O, for a draught of vintage

There are many reasons why you should visit Azerbaijan but if you’re a connoisseur of wines then remember that this country is one of the oldest wine producing nations in the world

Roughly around the time of 4000 BCE, approximately 6,000 years ago, man was at the cusp of inventing the wheel and the people of China were learning the art and science of rice farming. But there were a bunch of people in exotic Azerbaijan who eschewed such mundane pursuits in favour of the finer things of life. More specifically, wine. Believe it or not, the modern nation of Azerbaijan happens to be one of the oldest wine growing regions in the world. And it’s not just a wild claim that we are making. This is backed up by archaeological and micro-botanical evidence that suggests that the folks around the Arpachay River in Nakhchivan’s Sharur region were making copious amounts of wine about six millennia ago. In fact, there is some evidence that there existed an even older knowledge of wine in the Shulaveri-Shomutepe culture near Aghstafa in what is now Western Azerbaijan.


Cut to the Soviet era, far from throwing away this fine side of life as good humourless vodka loving Communism would have suggested, Azerbaijan continued to produce vast quantities of the drink of the gods. In 1984, just about half a decade before the Berlin Wall came down, before Glasnost and Perestroika, this region produced 10 million decalitres of wine, 1.4 million decalitres of cognac and 1.5 million decalitres of sparkling wine. By the time the Soviets replaced the red flag of USSR with the white blue and red of Russia, Azerbaijan boasted 181 wineries with a total capacity of 1.8 million tonnes!


So far so good. In a nutshell, Azerbaijan has a history of producing fine wines, cognac and sparkling wines and they have been doing it since before recorded history. So you can get the Azerbaijani version of every classic wine that you can think of. Here’s the clincher though. The country also has a culture of producing non-grape wines, especially pomegranate. Of these, the best known varieties include Az-Granata (Agsu) and Tovuz-Baltiya(Tovuz), which can be also tasted during traditional Goychay pomegranate festival held every year in early November.


All of this takes us back to Keats and his desire for “a draught of vintage! that hath been cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth.” Unless he knew what he wanted in his goblet, young John would have been drunk on the sheer number of wine options in Azerbaijan.