Lebanon: Winemaking in the Middle East

This may come as a surprise: Lebanon is a serious wine making country. It came as a surprise to me but several years ago I attended a trade tasting sponsored by the Union Vinicole du Liban and had the opportunity to taste Chateau Musar, among others. I can honestly say the wines were pretty good.

So when I was invited to a tasting of 9 Lebanese wineries at the Manhattan home of Consul Majdi Ramadan, I immediately signed up. It’s not everyday that you get a chance to see the insides of a stately home on the Upper East Side so I thought it would be worth the time commitment of a 2 hour train ride to NYC.

Chateau Musar, most famous winery in Lebanon

The good thing was I did get to see the inside of the Consul’s home, at least the 1st two floors. But I think half of the wine lovers of New York were also invited because it was wall-to-wall people. Everyone was decked out in fashionable clothes (I’m glad my wife insisted I wear a tie and jacket).

I had to fight my way to the wine tables and then once I got there, had to taste out of plastic tumblers. I noticed most of the people were just milling around and few had plastic tumblers. I think they were there to also see the Consul’s home and could care less about the chance to taste the best that Lebanon has to offer.

So I left disillusioned about the unique opportunity to retaste Lebanese wines but I did get a few good things from the experience. The good news is that many of these wines are available in US markets and I think it will be worth your efforts to locate them. You should especially try some of the indigenous grapes unique to Lebanon, like Merwah, a white with good acidity, slight bitterness, medium body and a refreshing fruity aroma.

Lebanon produces 9 million bottles annually with over 2,000 hectares of vineyards (about 5,000 acres). Most of the winemaking takes place in the Western Bekaa Valley and the hills above Zahleh.

one of my new Lebanese contacts (notice the plastic glass)

The Bekaa Valley is at an altitude of 3,280 feet and benefits from dry summers, cool nights and consistent rainfall.The Bekaa also has its own natural water table, courtesy of the melting snow off the slopes of the Lebanon mountain range.

Here are a few of my tasting notes:

Advar: Expression Monastique 2013,a blend of 4 grapes (Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Sangiovese), deep ruby color, aromas of red fruits with soft silky tannins; Monastère Mar Moussa 2012, a blend of Cab. Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Syrah, intense red color with very nice fruit aromas of cherry, currants and blackberries;

Chateau Belle Vue: La Renaissance 2010, a delicious blend of Merlot and Cab. Sauvignon, dark ruby red color, aromas of dark cherry and cedar, an easy wine to drink; Le Chateau 2010, same blend but this wine had more complex aromas of spices, tobacco and bitter almonds;

Chateau Kefraya 2013, a blend of Cab. Sauvignon, Syrah and Cab. Franc, a great example of what the Bekaa can produce from traditional grape varieties; Blanc de Blanc 2017, a delicious blend of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Blanc, Chardonnay and Clairette, beautiful clear yellow gold color, hints of apricot and honey;

Chateau Ksara: Cuvée du Troisième Millénaire 2015, a blend of Cab. Franc, Petit Verdot and Syrah, with a nose of raspberry and black currants and a rich mouth feel; Merwah 2017, this ancient indigenous grape variety has  a pale yellow color with citrus fruit aromas and a taste of tropical fruit, balanced with just the right amount of acidity; the winery was founded by Jesuits in the mid 18th century;

Chateau Musar: White 2009, a blend of Obaideh and Merwah with a deep golden color and aromas of honey, pineapple and banana with a buttery taste. This was one of the best wines of the evening and a great discovery; Red 2010, a blend of Cab. Sauvignon, Carignan and Cinsault, deep garnet color and aromas of raisins, cedar and cinnamon, a wonderful balance of acidity;

Chateau St. Thomas: Les Emirs 2013, a blend of Cab. Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache, deep ruby red color, fruity flavors of red fruits and black cherry, soft tannins;

Domaine des Tourelles: Red 2014, a blend of Syrah, Cab. Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan, a juicy wine that is easy to drink;

Ixsir: Altitudes 2012, a blend of Cab. Sauvignon, Syrah, Tempranillo and Caladoc, aromas of red and black fruits, a soft very pleasant wine; Grande Reserve 2012, a blend of Syrah and Cab. Sauvignon, another rich, soft easy to drink and enjoy.

 

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