A truly superb brandy from Armenian outfit Ararat. Whilst this distillery is little known in Western Europe, it is extremely popular in the eastern reaches of the continent.
The distillery has a storied history, having been founded in 1887 by a pair of cousins in an old fort using French equipment they’d happened across. The brandy picked up a Grand Prix award at the 1900 International Exhibition in Paris, and also supplied the Imperial Russian Court for a time. It is said that Stalin gifted Churchill a few bottles of the brandy at the Yalta conference, and he was so impressed that he established a standing order of 400 bottles a year (more than one a day)!
The distillery is a symbol of national pride, and indeed, it offers a true taste of Armenian produce. Ararat uses local grape varieties from the Ararat valley, some of which are rare survivors of the phylloxera blight. The main grape strains used are the Garan Dmak, Voskehat and Kangun varieties. The different strains are processed separately, so as to preserve their integrity of flavour.
Ararat uses gentle horizontal presses which avoid the seeds getting crushed and influencing the flavours of grape. The brandy is double steam distilled to ensure retention of the grapes’ delicate profiles. After distillation, the brandy is matured in exclusively oak casks.
Ararat take their casks very seriously, having established their own cooperage in 2002. They use Armenian oak which has been allowed to grow for 70 years prior to harvesting. Only the heart of the trees are used, and this oak possesses a tight grain, releasing tannins slowly.
This brandy has been aged for an incredible 20 years, with the final result being a staggeringly complex spirit. Ararat Nairi serves up notes of gentle figs, flowers, dates, raisins and dried cranberry, followed by some slightly prickling spice, plums, bright grapes, vanilla, cedarwood, toasted almond, coconut, dark chocolate, Bourbon-style oak, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
The bottling is named after the Nairi people, who inhabited the Armenian Highlands thousands of years ago.
A cracking grape brandy, that matches the quality of the very best XO Cognacs.