Zorah, “Karasì” Areni Noir
Here it is, the entrance to Areni-1 Cave, home to the world’s oldest-known winery of 6,100 years. And two miles from this archaeological site is Zorah, a “modern” winery producing the exact same grape our ancestors were fermenting six millennia ago. The ancient grape is Areni Noir, the country is Armenia, and the wine is legendary.
Is there anything more special than a superbly delicious bottle that pays tribute to what could very well be the origin of winemaking itself? For us, that question is rhetorical. Steven Spurrier and Jancis Robinson hold this cuvée in extremely high regard, Bloomberg considers it “one of the best wines in the world,” and we have watched in awe as “Karasì” has become the most successful esoteric offer in SommSelect history. This is for all the wine connoisseurs, thrill-seekers, history/geography/archaeology buffs—anyone who wants to discover the irresistible allure of an ancient wine treasure. It is one of the most important and enchanting bottles of red you’ll experience, period.
Zorah was founded in the 2000s by Zorik Gharibian, an Italian-Armenian who abandoned an auspicious fashion career in Milan to return to his roots. With Mount Ararat looming in the backdrop, Zorik was immediately drawn to the volcanic soils of Vayots Dzor, so he began building a winery in the rural town of Rind and planting various grapes at elevations of 4,600 feet. After years of experimentation, he found that an indigenous grape known as Areni Noir performed best in this terroir, so he began channeling his energy towards it with the assistance of one of Italy’s most prominent winemaking consultants: Alberto Antonini. As fate would have it, a literal next-door discovery revolutionized everything just a few years later.
In the late 2000s, a UCLA research team, alongside Armenia’s Institute of Archaeology, went deep into the highlands of Armenia’s Vayots Dzor and discovered the remains of a 6,100-year-old winery, the world’s earliest known wine production site. They found rudimentary wine presses and crumbling fermentation jars, all of which were covered in brittle grape stems/seeds/pips that were traced to Areni Noir. Zorik had not only built his winery across the way from the world’s oldest winery, but he was also planting and bottling the exact same grape from all those millennia ago!
All of Zorah’s vines have been selected from the cuttings of an unused vineyard located next to a local 13th-century monastery. Since these vines are buried in sandy, limestone soils perched at an extraordinarily high altitude of 4600 feet, all of them are ungrafted, as phylloxera cannot survive in these conditions. After hand-harvesting the Areni Noir into small baskets, the grapes are de-stemmed and sent to ferment naturally in epoxy-free concrete tanks. The wine then ages 12 months in amphorae, or karas (karasì = “from amphorae”). These karas are wax-sealed and buried ¾ underground to ensure a steady temperature during maturation. Afterward, the wine is blended together and bottled, where it ages an additional six months before leaving the winery.
With this 2020 release, one can expect soft, gorgeously lifted perfumes of black cherry, fresh-picked Damson plum, purple flowers, wild strawberry, white pepper, exotic spice, and baked clay. The sublime palate has incredible Burgundian finesse and svelte, ultra-smooth tannins that allow the freshness to shine through. For me, this is one of the most simultaneously delicious and unique reds in existence. Enjoy now and over the next three years.