Armenia grows a range of grape varieties but the climate doesn't lend itself to the "cool climate" grape growing. The industry is getting more active in recent years and rapidly modernizing. A variety of red and white wines are available, many of the reds being sweet or semi-sweet. The best-known grape variety in Armenia is Areni Noir, used for making red wines. To sample the taste of this grape variety try the red wines from Karas, Koor, Takar or Hin Areni. Some enjoyable Armenian white wines are produced by Ijevan Wine Factory. If champagne-style sparkling wine is what you prefer then Keush may be a good choice. The Armenian word for wine is ginee, red is karmir, and white is spitak. So if you would like to order or buy a red wine you say karmir ginee. Wine degustations can be enjoyed at several wineries in Vayots Dzor region as well as during the factory tours. Yerevan has several popular wine bars where you can choose from the wide selection of local and international wines.
Held annually on the first Saturday of October, Areni Wine Festival has become one of the staple events of Armenia's festival calendar. Tourists and citizens of Yerevan take a 1.5-hour road trip to the heart of Vayots Dzor wine region to taste homemade wines of more than 150 producers as well as the growing number of commercial wineries in Armenia and Artsakh. Festivities kick off at 13:00 and continue till the last drop of wine. Local accommodation is available if you wisely decide to venture back to Yerevan right after the celebration.
The success of the festival in Areni initiated a similar event in Yerevan called Yerevan Wine Days. It takes place yearly at the beginning of May on Saryan street. The street is closed for an evening and wine producers set up small ad-hoc shops on the roads.
Wine & Brandy Distilleries
Two prominent wine distilleries in Yerevan are on walking distance from each other separated by Victory Bridge. Situated on the west end of the bridge is Ararat brandy factory with a prominent sign of its brand name. The company behind the brand is called Yerevan Brandy Company Distillery and Museum. You can book a guided factory tour on their website which includes brandy tasting but the actual production facilities are not shown. The ticket price is AMD 4,500 - 10,000 depending on the types of brandies tasted. The distillery's foundation year goes back as far as 1887. Now it is owned by French Pernod Richard company. The building itself was built during the Soviet times in 1944 - 1950. Its facade displaying 9 arches can be best appreciated when approached by the long flight of steps from the valley below.
At the other end of the bridge, a large basalt building houses the wine-brandy factory called Noy. Built in 1937, the factory stands on the place of the former Yerevan cidatel and retraces the shape and dimensions of the citadel itself. Here you would also find a very fine memorial commemorating the battle of Sardarapat in Armavir province authored by the building's architect R. Israelyan. Remnants of the once mighty citadel have survived to our days. Details here.
Several modern Armenian wineries have estates in the countryside near Ashtarak - 20 km (13 mi) northwest to Yerevan. The more prominent among them are Voskevaz in the village of the same name and Van Ardi in nearby Sasunik. Both offer public and private winery tours and wine tasting sessions, which may represent a convenient alternative to better-established but more distant wineries in Vayots Dzor.
Beyond the History Museum of Ijevan, on the opposite side of the road is the Ijevan Wine and Brandy Factory, established in 1951. There you'll find a factory outlet selling regular and reserve grape wines and brandies, as well as fruit wines and compotes. They provide guided English tours from Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm. Groups can make a visit outside of the regular hours by a prior appointment. The ticket price varies from AMD 2,000 to AMD 5,000 per person depending on whether tasting is included and of how many wines and brandies. You can find more details on the official website here.
Vayots Dzor Province
This region of Armenia has witnessed a post-Soviet renaissance of winemaking, fusing traditional grape varieties and techniques with modern technology to produce wines that are now renowned well beyond Armenia's borders. That this is happening in Vayots Dzor is no coincidence: recent excavations at the Areni-1 cave complex have uncovered the earliest known evidence of winemaking, dating back around 6,100 years. The lineage is also apparent in geographical names: the town of Areni is named after the endemic black grape used in most of the region's red wines, and the name "Gnishik" - given to a river, a gorge, and a village - is derived from Armenian gini shek, which literary means 'light-colored wine'. The appeal of wine to visitors has not dwindled over time: wine tourism is now one of the region's fastest-growing niches.
Though the vineyards themselves are in the surrounding hills, the village of Areni has become synonymous with Armenia's wine industry. The main part of the village straddles the Arpa River south of the M2 main road at the foot of dramatic ochre cliffs. An annual wine festival of growing fame is held on the first Saturday of October, part trade fair, part local celebration with wine tasting, dancing and a demonstration by young girls of treading grapes in the traditional barefoot manner. Areni takes its name from the indigenous black grape variety mainly used for making dry red tables wines. Several establishments in the area advertise wine tasting and tours. Here are our recommended wineries for doing just that:
- Hin Areni Winery. Mobile - +374 41 234 111 English guided tours and tasting costs a trifling AMD 1,000 (2 euros) per person and include a showcase of a mixed traditional/modern approach.
- Zorah Wines: you can arrange tours on request via local tour operators. The wines of this brand have won awards internationally.
- Momik Wines: tours can be arranged by mobile +374 95 480 450. Operates the 1st of planned several "wine cube" tasting rooms across the region.
- One of the many family-run places to see how it's done the old-fashioned way.
Should you wish to purchase the homemade variety, try one of the roadside stalls that sell large bottles, often labeled as Coca-Cola. Most people who buy these are Iranian truck drivers taking home a beverage they will have a hard time finding in Iran. The quality varies but it is a normal practice to taste before buying. During the grape harvest, you can also buy matchar from the same stalls. It is a fresh grape juice having undergone 2 - 3 days' fermentation. In other words, it's the fruity precursor to actual wine. Make no mistake of keeping it in storage: the still active yeast will explode the bottle:)
Soo, this wraps up our small introduction to Armenian wineries, wine tours and tastings, and places where you can relax with a glass of fine wine in your hand. We really hope you found some useful information in this article and probably will share it with people who might be interested in it. We certainly didn't cover everything about Armenian wines so if you are left wondering about something we've missed shoot us an email or comment below, we'll be happy to elaborate.)