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Areni: Armenia’s Most Storied and Fascinating Grape Variety

Areni: Armenia’s Most Storied and Fascinating Grape Variety

Areni grape

The Areni grape variety, or Areni Noir to some, is a true testament to the endurance of time. The dark-skinned variety has not only survived for centuries in Armenia but has flourished in recent years, etching its legacy in the modern world of wine.

Areni is a star among ancient grapes in the most recent SOMM film, Cup of Salvation. Debuting in theaters across the U.S. and beyond this month, the film follows a father and daughter as they set out to revive the grapes of their homeland.

Discover the origins, characteristics, and significance of this Armenian grape variety.

Areni Origins

Believed to hail from the village of Areni in southwest Armenia, this grape variety derived its name from its ancestral home. However, its historical significance came to light in 2011 when archaeologists unearthed a remarkable discovery in the Areni-1 cave complex, perched above the village. Within this cavernous time capsule, the world witnessed the revelation of the oldest known winery, dating back at least 6,100 years.

The cave, a site of immense archaeological importance, vividly depicts ancient winemaking practices. Analysis of grape seeds and stems found within the cave attested not only to the age of the winery but also to the well-developed nature of winemaking in the area. This discovery solidified the grape’s claim as one of the oldest varieties utilized for winemaking.

In alignment with the winemaking traditions of neighboring Georgia, Armenia embraced a natural and traditional approach. Clay amphorae, or karasi, served as vessels for both fermentation and aging. The ancient process involves crushing grapes, with wild yeasts on the grape skins initiating fermentation within these buried amphorae.

Areni-1 cave interior / Image from SOMM: Cup of Salvation

Where the Grape Thrives

Areni thrives in the Vayots Dzor region, often taking center stage in varietal wines.

The continental climate, with vineyards between 1,700 and 5,000 feet, creates ideal conditions for the late-ripening and disease-resistant grape. Its adaptability to altitude and temperature variations contributes to the exceptional quality of Armenian wines.

areni grape vineyard
Areni vineyard / Image from SOMM: Cup of Salvation

What Areni Tastes Like

Areni wines have medium tannins, medium to high acidity, and a silky texture, showcasing its aromas of red and black fruits with hints of cassis and spices. Flavors of cherry, raspberry, mulberry, and blackberry culminate in a slightly bitter yet pleasing finish. The aging process, whether in traditional amphorae or oak barrels, adds nuances of vanilla and smoky notes.

Most versions are recommended for consumption within a couple of years of release. However, top-tier expressions can evolve and gain complexity for a decade or more. The grape’s unique profile draws comparisons to a fusion of Pinot Noir and Sangiovese, making it a distinctive player in the global wine scene.

areni grape cluster
Areni grapes / Image from SOMM: Cup of Salvation

Foods to Pair with Areni

Pairing Areni wine with food can be an exploration that bridges continents. For classic American fare, consider pairing it with grilled lamb burgers topped with herbs, feta, and sun-dried tomatoes. The wine’s berry notes beautifully counterbalance the meat’s richness, while its slight bitterness harmonizes with the charred elements from the grill. Alternatively, with its earthy flavors, a mushroom and goat cheese pizza perfectly matches Areni’s complexity.

To explore Armenian cuisine, try succulent grilled kebabs (shashlik), for aromatic herbs and spices that match the wine’s bold character. Alternatively, explore dolma, grape leaves stuffed with a flavorful mixture of rice, pine nuts, and aromatic herbs.

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