Like most wine writers, I work from home, but that's just the writing bit. When it comes to tasting, it's another matter. Tastings can be large-scale, with a room of over 300 wines to sip, spit and jot notes on, which is not as much fun as you may think, because tasting is very different to drinking, and no, I'm not expecting any sympathy on that.
Sometimes it involves travelling to one of the wine regions around the world, which, again, tends to be a very intense affair, with loads of visits packed tightly into a few days. But it is always enlightening and brings so much to my understanding of wine and, I hope, the way I talk about it to you.
As with everyone, things are very different now, but you can still be transported via the wonders of Zoom. I have never been to Armenia, although I've tasted Armenian wines, so it was fascinating to listen to Zorik Gharibian, the owner of Zorah winery, as he talked through his wines and how he first started out making them in 1999.
Armenia is a landlocked country bordered by Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran, and legend has it that Noah's Ark descended on Mount Ararat, the country's spiritual mountain. Here, the fist vines were planted, the first wine was drunk, and one of Zorik's vineyards is located two kilometres from what is considered to be one of the oldest wineries in the world, dating back 6,100 years.
Zorik's interest is in indigenous grapes, and reviving the ancient tradition of aging wine in amphorae. These traditional clay vessels, three quarters of which is buried in the ground, are more elongated in shape, and distinctly different from the amphorae in nearby Georgia.
For his project, Zorik sourced old amphorae that were no longer in use from people in nearby villages. He showed a picture of a huge amphorae which was in the middle of a house, as, over the decades, small extensions had been built around it. In a deal that suited both him and the elderly lady living there, he paid for the bricks and the labour to replace the surrounding damp walls in exchange for the amphora.
Zorik's vineyards, which reach 1,400 metres altitude, are in Vayots Zor, the smallest and least populated region in Armenia. With no industry in this region, it is pollution free, with good biodiversity from land that is used for pasture, cherry and peach trees.
Because of its isolation, the region is free from phylloxera, the root-eating pest that destroyed most of Europe's vineyards in the 19th century. This means that the vines do not need to be grafted and are grown on their own rootstock, which is very unusual.
He makes three wines. Voskì is a blend of two native white varieties, Voskéhat and Garandmak; Yeraz is made from ancient bush vines; and Karasi, which is featured in today's line-up with four other interesting wines, is made from the indigenous Areni Noir grape.
Wine of the week: Zorah Karasi Areni Noir#
€36.99, 13pc, from Corkscrew, Blackrock Cellar, Fallon & Byrne, Martin's, Redmond's, 64 Wine, Terroirs and wineonline.ie
Karasi is the Armenian word for "from amphora", and the grapes here come from a vineyard in the Yeghegnadzor Valley in south-eastern Armenia. Fermented using wild yeast in concrete tanks, the wine is then moved to amphorae which are sealed with wax. A small level of oxidization builds complexity. The result is a balanced, age-worthy wine which has fresh acidity and flavours of red fruits, spices, and a touch of pepper.
€29.35, 12.5pc, from Bradleys, Cork; Loose Canon, First Draft, Dublin; Le Caveau, Kilkenny and lecaveau.ie
The first fermentation for this biodynamic Pet Nat Chardonnay from Lombardy is in amphora, and the second is in the bottle, bringing flavours of thyme, white pepper and pineapple to this gently sparkling wine.
Neleman Organic Viognier-Verdil 201
Neleman Organic Viognier-Verdil 201 €13.45, 11.5pc, from Wines Direct Mullingar and winesdirect.ie
New to Wines Direct, Verdil is an almost extinct variety. This organic white from Valencia is blended with Viognier, and has a crisp minerality with oregano, green apple, grapefruit and a touch of wild honey.
Castellore Sicilian Nero D'Avola 2019
€7.49, 13.5pc, from Aldi
Rich, spicy and fruity, with plenty of black cherries and ripe fruit, this organic wine from Sicily is made from the Nero D'Avola grape, which is indigenous to the region.