Armenian winemaking and cognac
Wine and cognac making in Armenia
Any Armenian knows that Noah having stepped the land of this scared place planted the first vine-shoot there. This was the way how traditional winemaking was set up in Armenia. Well, indeed, the excavations confirm that wines were made there as early as in the XI–X centuries BC. The wines from Nairi (one of tribal states in the territory of the Armenian highland) were mentioned by Strabon and Herodotus. From the earliest time the Armenians could make good wine, while the technique of vineyard cultivation and maintenance developed as early as in the epoch of Urartu state has not been changed for centuries.
In the households involved in winemaking there was a wine press “khandzan” near the house or in the garden. Inside the press there was a long reservoir made of stone or brick and covered with thick lime mortar, the reservoir had a slightly sloping bottom and a hole opening onto a stone jar dug in earth. Men, having taken off their shoes and thoroughly washed legs, tread the grapes in this reservoir. The produced must was fed from the first jar to the second, then poured with the help of large long ladles to “karas” (greybeards), which were stored dug in earth, as it was customary in Urartu. The wine was also used to produce wine vinegar, while the pulp was used to make vodka in special wine making apparatuses.
Armenian grape is special, with high content of sugar and therefore it “produces” more spirit. This is a simple explanation. The most popular grape varieties are akhtanak, areni, caberne, saperavi, sultana, muscat, rkatseteli used as a base to produce excellent sweet, semi-sweet and dry wines.
But most of us associate Armenia more with cognac. Though, of course, it is much more difficult to make cognac. It was not earlier than in the XIX century, when Armenia set up an industrial production of cognac. Armenian cognac is produced from high-quality selected grape varieties grown in the Ararat Valley. Mekhali, kakhet, garan-dmak, voskeat, chilar are the grape varieties which enrich the drink with that unusual silky astringent flavor, the taste of the native land. In the course of the first fermentation they produce wine. Then this wine is subject to three-four distillations which result in production of 60-70-degree spirit. The spirit is poured to oak casks.
The casks are due in no small part to cognac production. To make them, specially selected oak species are delivered from France, Russia and East European countries. The spirit is aged in these oak casks from 3 to 20 years. And only after that, skillful professionals compose cognac itself based on a mix of 3- , 5- or 6- cognac spirits and spring water from Armenian mountain sources. Clean and clear, this water is an essential improver; no bouquet of flavors will be complete without it.
Then, depending on the quality, cognac is aged at least 12 months, the vintage one - at least 3 years in old wooden casks prior to its final bottling. Armenian cognac is so good and famous for such inimitable silky-chocolate flavor, that even old William Churchill laid in stores up to 400 bottles every year.