Nestled in the picturesque Caucasus region, Azerbaijan, often referred to as the “Pearl of the Caucasus,” beckons travelers with its rich history of viticulture and a burgeoning wine industry. The vibrant capital, Baku, boasts elegant bars and a nightlife that surprises even the most seasoned oenologists. Join us on a captivating journey as we explore the roots of winemaking, discover the best wineries in the region, embark on wine tours, and catch a glimpse of the promising future that Azerbaijani wines hold.
The Ancient Roots of Azerbaijani Winemaking:
Long before nation-states marked the landscape, the people of the Caucasus cultivated grapes, giving birth to the idea of winemaking. Archaeological findings along the Arpachay River in Nakhchivan’s Sharur region suggest wine production over 6000 years ago. The Shulaveri-Shomutepe Culture near Aghstafa in Western Azerbaijan hints at even older winemaking knowledge, making the South Caucasus one of the oldest wine-producing regions globally.
Soviet Influence and the German Contribution:
In the Soviet era, Azerbaijan played a pivotal role in wine and cognac production, with a significant share in the overall output. German colonies, particularly in Helenendorf (now Goygol), introduced grape cultivation for winemaking. Christopher Vohrer, a German settler, founded Azerbaijan’s first major winery in 1860, gaining worldwide recognition for Azerbaijani wines.
After the collapse of the USSR, Azerbaijan’s wine industry faced challenges, including the destruction of vineyards during Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign. However, since gaining independence, the country has witnessed a remarkable revival. Government initiatives, starting in 2002, focused on quality over quantity, with expert winemakers from Italy and Moldova aiding the resurgence. The introduction of internationally recognized grape varieties and experimentation with local alternatives has led to a diverse range of fine wines.
Azerbaijani Wine Culture: Beyond classic grape wines, Azerbaijan embraces non-grape varieties, such as full-flavored pomegranate-based wines. Well-known grape varieties like Merlot and Chardonnay coexist with Pan-Caucasian and local varietals. The country’s five major wine-growing regions, including Shamakha and Gabala, showcase diverse terroirs.
- Chabiant (Chateau Monolitis): Hidden among hilltop vineyards, Chabiant offers a quality guesthouse, a splendid tasting room, and impressive wine caves. The winery, located in Ismayilli district, focuses on rescuing rare grape varieties.
- Savalan: Known for premium quality wines, Savalan’s vineyards near Gabala benefit from ample sunshine, producing a range of nearly 20 different wines, blending Azerbaijani and Italian expertise.
- Fireland: Situated on the Absheron Peninsula, Fireland explores the unique terroir, creating explosively fiery and highly original wines. The winery welcomes visitors and produces a range of well-balanced wines.
- Goygol: Tracing its origins to 1860, Goygol winery in the town of Goygol offers a diverse selection of wines and brandies. The company’s vineyards cover over 500 hectares, preserving the legacy of Azerbaijani winemaking.
- Meysari (Shirvan Wines): Considered an organic producer by EU certification, Meysari focuses on French grape varieties and aims to expand its range with newly planted Caucasian seedlings.
Wine Experiences and Tours:
- Ultimate Culinary & Wine Tour Azerbaijan: A 5-day package covering national dishes, wine tastings, and visits to wineries like AZ-Granata and Savalan.
- Wine Crawl Baku: Explore the cozy wine bars in Baku, indulging in local wines and discussing Azerbaijani wine traditions.
- Travel with a Glass of Wine: Visit four wineries across Azerbaijan, blending traditional viticulture with modern European technologies and savoring the local wines amidst mesmerizing vineyard landscapes.
Azerbaijan’s wine culture, rooted in ancient traditions, is experiencing a renaissance. From historic wineries to modern pioneers, the diverse terroirs and grape varieties create a unique tapestry of Azerbaijani wines. As the country opens its doors to wine enthusiasts, the future shines bright for Azerbaijani wines on both local and international shelves.