Zorik Gharibian is a fashion designer based in Venice with an unusual ambition. Having made his fortune in fashion, he now wants to make his own wine – but not in Italy – in his home country of Armenia.
Gharibian was born into an Armenian family in Iran. His parents fled Armenia in 1915 – and during the Iranian revolution they escaped once again to Italy where Zorik was educated at an Armenian school in Venice. Aware that Armenia had a long history of winemaking, near his family village of Rina, Gharibian was determined to revive this tradition.
To find the right location, he employed viticulturalist Stefano Bartolomei and winemaker Alberto Antonini. After three years of research, in 2006 they decided on a 15 hectare plot in Vayotz Dzor in the Yeghegnadzor valley, south east of the Armenian capital of Yerevan. Just 2km away is the world’s earliest known winemaking facility, where a wine press and vat dating back 6,100 years were recently discovered secreted amidst dozens of prehistoric graves in a cavern.
“This is one of the most exciting projects I have worked on,” says Antonini, who has also collaborated with Tuscany’s Piero Antinori and now consults in vineyards from Italy to Argentina. “I was struck by the superb conditions when I visited south east Armenia – cool nights, long growing season, very dry, intense sunlight at high altitude of 1,400 metres above stony low vigour soil,” he says.
Yeghegnadzor is an isolated valley near Mount Ararat which has never been infested with the phylloxera louse, which devastated Europe’s vineyards in the 19th century. So Bartolomei advised that the native areni noir vines be planted ungrafted.
Gharibian has invested more than a million euros into his winery, Zorah, and though the vines are only six years old, the first wine from the 2010 vintage is showing interesting potential. Antonini uses a combination of modern and traditional methods. Twenty per cent is matured in French oak for 11 months, 10 per cent in Armenian oak for three months, 40 per cent in stainless steel – and the remainder is matured in amphorae sealed with wax and kept below ground – the original method used for maturing wine in this area. Antonini likes using the amphorae (called Karasi) as it allows polymerisation of tannins to create a more supple, sinewy wine. He then blends all these components together before bottling.
The result reminds me of a cross between a sangiovese and a grenache – a cross between young Chianti and Côtes du Rhône. It is a bit sinewy, grippy and grainy, but it has a natural sappy vibrancy in the fruit. It is early days in Armenia’s modern wine renaissance – but it shows what potential this country could have. My only regret is the price tag, though it is still worth buying to check out its unique origin.
Taste of Armenia
‘KARASI’ ARENI NOIR 2010 Zorah winery
(£22.99, Lockett Bros, North Berwick, www.lockettbros.co.uk; The Longship, Kirkwall, Orkney, 01856 873251, www.thelongship.co.uk)
Alcohol 13.5 per cent
Grape areni noir
Taste Cherry nose with sappy, fresh, red fruit flavours, very grippy tannins, peppery, spicy undertones – a deep, dark, tightly packed wine.
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