Travel to Armenia: Brandy and Wine tasting
For my trip to Georgia and Armenia this summer, given the breadth covered during such time, it seemed that it would be better to cover elements of the trip in a series of posts. So, this first series shall cover the wine and brandy tastings experienced whilst travelling throughout the countries. If you have followed some of my earlier posts you will know that I had previously visited a vineyard in London for a wine tasting and so it is always interesting to me to discover the various winemaking houses and vineyards whilst travelling.
Brandy Tasting at Noy factory
It almost felt as though I was in a corner of France, rather than Armenia as I waited for that afternoon’s dégustation of brandy to commence at 4pm! A few other French words had been uttered that day as well during this start to my visit to Armenia and I was keen to sample the differing brandies at Noy Brandy factory as the perfect finish to a day of sightseeing. These brandy and wine tasting sessions had been organised in advance through the local Armenian travel company, Barev Armenia.
I had previously seen the signs to the Noy factory and other brandy factories on my arrival to Yerevan from the airport and so I was already keen to explore! The size of the factory itself belies the impression given by its front door and reception, which seem quite small, as it is located on very large premises! Fortunately, we had a guide to ourselves as a very large group tour had entered the factory just ahead of us!
There are several old-style cars from the Soviet Union and replica cannons on the large grounds of Noy factory which thankfully distracted the larger group so that we could commence our tour quickly! They are certainly worth viewing as historical relics but are also a good location for photo opportunities!
Since 1877, Noy factory had been producing cognac, but it was only 10 years later that its wine production commenced. Further to earthquake damage and the nationalisation of the factory during the times of the Soviet Union, the factory re-opened its doors in 2004.
Presently, the factory no longer continues with the wine production. The wine that is kept onsite are the old wine reserves which we were able to visit but there will be more details about that later!
There are 12 types of Armenian grapes that were used in the wine production, 10 being white and 2 were red. For the brandies, the flavour derives from the wood of the barrels in which it is soaked as there is nothing added during the production process.
Tour of the wine cellars
After receiving details of the history of the factory and the process employed for production, the moment came to visit the cellars! The newer cellars were first and the smell emanating from them was certainly potent! It reminded me of the smell of Eau de Vie; there is even a nickname for this part of the process, as the smell is so strong that it’s termed ‘the part of Angels’! It is named as such to account for the 5% of alcohol that is evaporated from the barrels in such process. Indeed, only the younger brandies, those under 3 years old, are kept in those cellars!
The aroma from the old cellars was of a different nature and smelt rather damp indeed! However, there are still wines maintained in there. The highlight for me, however, was accessing the secret tunnel in the cellar!
Only part of the tunnel is available to access now but historically it would continue as far as the American embassy in the area! It was explained that the various barrels are identified by 3 sets of numbers on the outside of each barrel. It was certainly fascinating to learn about this system.
The brandy tasting was the final stage of the tour! Before commencing the brandy tasting session, I was provided with an option to sample some port from 1944 and so I certainly agreed to try a sample. It was of the semi-sweet tawny variety and therefore differed from the white port that I had become partial to whilst visiting Porto. The port certainly did leave me feeling that warmth radiating throughout my body which was certainly appreciated in the cool cellar.
Wishing to arrive as soon as possible at the tasting area, we utilised the lift that dated back to 1956 and met one of the technicians at some point who provided a few insights in terms of the manner for recording the variety of barrels.
For the brandy tasting, this took place in a formal dining area with some food pairings available, including fruit such as peaches. There were two varieties on offer at the table with one being a 5 year old brandy whilst the other was a 10 year old brandy.
We were provided with demonstrations of the method to taste brandies. The first step, it seems, is to hold the brandy glass within your left hand, given that it’s closer to the heart, and would therefore facilitate the warming of the brandy glass. After warming the glass, the second stage is to shake the glass to check the age of the brandy. Apparently, the number of seconds in which the brandy drops return from the top to the base of the glass provide an indication of the brandy’s age! The theory is that, for a 5 year old brandy, the droplets of the brandy would return to the base of the glass within 5 seconds. This was a completely new element to me and so I certainly tried to put this to the test unsuccessfully!
On the table were also roses and the explanation given was that these were historically utilised as an indicator of any diseases that the vineyards may be subject to and so the roses assisted with the health of the wines.
It was certainly a very interesting afternoon as I had not previously attended a formal brandy tasting. Armenia is certainly a good location to attend a brandy tasting as it is one of the country’s national products.
Areni Winery: wine tasting
Whilst Armenia is slightly more renowned for its brandy production there are also lots of wineries around providing information and samples of Armenian wine.
During our visit to Armenia, we were taken to the Areni winery for a wine tasting session. This tasting and tour was on a smaller scale to the brandy tasting that we had previously experienced and indeed a smaller scale to the later wine tastings in Georgia.
There were several wines already presented at the table at Areni for me to sample and these consisted of a combination of dry reds, white and rosé as well as the semi-dry red wine produced by the winery. The semi-dry did seem slightly sweet, but acidic, to me and as such was not a preference.
One highlight however, was the opportunity to sample pomegranate wine! The taste is quite sweet and sour with a slightly sweetish tang. This wine is typically served as a liquor but can be consumed at other times with some ice cubes for the quintessential summer’s day drink!
One criticism, of this winetasting, is that the wines were not served in different glasses or at least rinsed through with water prior to trying the next wine on the list and so it does make me question as to whether some of the flavours may have been tainted within the glass, as a result.
The apricot brandy was well received however. So much so, that I did purchase a small bottle as a souvenir for myself! Also as a reminder of the wine sampled, I managed to purchase a bottle of the dry red wine and so I will just need to find a suitable occasion to share the bottle!
On another occasion, I had separately met a friend and enjoyed a glass of the rosé wine at one of the Yerevan wine bars, which will be mentioned in a later post, it was perfectly quaffable and could therefore be an option during the intense summer days as an alternative to the red wine of the region!
Let me know in the comments below whether you might have also partaken in brandy tasting or are you now inspired to try? Have you tried Armenian wines or brandies before?