It was strange to notice a wine restaurant with a Slavic name in the heart of Yerevan until we found out that the owner was a Russian native of Siberia. There are no vineyards there, but love for wine is part of her genes, since her grandfather comes from Armenia.
After all, a large bottle of Karas on its way out of the international airport is testament to the Armenian attachment to wine. Today, there are over 600 different grape varieties in Armenia! This huge figure only adds to the importance of winemaking for Armenian tourism and oeno-gastronomy. The vine is specific, there is usually more sugar so the wines are stronger. The most important and popular varieties are haghtanak, areni, cabernet, sultana, as well as Karmrahyut, Kangun, Voskehat. The importance of wine for the Armenians is shown by the fact that one of the most important holidays of the Armenian Apostolic Church is the blessing of the vine. It happens every year for the Feast of the Assumption, August 15th. This ceremony has not much to do with Christian Marian worship, but with the pagan memory of Navasard, the former New Year celebrated by Armenians in mid-August. Believers usually spend the night in front of monasteries and churches, singing pious songs. In the morning they sacrifice the animal, prepare lunch, and then follow the priests who bless the vineyards and vines.
Many of these sorts can be found in the Vinograd Restaurant, which shyly hides in the basement of the relatively busy Hanrapetutyan Street. In a pleasant environment that is reminiscent of the wine cellar, though, it is mostly foreigners, mostly Russians, but Vinograd proudly serves Armenian guests who have been faithfully visiting this place for more than four years. The pleasant company was made by our owner Alla and her friendly waitress, whose eye always kept a close watch on the quantities of wine in our glasses.
For start, we tried Voskehat from Hin Areni, the 2017 vintage, which was much milder and richer to us than the one we tasted in the very basement of Areni. Shortly thereafter, Van Ardi Kangun 2018, a wine with a distinct bouquet of fruits (pear, apricot, quince), with light citrus notes, finally gives a refreshing and elegant wine. Kangun is a great white wine that is easy to drink but has 14 percent alcohol, which is a characteristic of many wines in Armenia. With these "light" white wines, we were served a wonderful appetizer: delicious chicken liver pate, black lavash baked on the ashes, spicy sausages and homemade cow cheese; in other words, a paradise for trying different flavours combined with wine.
Armenians are not only carnivores, but also like a variety of salads. Among the most popular is not the Armenian, but the Lebanese tabbouleh salad, apparently brought by Armenians who have lived in this Levant country for centuries. They make their own Vinograd salad in Vinograd, which is conceived as a component of everything that grows in Armenia. It can contain Armenian ham, grapes, blue cheese, nuts, various herbs. However, side dishes are often also pickles that come, say, with a khash that is a buillon broth made from cow's knees, garlic and salt, into which you dip your lavash. Very simple, satiating, and there are small snacks throughout Armenia where only a khash is offered.
We again tasted Rose from Hin Areni and confirmed our feeling from the winery itself that it was a very pale dry wine with no particular expression, but this time we realized that it was a very tricky wine. Light and drinkable, it could be enjoyed in the summer as hellish heat sweeps the Armenian plateau. But Rose Hin Areni has as much as 14.9 percent alcohol! Suddenly, summer wine becomes a treat for glasses, not bottles as we thought before. All Armenian wines have a very small yeast addition, which is also one of the important oenological features of the Caucasus.
ArmAs is the first red wine we tried in Vinograd. Also coming from the Areni region, this waxy red wine from 2012 gives aromas of forest fruit, fresh lavender and is extremely elegant, with balanced tannins. Wine like this is memorable, and the bottle conveys the hidden message that it is an ace of Armenian wines. Along with it we eat a classic Armenian dish - a flavour-rich tolma, one that really distinguishes certain ingredients, which is certainly a feature of good cuisine.
An additional indispensable Armenian food is kufte, which is not close to the Balkan or Middle Eastern version of dishes of the same name. It is a meat loaf consisting of ground beef, flour and a little cognac. Be sure to mix it by hand and there is no wedding ceremony in Armenia that goes without this dish. Along, we tasted Ariats 2016, a red wine from the Arena region, produced by Gevorkian Winery as a blend of four Armenian varieties using Italian Ripasso technology.
What makes the Vinograd’s culinary stand out is the dish that won the restaurant its first place in the 2018 Yerevan Best Food Competition. It is pork in wine sauce, cognac and cinnamon raisins. First, we were fascinated by the wonderful smell of smoked meat and cognac. The baked crust blends phenomenally with the grapes soaked in the sauce, while Doris Day's "Dream a Little Dream of Me" sings slightly in the background.
In these piggy ecstasies, we concluded that Armenian cuisine is truly imperial, with all the best meat versions, with hectolitres of wine and cognac and a mass of vegetables, on an ancient plateau that gives a balanced climate throughout the year! God gave Noah the right place to restart civilization! With this fantastic potable dish goes VanArdi 2017, a classic blend of three varieties: Areni, Kakhet and Haghtanak, which together make a very special Armenian terroir. The deep red colour, fruity aromas and spices match the award-winning dish perfectly, and again the wine is light (13% alcohol) and elegant.
The sweet finish in the Vineyard is no less complicated than the pleasures so far. The gata and baklava are beautifully served as the backdrop for the exceptional Maran Special Blanc wine. This dessert wine with 17 percent alcohol is made from the Khatun Kharji variety in a winery run by the same family for 200 years. Very sweet wine with clear acidity in the background gives notes of peaches, apricots, oranges, marzipan. In Armenia, they call it wine cognac, which they are certainly not mistaken for. Its combination of sweetness and refreshing taste demonstrates the oenological skills of Armenian winemakers. It's best enjoyed on its own, and the gata and baklava can go well with the pomegranate wine from Gevorkian Winery anyway, which gives off the aroma of fruit wine but not too much acid. The aroma and taste are dominated by pomegranate, that royal fruit that has become a symbol of Armenia. In the end, as is already the case in Armenia, one cannot leave a restaurant without tasting an Ararat cognac. We tried that ten-year-old one and of course we didn't regret it.
It is very likely that those who visit Armenia for the first time do not know much about Armenian wines. One can do research on the internet, but the real guide is to come to Vinograd. This is a place that we really enjoyed every second of it: from carefully prepared food, through the ambiance and dedicated owner and staff, to, of course, the wine that captivates and overcomes the many prejudices about Armenia as a country with no particular wine tradition.
62 Hanrapetutyan St, Yerevan 0010, Armenia
+374 77 520357