Traditional Armenian Wine
Wine is life ~Petronius, Roman writer
Armenian wine recipes have been passed down for generations and preserved for centuries. Today, traditional wine presses and tried-and-true winemaking methods are used to produce a range of high-quality products which are celebrated annually at the Areni Wine Festival.
According to legend, Noah himself planted the first vine in Armenia and served this sacred beverage from its grapes. While this account cannot be confirmed, archaeological finds indicate that wine production began on Armenian territory as early as the 11th -10th centuries BC. In caves near the village of Areni near Mount Ararat, 6100-year-old clay vessels, a grape press, vine seeds and wine-making tools were uncovered, making Areni the oldest known winery in the world. Famous Greek geographers Strabo and Herodotus wrote about the wines from Nairi, a tribal state on the Armenian Highlands, making it clear that Armenians have produced high-quality wines since ancient times.
Traces of this ancient wine-making culture are not limited to Areni Caves alone. All throughout Armenia, images of vine branches are prevalent on the walls of monasteries, churches and Soviet-era buildings. Amazingly, winemaking techniques developed in the ancient state of Urartu (present-day Armenia and Turkey) continue to be used in local productions.
A central element of the Armenian wine press is the khandzan, located near the house or in the garden of every Armenian family who produces wine. Inside the press is a long reservoir made of stone or brick and covered with a thick lime mortar. The reservoir has a slightly sloped bottom and a hole which opens onto a stone jar buried in the ground. After men tread the grapes in this reservoir with their bare feet, the juice is poured from the first jar into the second before being spooned with large, long ladles into lemon-shaped clay vessels called karas (greybeards), which according to Urartian custom is then buried in the earth.
Common grape varieties in Armenia include Akhtanak, Areni, Caberne, Sultana and Muscat, each of which is used in the production of excellent sweet, semi-sweet and dry wines. Machar is a popular traditional Armenian wine whose rich taste and aroma stem from the variety of grapes which are used in its production, yet the most beloved Armenian wine of all remains that which is produced from Areni grapes.
Since 2009, Areni Wine Festival has been celebrated near Areni Caves every October. With its cheerful local music, dances, food and the rich aroma of Armenian wine, Areni Wine Festival is wildly popular with locals and tourists alike. Festival participants can help to crush the harvested grapes with their feet, and after the grand opening, everyone gets the chance to sample the finest of Armenian wines.