Karas is the first Armenian winery to have widespread distribution in the United States. We bought our Karas wines for the tasting through G+B Importers who represent Karas on the east coast of the USA.
To evaluate the wines, we selected comparison wines from similar grapes at roughly the same price points. Our selections are all from strong wineries/brands that are either market leaders or have strong reputations for producing great value wines.
A note on “Blended Wines”: other than the Sparkling Muscat, all of Karas’s wines are unusual blends of European and Armenian grapes. In making our selections we looked for similar European varietal blends, but none of the wines we picked are exact replicas of the Karas recipes.
All of the Karas wines (except for the Reserve Red) sell for less than $15/btl. This is a very popular price point for table wines – most people expect a well made wine for this price, but are willing to take a chance on something new – and in the US, a wine from Armenia certainly qualifies as something new.
These are the detailed tasting results:
Karas Extra Brut Sparkling Wine vs. Korbel Brut California Champagne: The Karas wine is a blend of 35% Colombard, 35% Folle Blanc (a high acid French grape), 20% Chardonnay and 10% Kangun (an Armenian grape). The secondary fermentation (which produces the bubbles) is done in steel tanks, not in the bottle (e.g. Methode Champenoise).
The $15/bottle sparkling wine category is crowded with entries from Cava, Procesco and the USA. We selected the Korbel Brut as a comparison. It is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Colombard and Pinot Noir and the secondary fermentation is done in bottle. Korbel Brut is is America’s top selling sparkling wine.
The Tasting Panel preferred the Karas Sparkling wine by a 5-3 margin. While the Korbel wine had the superior bubbles and mouth-feel associated with real champagne, it had a sweeter after-taste, which became cloying over time. In contrast, the Karas wine had crisper acidity and went much better with the selection of appetizers.
“ Underneath the bubbles, it was clear that the Karas was the better wine – that really came through when pared with food” Richard Papalian
2014 Karas Classic White vs. 2015 Saint Cosme Cote du Rhone: The Karas White is a blend of 46% Kangun (an Armenian grape), 34% Chardonnay and 20% Rkatsiteli (a Georgian grape).
There is nothing similar to the Karas blend in the marketplace, so for comparison purposes we chose a popular blend, a White Cote Du Rhone (a blend of Viognier, Marsanne, Picpoul and Clairette). Saint Cosme is an excellent winery, their Cote du Rhone Blanc typically scores 89-90 point ratings and 2015 is a great Rhone vintage, so we expected this be a tough test for the Karas Classic White.
The panel split 4-4 in terms of preference here; the Saint Cosme had a big complex bouquet of honeysuckle, peach and herbal aromas, while the Karas White had a much quieter nose and crisper acidity. We did not detect any real Chardonnay elements in the Karas White, despite it representing one third of the blend. While not as flamboyant as the Saint Cosme, those who preferred the Karas White sited its performance with the food – in particular the fish dishes where the acidity of the Karas White worked really well with the fat of the smoked salmon and the codfish croquettes.
“ While the Karas Classic White was good, it was somewhat non-descript. It will be a tough sell in the U.S. when competing with Chardonnays, Pinot Grigios and Sauvignon Blancs – all of which have well defined flavor profiles at this price point” Cathleen Visher-Burke
2014 Karas Classic Red vs. 2014 La Posta’s Tinto Red Blend. The Karas Classic Red is a unique blend of 40% Syrah, 18% Tannat (a French varietal widely grown in Uruguay used to provide color and tannin to blends), 15% Cabernet Franc, 14% Petit Verdot, 10% Montepulciano (the Italian grape, not the region, which is mostly used to provide color in blends) and 3% Khndoghni (a grape native to Artsakh/Karabakh). At its core this red is a mix of Rhone and Bordeaux grapes, a somewhat unusual combination.
For comparison we chose La Posta’s Argentinian blend of 60% Malbec, 20% Bonarda and 20% Syrah. Overall the flavor profile of this wine was similar to the Karas Classic Red. La Posta produces a variety of Malbec and related blends from Argentina and the Tinto Red Blend generally scores in the 89-90 point range in the wine press.
The Tasting Panel preferred the Karas Classic Red 8-0. It is well structured, some tannin but ready to drink and enjoy now, great black fruit flavors, a nice compliment of oak to frame the fruit. A little hot on the finish, overall the Classic Red came across as a fresh, well-balanced wine. In contrast, while the LaPosta had a big sweet oaky bouquet and was packed with juicy red fruit. Great with burgers or BBQ, in comparison with the Karas Classic Red it tasted over extracted and over-oaked.
“ The Karas Classic Red was the bargain of the night. I didn’t expect to find this level of flavor and complexity in a $15 bottle of red wine. It’s a perfect every day wine and paired beautifully with the Osso Bucco” Sylvia Ansourian Kruizenga
2013 Karas Reserve Red vs. 2013 Hess Collection Block 19: The Karas Reserve (or Winemaker’s Selection Blend) wine is a similar blend to the Classic Red: 30% Syrah, 20% Tannat, 20% Malbec, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 15% Petit Verdot. It spends more time in barrel than the Classic Red and retails for $30/btl. This is a tough price point for an unknown wine, where most buyers are looking for a positive wine review/high rating or some form of external validation of quality before spending that much on a single bottle.
The Hess Collection wine is a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. The Block 19 wine routinely scores 90-92 points across wine publications. Out of the bottle it’s flavor profile was very similar the Karas Reserve.
The panel preferred the Karas Reserve 8-0 to the Hess Collection wine. In fact the Karas Reserve was the overall favorite wine of the evening (followed by the Hess Collection Block 19). In comparison to the Karas Classic Red, the Karas Reserve Red offered a little more complexity on the nose, more tannins and oak to balance the richer fruit, and a longer finish. The Hess Block 19 is a very good wine, but was just a touch more muted in comparison.
“ The Karas Reserve Red was impressive right out of the bottle and got better in the glass as the evening went on. I think it will last several years, but is so delicious now and not sure it makes sense to wait!” Mark Vaccari
Two weeks later we did a blind tasting of these two wines again with a different group. Once again the group favored the Karas Reserve 5-0 over the Hess Block 19, testament to the quality of this wine.
Karas Sweet Sparkling Wine vs. Martini & Rossi Asti Spumonte: Our final pairing of the evening were two sweet dessert sparklers made from Muscat grapes. For comparison we selected the Martini & Rossi, which is the leading brand from Asti. From a flavor perspective, both had very a similar floral nose and grapey flavors.
The panel split 4-4 on preference here, with some preferring the exuberance of the Asti Spumonte, while others preferred the slightly higher acidity of the Karas version.
It should be noted that both of the Karas sparkling wines are beautifully packaged – a nice touch for wines that are most often used at celebratory events.
“ When paired with dessert, the Karas wine tasted slightly less sweet and better complemented the passion fruit cake. I don’t usually drink sweet sparkling wine, but this was a fun bottle at a good price.” Derek Kruizenga