Tucked away among the canyons, cliffs, and rocky outcrops of Armenia’s Vayots Dzor province is the tiny village of Areni. At first glance, this small settlement might seem unremarkable. But you’d be wrong. Even in a country that has produced wine for well over 6,000 years, Areni stands out for its wine production. And because of that, it’s actually the site of one of Armenia’s top festivals, the Areni Wine Festival. In this Areni Wine Festival travel guide, I will tell you everything you need to know about this incredible event!
What is the Areni Wine Festival?
The Areni Wine Festival isn’t just your typical wine festival. It’s a celebration of Armenian culture. Back in 2007, archaeologists discovered the oldest winery in the world in a nearby cave called Areni-1. The existence of the 6,100-year-old winery proved just how ancient the art of winemaking is in Armenia. Two years later, the very first Areni Wine Festival was held. It has taken place next to the cave on the first Saturday in October ever since. The festival has since grown into the premier wine festival in all of Armenia!
I had the pleasure of visiting the Areni Wine Festival on October 5, 2019, which was the 10-year anniversary of the festival! And it did not disappoint at all. While wine certainly takes center stage at the festival, there’s a lot more to enjoy there. In fact, I saw quite a few families there.
In addition to showcasing roughly 25 wine vendors from around the country, there are also food vendors, live music, craftsmen, dance performances, and much more!
One of the great things about the Areni Wine Festival is that admission is free. However, if you want to be able to sample as many wines as you want, I highly recommend buying a ticket for 2,500 Armenian dram, or roughly $5 USD.
For this small fee, you will get your own wine glass, as well as coupons that will allow you to taste unlimited wines from all of the participating vendors. Just take your glass with you to each booth and the vendors will take care of the rest! Trust me, it’s an incredible experience to have, especially for such a small price.
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I’ve been a wine lover for as long as I’ve been legally able to drink it. I will admit, though, I’m not the best when it comes to describing the flavors of the wines. But I do know amazing wine when I taste it, and the selections at the Areni Wine Festival were out of this world!
My Armenian Wine Adventure
I began my wine-tasting adventure with some delicious, semi-sweet, and dry Karas wine. I had tried some of their wines earlier in my travels around the country, so it was great to meet some of the faces behind it. They (and all of the other vendors) treated me like a VIP and gave me more to taste than I thought they would! The Karas booth offered quite a few varieties, including rosé, white, and red.
At the Kenats wine booth, I asked for the vendor’s favorite, so she let me sample a delicious dry red wine that is made from a blend of different Armenian grapes. My next stop was the Maran Winery booth, where I tried a very nice, dry white wine that reminded me a lot of the Albariño I loved from my time in Spain. I also recommend trying the incredible rosé at Armas Wines.
There’s a rosé at Voskeni Wines that’s so light, it’s almost like a white wine, and the white wine at the Old Bridge Winery booth transported me back to Spain again with its Albariño-like flavor. I continued with the white wine theme with a couple of dry varieties at the Tus Wine booth and the Armenia Wine Company. Armenia Wine Company also offers rosé, white, fruit wines, reds, sparkling wines, and a sweet Moscato that was named the best in the world in 2015!
After a nice Arag at Rikars Wine, I moved on to a dry pomegranate wine by Matevosyan Wine. Pomegranate wine is more like pomegranate juice that has been fermented, and it is outstanding. Their semi-sweet pomegranate wine was my favorite of the day! I finished with a pair of wines at Noyan Tapan Vineyards, including a full-bodied, organic Areni Noir and a delightful brownish pomegranate wine.
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Even though the wine is the main attraction at the Areni Wine Festival, don’t pass up the opportunity to try some delicious Armenian food! About midway-through my wine-tasting adventure, I grabbed some Armenian noodles from the Tava Meat and Wine booth. I had eaten this very dish at their restaurant in the town of Dilijan, so I already knew it would be insanely good.
The noodles were everything I’d hope they’d be. They’re al dente, but are still a little different from Italian pasta. These noodles contained nice chunks of beef, seeds, and herbs. It also had two sauces, including a creamy yogurt, which added a smoothness and a bit of fattiness as well. The best thing about the dish is that it’s incredibly fresh. Like most Armenian food, it’s light on spices, which lets the natural flavors of the ingredients shine through.
Elsewhere at the Areni Wine Festival, you’ll find vendors offering fruits, jams, honeys, and cheeses. I tried a mouthwatering peach slice at the Maran Winery booth, as well as several cheeses at the Mikayelyan Family Farm booth. This farm actually ages their cheeses in Armenian wine and brandy, so you get a really palatable creaminess and a hint of wine with each bite!
They also have a wonderful cheese that has grape leaves in its outside crust. It was unlike anything I’d ever eaten and was the perfect way to cap off my food adventures at the Areni Wine Festival!
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Even with all the different foods and wines to try at the Areni Wine Festival, there’s still more to see. One of my favorite things about this festival was the people. They were all so warm and friendly, and that couldn’t have been more apparent than when the band started playing and everyone took to the street to sing and dance! There were also local dancers who performed right on the street. They moved so fast and their moves were absolutely mystifying!
And while I’ve visited a few wine festivals in my travels, as well as countless wineries around the world, I saw something at the Areni Wine Festival that I’d never seen before: grape stomping. Near the entrance was a large vat of grapes, and several Armenian girls and women stood inside, stomping them into juice with their bare feet. I wanted to try it out myself, but I learned that this is only for women! But one of the women did kindly feed me some fresh grapes before I moved on to my wine tasting journey!
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When you come to Armenia, there are many things you absolutely must see and do. One of them is the Areni Wine Festival. When I tell you this was by far my favorite wine festival I’ve ever visited, I mean every word of it. Words can’t adequately describe the feeling I had there, bonding with the locals, the vendors, and other tourists. We were all there to have a great time and celebrate. The wines may have been divine, and the food may have been sensational, but it was the people that made October 5, 2019, a day I will never forget. Book a trip to Armenia in October to enjoy this amazing experience for yourself!
Special thanks to my friends at Armenia Travel for their kindness, hospitality, and for arranging my trip. I couldn’t have done it without them!
Also, if you would like to visit Areni, please contact my guide Lusine.
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