanak


Translating to “victory” in Armenian, Haghtanak’s deep purple berries and intense red juice have made the grape one of Armenia’s most beloved varieties. It’s often found in blends—the deep color adds oomph to lighter grapes like Tozot—though if you do find a single varietal wine, it’s deeply cherry-like, hyper tannic with additional notes of plum, cloves, coffee and vanilla. “I find it quite similar to Saperavi from Georgia,” says Stroemer. “It’s red-fleshed and super tannic.”


Kakhet


Kakhet has deep roots that date back to the 4th century, but for the last few centuries, the grape has been exclusively reserved for Port-style sweet wines. Producers are wising up to the grape’s potential: While Haghtanak and Areni are rich and tannic, Kakhet tends to be berry-forward and terroir-driven—it’s light and aromatic, with notes of blackberry, black currant, fig and black pepper. Experts at U.C. Davis reckon the grape is a relative of the French varietal Carbonneau.


Tozot


“I see a lot of potential in this grape,” says Pavel Vardanyan, who makes a Tozot at Noa Wine in Vayots Dzor, located at the tippy-top of one of the region’s rolling mountains. “You can make Tozot elegant and ageable, you can make it into a rosé, you can make it into a blanc de noir,” he explains.


While Tozot isn’t found widely (and often only in older vineyards), the red grape offers up high acidity and freshness, with vibrant, bright strawberry notes not dissimilar to something from, say, Beaujolais.


Because of its rarity, “these days, it’s often blended into a still wine, used in table wine, dessert wine or distilled into Armenian brandy,” says Jean-Chronberg. “If vinified alone, it produces wines of great freshness, which are unique and invigorating.”

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