In the vast wine world, where each bottle tells a tale, one story is breaking the mould and making headlines. As seen in the latest SOMM franchise film, Vahe Keushguerian and his daughter Aimee attempt to harvest their Armenian vineyard amidst war. Then, they ambitiously set out to make the first commercial wine using grapes from Iran since the country’s 1979 revolution. Consequently, these SOMM: Cup of Salvation wines are unicorns with a special place in the hearts of wine enthusiasts. They’re notable in that they represent a place in history — and bonus; they are available to buy in the U.S.
The wines, far from the well-trodden paths of traditional wine selections, are represented by Storica Wines in the United States. With a narrative woven into each bottle, founder Zack Armen hopes newcomers to Armenian wines appreciate the quality and similarities to grapes we already know and love.
“The reds are similar to Pinot Noirs; the whites to Sancerre, Chenin Blanc, or sometimes Chardonnays, and the sparkling wines are a Champagne-style,” Armen continues, “They’re familiar but also different enough to be intriguing.”
He hopes that intrigue will make people explore Armenian wines and consider what these ancient expressions represent. “The fact that Jason (Wise) made a movie about it must mean there’s something there, right? We just want people to give them a try.”
The film is a visual symphony of Armenian winemaking intertwined with the country’s perpetual political conflict. Through the power of storytelling, three exceptional SOMM: Cup of Salvation wines represent a remarkable winemaking heritage that Western civilization rarely sees.
Keush Origins Tradition Method Brut
Vayots Dzor, Armenia
Keush Origins Sparkling Wine hails from the ancient and fertile lands of Khachik, a village in the Areni Municipality of the Vayots Dzor Province. Located only 500 meters from the Armenia–Azerbaijan border, this contentious area has fueled tensions between the two countries since 1988. Over 35 years, between several ceasefires, tens of thousands have died fighting for the land they believe to be theirs.
The village sits between 4,600 and 5,900 feet (1,400 – 1,800 meters) above sea level – the highest in Armenia. As the sole buyers of the site, Vahe and Aimee commit to the vintage’s yield, whether 50 tons or 100.
The Keush label carries the family name, a flagship wine representing the high-elevation possibilities of winemaking in Armenia. Despite being in a contentious war zone (Vahe and Aimee drive past a military base to get to their vineyards), the grapes are a harmonious blend of indigenous varieties, including 60% Voskehat and 40% Khatouni. Voskehat, or “Golden Seed,” contributes a crisp acidity and floral notes, while Khatouni adds aromatics.
As a quintessential ancient wine from niche terroir, Armen from Storica believes there’s a global trend benefiting Armenian wines. “There’s a movement over a five-plus year period that sees people wanting new stuff, new wine from niche regions. Places like Georgia, Lebanon, and even Portugal are experiencing big growth.” He continues, “People want to experience wine with a story off the beaten path.”
The Keush Origins’ bush vines, some as old as 120 years, are farmed sustainably by multi-generational families before being hand-harvested. The grapes go through the traditional method of sparkling wine production, including a minimum of 22 months of lees aging.
Zulal Areni Reserve 2017
Arpa Valley, Vayots Dzor, Armenia
The Areni grape variety is the crown jewel of Armenian winemaking. The thick-skinned red grape grows in tight clusters and is slow to ripen.
The grapes for this Reserve wine grow in two villages in the dramatic landscapes of Vayots Dzor – Aghavnadzor and Khachik. The terroir, marked by volcanic rocky soils and high altitudes, imparts deep color, robust tannins, and a vibrant flavor profile.
Zulal was founded in 2017 by Aimee Keushguerian and is the Armenian word for “pure” — a kismet name for wines that showcase the country’s indigenous varieties, like Areni, Voskehat, and Milar, through monovarietal bottlings. For Zulal Areni Reserve, the grapes undergo a gentle crushing, allowing the extraction of the purest juice. Fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks before spending 12 months in neutral French and Caucasian oak barrels.
The Caucasian oak trees are a truly unique attribute of Armenian winemaking. For instance, the trees have the same genetic material as French and Hungarian oak (predominately Quercus petraea, with some Quercus robur). However, due to Armenia’s elevation, the trees grow even more slowly, resulting in a tighter wood grain and a higher level of oak tannin.
According to Armen, “People love the wine because it’s good, especially for the cost. It punches way above its price as far as quality goes.”
Molana Rasheh 2021
For most oenophiles, “wine from Iran” is a phrase never before seen on a label — until now. Molana is indeed the first commercial wine made from Iranian-grown grapes in over 40 years. If you can get your hands on one of the 15,000 bottles, it’s one for the collection (plus another for drinking).
As depicted in SOMM: Cup of Salvation, Vahe ventures to Iran to secure Rasheh grapes, believed to be one of the world’s oldest varieties. As a result of working with his network to explore a handful of vineyard sites in the Caucasus Mountains, he trucks the chosen grapes back to Armenia to make the wine at his custom crush facility, WineWorks.
This first-of-its-kind wine will be available to those who sign up for Storica Wine’s waiting list.
SOMM: Cup of Salvation Wines Gift Pack
Storica is offering a special 4-pack to celebrate the film placing Armenian wines under a spotlight. For $99 USD, it includes Keush Rosé Cuvée Couchanne 2018, Keush Origins, Zulal Areni 2018, and Zulal Voskehat 2020.
The memorable collection includes 15% off and free shipping to 38 states. Grab your SOMM: Cup of Salvation wines before they run out.
The collection is an example of Zack Armen’s online sales channel focus, having recently launched Club Storica. As the United State’s first wine club solely dedicated to Armenian wines, it offers three membership levels, all customizable.
“Our members are part of this new thing. So, 5 or 10 years from now, when Armenian wines are way more accessible and common, they can say they were there from the beginning,” says Armen.