Thursday, 21 February 2013

Karasi Zorah, Areni Noir 2010

Time for something a little more exotic and off the beaten path. Karasi Zorah is an Armenian wine grown a 1,400m altitude and is comprised of a grape called Areni Noir - which I am told is the signature grape variety of Armenia. Karasi Zorah has been well-reviewed by some top names in wine: Jancis Robinson gave it 17 and memorably described it as having 'gypsy' flavours - meaning it in a positive sense, suggesting an 'untamed' and wild edge. With such a review, I had to give it a go. On a side note, the bottle is also very pretty: made in a classic style with a wider shoulder than base, the label has raised colouring and the design is a nice touch of traditional Armenian art (although the wine itself was made by an Italian - Alberto Antonini).

Tried alongside several other wines from non-mainstream producers (but by no means non-traditional, as Armenia has been making wine for thousands of years), Zorah was a strong contender. Aged in oak and made in traditional amphorae, it certainly has character galore!

Nose: On first sniff it smelt almost exactly like a Cuban cigar, with notes of smoke and hay backed with a lovely heady mix of raisins, spice and coffee. A hint of pepper comes through at the back and complements the coffee nicely. There's a very distinct structure and on first impression it is extremely well-made.

Palate: How odd! I found it to be very similar to actually smoking a cigar with all the hay, smoke and spice that entails. The savoury tastes are backed with nice ripe fruit although there's a slight sharpness at times. Impressive pepper and coffee. In time, it became sweeter at the front end of things - perhaps a hint of blood orange - and heavier and more sour at the back, with the coffee coming to dominate.

Body: Quite a full taste, but strangely a relatively thin body. Perhaps I didn't give it enough time, but the body doesn't feel quite balanced. Definitely something a little strange about it.

Finish: Medium length with a nice little development. There's a bit of orange zest in the finish - with the bitterness associated with eating some peel.

Conclusion: A really rather interesting and fun wine. The bottle is very distinctive and, depending on your style, it's either a fun design point or an unnecessarily heavy gimmick. At £20 a bottle it's not exactly a cheap wine, but then it does come up with the goods in many areas. The imbalance in the body may have been from my bottle, so it will certainly be one that I re-taste (when I can find another supplier in the UK, as it's rather hard to get hold of). I thoroughly enjoyed the smokiness and spiciness which also seems characteristic of Armenia in its wildness and makes one think of mountain scenes in small villages (the vineyard is near Mt Ararat - where Noah's Ark finished its journey).

Points: 88-89. The slight weirdness with the body has removed a point or two from this, but I would have no hesitation in recommending this to someone who is interested in wine and would like to try something different.

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