I was lucky enough last week to attend a tasting of Lebanese Wines. The tasting was in Bristol and seven wine estates were represented; Chateau Ksara, Chateau Ka, Chateau Kefraya, Chateau St Thomas, Domaine des Tourelles, IXSIR and the Karam Winery.
I had not realised what a small country Lebanon is, 200 miles north to south and only 50 east to west, the country is also mountainous with many of the vineyards at 1,000 or even 1,400 m altitude. I must say also that from the photos it looked beautiful, with pine groves and snow topped mountains in the distance.
The wine that put Lebanon on the map is the famous and idiosyncratic Chateau Musar. The producers at the tasting acknowledged their debt to Musar but understandably felt there is now more of a story to tell. In fact there are now 36 wineries in the country. Personally I found it refreshing that there are so few, it seems more digestible somehow, perhaps eventually you could get to know them all!
The wine then. Well, as you might have expected there was plenty of red. Each winery had a few reds on offer but surprisingly also one or two whites. All but one of the wines I tasted were blends, perhaps reflecting the fact that the country was at one time colonised by France.
The white wines were generally from Muscat, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon and as you can imagine from those grapes tended to have very aromatic floral noses. What was much less expected is that they generally shared a bright refreshing acidity and a light body. Even the Viognier based wines managed to avoid being overly full bodied or oily. I must mention a superb oaked Chardonnay from Chateau Ksara, this had classic oak richness and creaminess alongside a real freshness and was superbly balanced and long. I tried the 2010 and would recommend you buy it if you can find it.
The red wines too had a surprising consistency. Again most were blends, generally of Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot but also some Syrah and lots of Carignan which seems to be a signature grape for the Country.
There was that firm acidity again, plenty of tannin in many and also a noticeable and pleasing lack of body. The wines come across as very dry with very low residual sugar and not much glycerol. The fruit is also quite restrained and the flavours less primary than many wines you find in the UK. This of course means they would be perfect with food and perhaps wines for those who like wine to be wine – rather than alcoholic fruit juice. There was also in some a strong minerality and almost an earthy quality. I could pick some out some specific wines but if you see anything from the producers listed above, give it a try.
Towards the end of the tasting and thinking of a possible family holiday to the country (I had been spitting out I promise) I asked one of the exhibitors whether there was an area with good beaches. She replied that the best place to head for was just north of Beirut. That name is so famous, and so famous for all the wrong reasons. Family holiday in Beirut? Are you crazy? But having met the people and drunk the wine – I’d go. Perhaps it’s time for us all to think of Lebanon for positive reasons – like the fantastic wine the Country produces.