28 May Please The Palate Pick of the Week: 4th Annual GiniFest Armenian Wine Festival
Vino is wine in Italian and Spanish, Vin is wine in French, Vinho is wine in Portuguese, Wein is wine in German and Gini is wine in Armenian. Armenia is the oldest wine producing region in the world but Armenian wine is new to most of us. It is a region I have been learning about over the past couple of years and have enjoyed tasting wines from the indigenous grapes. Last weekend I attended the 4th annual GiniFest where I revisited winemakers I met at last year’s event. And like last year, the 4th Annual GiniFest Armenian Wine Festival is the Please The Palate pick of the week.
Taking place at Castaway Restaurant in Burbank, which overlooks the city, more than 1000 people came to taste Armenian wines, spirits, and beer, as well as meet art and food vendors.
When GiniFest first started, there were only 10 wineries, 2 vendors, and 300 attendees. Now there were 30 wineries, spirits, beer, as well as food products, art, and jewelry. All businesses are Armenian owned. Of the wineries, some were winemakers who came from Armenia and others were Armenian-owned winemakers in Napa and Paso Robles.
The success of the festival, and its growth, is thanks to Executive Director Anush Gharibyan-O’Connor. And that success is due to overcoming the challenges that Covid posed the last few years, as well as the increased awareness of Armenian wines in the US.
I loved tasting the wines, made from grapes such as Voskehat, Khatouni, Gratiesti, Areni, Sireni, and more. But it is the passion of the people behind the wines that is captivating.
Three wineries from Artsak were back this year. They were pouring some of their last wines as they no longer have control or access to their vineyards as a result of the war. But their optimistic attitudes are inspiring.
Emiliya Baghdassarian and Raffi Gulbenk were back with Apris Wines. They were pouring three wines, the white wine was made from indigenous white grape Gratiesti, as a rosé and red wine both made from the Sireni grape. Emiliya’s father Garen Bagdasarian created Apris Wine with friend Bagdasar Gulian. While they do not have their vineyard anymore, they were able to take cuttings of Gratiesti and Sireni, which are indigenous to Artsakh, which they will plant in Armenia.
Garen was also sharing his Balassan, an aged pomegranate-honey balsamic reduction made from 100% natural ingredients sourced in rural Armenia. Rich and tart, I can imagine pouring this over salmon and vegetables, as well as ice cream!
Takri, which means “roots” in Artsakh dialect, is owned by the Kaprielian family. Also located in Artsakh, the family has lost their vineyard. Fortunately, their winery is in Armenia and they also took cuttings of the indigenous grapes to plant in Armenia.
Rikars Wine is a partnership between Riccardo Gagliardi and Arsen Zadoyan. They were pouring two wines, the Davit made from 100% old vine Areni from the Vayots Dzor which is fermented in concrete tanks and aged in Armenian Oak barrels, as well as as Areni aged in amphora.
Zack Armen, the co-founder of Storica Wines, an importer of Armenian Wines, was pouring wines from his portfolio with brand ambassador Dana Farner. They had wines from Voskevaz Winery, Van Ardi Winery, Zulal, Sofer Armenian Rose, and Keush. The Keush is the first traditional method sparkling wine producer using indigenous Armenian grapes. I have enjoyed the classic sparkling wine before but this time also tried the reserve which had a rich texture and lovely acidity.
Malahi is the ancient name for Areni, Armenia’s primary red grape variety and they were pouring a red wine that was a blend of Areni, Malbec, and Khndoghni as well as an Amber Wine made from the white grape Spitak Areni.
Tushpa Winery is located below the Biblical Mt. Ararat in the village of Taperakan village and have vineyards planted nearly 800 meters above sea level. I enjoyed the red wine made from 100% Haghtanak grape grown in Ararat Valley.
Kevork Khzarjian, owner of Fat & Happy Beverages, an importer of wines, spirits, and food products from Armenia, Georgia, Chekh Republic, and Tuscany, was not fat, but happy in a room filled with his products, including Karas Wines, a winery I wrote a story about earlier this year.
If you are looking to try Armenian Wines, do not miss WinesofArmenia.com owned by Stepan Baghdassarian. Stepan has one of the largest selections of Armenian wines, including Mahali, Rikars Davit, Takri, Karas, Keush, Van Ardi, Voskevaz, Zulal, Yacoubian Hobbs, and more, as well as the Bagdasarian Balassan Aged Pomegranate Honey Balsamic Reduction.
Armenian wines are worth discovering and GiniFest is a great way to try the wines and meet the producers.