Zorik Gharibian planted six hectares of the native Areni grape variety in the Yeghegnadzor valley in southeastern Armenia in 2006, under the guidance of Italian viticulturalist Stefano Bartolomei. The vineyard is situated at an altitude of 1,370 metres, close to Mount Ararat and two kilometres from what archaeologists are saying is the oldest winery in the world, dating back 6,100 years.
Because of the area’s isolation, the vines are ungrafted, as phylloxera has never reached this part of Armenia.
The wine is made under the guidance of Alberto Antonini. “I was struck by the superb conditions when I first visited the area”, says Alberto. “The altitude gives cool nights and a long growing season, so we don’t harvest until the end of October. It is very dry with intense sunlight and the stony, low vigour soil. It is one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever been involved with.”
Zorik is part of the seven million Armenian diaspora (there are just three million people living in Armenia). He was born in Iran into an Armenian family that had fled the country in 1915. His parents sent him to the Armenian school in Venice when the Iranian revolution took place. He stayed in Italy and built a successful enough fashion business to pursue a passion and invest over €1 million in this project.
The simple winery has stainless steel tanks, round cement tanks and some French and Armenian oak. Alberto, however, now prefers amphorae for ageing, as the polymerisation that they facilitate ensures a supple and sinewy wine. Indeed, the word ‘Karasì’ means ‘amphora’ in Armenian.
The wine is stunning. It has lovely depth yet remains lively. It is medium bodied with a Sangiovese-like style, in that it has lots of tannins that are ripe and grainy and give the wine superb length. It is a fitting way to re-launch wines from Armenia, along with Georgia ‘the cradle of the vine’, to the world. The quality and style is wholly modern, yet the variety is among the world’s oldest.