As a general testament to the quality of Armenian brandy, a lot of people like to point out that Joseph Stalin served it to Winston Churchill at the historic Yalta Conference of WWII. Considering Kim Jong Il's well-publicized love of Hennessy, it would seem that megalomaniacs and brandy go together like ham and eggs.
I still think the whole Stalin story is a little unusual in how cheerfully it gets thrown out as a factoid. (And yet, here I am doing the same.) I mean, the man was notorious for engineered famines, death squads, secret police, and any other set of behaviors we'd consider morally reprehensible in a world leader. History.com went so far to refer to him as "one of the greatest villains of the 20th century." But, hey, maybe we'd talk about Pol Pot or Quaddafi in a better light if they knew a good brandy when they saw one. Sure, Saddam Hussein dropped mustard gas on his own people, but hey: was he a fan of Laphroaig?
This miasma of negativity is more than a little unfair to Ararat, which is regarded as an Armenian treasure. Rightly so. But WWII lore not withstanding, I can claim to know Ararat through a slightly different way: my particular patch of Los Angeles sprawl is known for having the highest concentration of Armenian people outside of Armenia. And my Armenian friends have a lot of pride when it comes to brandy.
I was told by a real-life Armenian person that if I was going to start with the Ararat range, the 10-year Akhtamar expression (gesundheit) would be best. I certainly did not regret the purchase! I knew I was in for something pleasant and unexpected from the nose: I'm a sucker for the aroma of fall leaves, and it usually signals a decent degree of complexity when I take a sip.
I certainly wasn't disappointed. The Akhtamar 10 arrives very sweet with dates, plums, and cherries, then develops into a little cedar and red grapes. It's very, very candied and baked fruit heavy. But what was really interesting is how it changed a bit as it sat in the glass, becoming a little more (pleasantly) bitter. The final sips were earthier and more mineral-rich, which was a fine and cohesive experience. I honestly felt like it aged a few years just as it sat there.
All in all, the Yerevan Brandy Company has a pretty solid handle on how to make a good product, and I can definitely taste a winemaker's influence here. This is a robust brandy that I think will stand up to the scrutiny of tequila drinkers or scotchaholics, and I'm eager to explore the rest of the range.
Feel free to gift this to others even if you haven't burdened your poorest subjects with the unrelenting yoke of famine and misery. It gets our recommendation, and we haven't even killed a single person!