In previous posts, this blog has taken a look at the effort some vintners are making to revive Armenia's historic but troubled wine industry. Armenia, of course, is best known for its cognac and the country's latest alcoholic beverages production figures show what an uphill battle Armenian winemakers are fighting. While cognac production grew by 20 percent last year, the amount of wine produced dropped by some seven percent, despite the recent moves to revive the wine industry.
In a recent article, the Hetq.am website took a look at what ails the Armenian wine industry, offering answers that ranged from the technical to the historical. From the article:
Globally, 10 billion bottles of wine are sold every year. Armenia sells around 600,000 bottles per year, some in the Russian market, where 1.2 billion are sold yearly. Russia also consumes 93% of Armenian cognac.
Only 5% of the Armenian cognac sold in Russia is purchased by the wealthy elite. That’s because most of it is sold for 25-300 roubles; the price of Russian wine. There are a few Armenian cognac varieties that go for 1000 roubles.
All these numbers concern Avag Haroutyunyan, President of Armenia’s Wine Growers Union. He says that cognac production and exports have risen 10% over last year and are 30% higher than the record years back in the Soviet era.
“Armenian cognac is fairly well known throughout the world. But Armenian wine is another story,” says Haroutyunyan. He believes that wine growing in Armenia is losing out to cognac because that’s where the investment is being directed. Armenian wines also aren’t well represented on the international market.
As recently reported in a EurasiaNet story and in a post on this blog, the ancient Georgian winemaking tradition known as kvevri (letting the wine age in large clay vessels) is staring to get serious international attention.
The trend has now been noticed by Newsweek, which has just come out with a good story about some of the winemakers outside of Georgia who are now making kvevri wine and about an outfit in Virginia that is using the clay casks to make the world's first kvevri-style cider. From the article:
One of the new Italian converts to qvevri is Elisabetta Foradori. Pouring her rare white, floral wine made from the Nosiola grape, she explains why she loves the qvevri. “My wines find their identity in them so much sooner.” All her production is now in qvevri, even though—don’t tell the Georgians—she too calls them amphorae.
Others have added their own twist to the traditional style. Austrian Bernhard Ott makes a Grüner Veltliner labeled, simply, Qvevri. He picks his chemical-free grapes by hand. He crushes them without machinery. He pours the wine, complete with skins, seeds, and stems, into the qvevri, mimicking the way the Georgians vinify their reds. But instead of marinating his wine for a few weeks, he allows the juice to commingle with its parts for months, resulting in a slight orange color and some gritty tannin. After the wine is finished fermenting, he seals the qvevri hermetically with clay and dirt. He then forgets about the wine. Eight months later, he pries the lid open to find the crud sunk to the bottom. This is extreme hands-off winemaking. “The most pure, clear wine is left when the qvevri is opened up,” he says. David Schildnecht, who covers Austria for The Wine Advocate, calls Ott’s Qvevri “revelational.”
The San Francisco-based Vinography blog has a very nice roundup that reviews several Turkish wines. The article can be found here. If you're in Turkey and want to try some of these wines, a New York Times article of mine about new wine bars in Istanbul can be found here. And for more wine reviews, check out Istanbul Eats' review section, here.
Istanbul Eats' latest Turkish wine review features a bottle made from an obscure grape known as the "forgotten Thracian prince." The grape, Papazkarasi ("priest's black" in Turkish), is grown almost exclusively in the Thrace region, near Turkey's border with Bulgaria and Greece. More details here.
Niko Pirosmanashvili [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Georgian Politics in Action
Washington-based analyst Vladimir Socor has a new briefing out that takes a look at the political opposition in Georgia and its possible upcoming activities. I was particularly struck by a passage that focussed on how wine is figuring into the opposition's (and Moscow's) calculus. From Socor's piece:
Wine being ladles out of a kvevri, a clay vessel used to age Georgian wine
CNN's website has a report by correspondent Ivan Watson that takes a look at both the past and promising future of Georgian wine. Georgia, of course, is considered by many -- Georgian in particular -- to be the birthplace of wine. After going through a rough patch in recent years after an embargo was put in place by Russia, once the main export market for its wine, Georgia is now trying to market its wine in other parts of the world, with boutique wineries and improved methods.
You can find Watson's report, which includes a visit to one of the several new small-scale wineries that have recently opened up in Georgia, here.