2018 Yacoubian-Hobbs, Areni, Vayots Dzor, Armenia.
The Armenian red from Paul Hobb’s intriguing project there is a dark ruby/garnet medium bodied and spicy wine that really reminds me of Fronton (Negrette) with its peppery and briar berry notes, with this Areni (grape) giving some floral and earthy elements, showing off a core of plum and Italian cherry on the pure, un-oaked and mineral toned smoothy textured palate. There’s some distinctive herbal notes and some nice acidity, from the high elevation vineyards that are not far from Armenia’s iconic Mount Ararat, it is a pleasing wine that is simple to understand and best served with rustic cuisine choices. I’ve only had a few wines from this small country which as far as the modern wine world knows, maybe the oldest wine caves yet discovered with some dating back more than 6,000 years. We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface on the history of winemaking in Armenia, but in more recent times, especially under Soviet rule, the country has been much more famous for Brandy, which I’ve had a few times both here and in my visit Moscow, where it is very popular. Still wines are a rarity in the States, so I was excited to find this Paul Hobbs example, knowing his penchant for clean and precise winemaking, and I was not disappointed, though I do still want to find a few authentic versions to compare. I’ve long been fascinated with the wines of the Caucasus Mountains and Eastern Europe/Western Asia, with Armenia, which, together with the Republic of Georgia, long believed to be the birthplace of viticulture and (the) public wine trade.

Paul Hobbs, famous for his elite Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and his team at Yacoubian-Hobbs sourced the hand harvested grapes from the Rind vineyard, in the Vayots Dzor region, located over 1,300 meters (4,000 feet) above sea level, where the vines grow on, the mentioned, mineral rich volcanic soils with limestone deposits. The Areni, a native and ancient varietal, is blended with a small percentage of the even more rare indigenous Armenian variety Tozot to add some complexity, which I trust the Hobbs team painstakingly researched and came up with the ideal percentage. The wine was 100% de-stemmed and cool fermented and macerated to extract the color and allow for transparent aromatics and flavors in stainless tanks. After the wine was fermented dry it was then aged 20 months in the stainless steel tanks, again to promote all the raw nuances and terroir here. This vintage, which I assume was pretty normal, warm and ripe, comes in at a healthy 14.5% natural alcohol, though it doesn’t feel quite that hot and again with a hearty meal it is an impressive and unique wine. Finding the Vayots Dzor region is not an easy trek, it is a province of Armenia that sits in the southeastern end of the country, bordering the Nakhchivan exclave of Azerbaijan, an unfriendly neighbor, to the west and the Kalbajar District of Azerbaijan to the east, with a rugged mountainous backdrop and incredibly remote villages. That said, even though it is a long way from Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, it is dotted with ancient Monasteries and is well known in Country for the quality of the wines and local cuisine.
($39 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

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