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Wine and the Lebanon

By Julia Jenkins, 14th May 2017

Wine and the Lebanon –

Wine and the Lebanon are not words that naturally come together in a sentence though current producers are showing that they should!

Lebanon is one of the oldest wine making sites of the world and records show that vines grew easily in the coastal strip of Canaan and were exported from Byblos between 2686 and 2314BC. The wines of Tyre and Sidon were famous throughout the Mediterranean too. Once Lebanon was part of the Caliphate wine declined except for religious purposes until the 19th century.

The first winemaker in Lebanon was Joseph Spath in 1847 and in 1868 a French engineer Eugene Francois Brun set up Domaine des Tourelles followed by others in the 20th Century including Gaston Hochar’s Chateau Musar. The latter is run by their children, Faouzi Issa (winemaker), Christaine Issa and Emile Issa-el Khoury.  This young and dynamic trio have decided to proudly apply similar artisan winemaking skills and traditions to their handcrafted wines – this includes minimum intervention in the vineyards and cellar, use of indigenous natural yeasts, no fining or filtering, and only very small amounts of sulphur. The winery boasts intelligent ancestral architectural design that keeps the ideal ambient temperature all year round, and concrete vats that preserve the authentic taste of Lebanon’s terroir.

Domaine des Tourelles is an important player in wine making in the Bekaa Valley where the French were very active and greatly influenced the grape varieties grown there. Their wines are a great example of the wines made by many of the 35 current wineries in this current whose wines are seen more in the UK now.

In fact, their delicious fresh white wine is made of an exceptional blend of aromatic grapes: Viognier, Chardonnay and the native Obeidi and Muscat; They produce a wine that is spicy with white peach characters and a sublime perfume of jasmine. This wine is fresh and bursting with peach and apricot flavours. Beautifully balanced with an impressive backbone of elegant minerality.

Also, the softly structured fruity red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan that is a traditional blend that has very expressive aromas of cherries, cedar wood, cracked black pepper, rosemary, and cloves. On the palate, it is savoury and herby with Morello cherry flavours and fine tannins. Top of Form

It undergoes traditional vinification in concrete vats, after 10 days’ fermentation the wine is blended and then aged in concrete vats for 16 months.

Like other producers in the Lebanon they are also building a reputation for wines from the Cinsault grape – the Domaine des Tourelles Vieilles Vignes Cinsault is extraordinary old vine Cinsault that is wonderfully unique. The nose has an exotic mix of ripe fig, bright red cherry, and plum fruit with star anise spice, it’s lifted and pronounced. The plate has more beautifully ripe red fruit characters, alongside lively fig and date notes, the acidity perfectly balances the generous flavours and leaves a pure, clean finish which is hugely rewarding.

It is made from 50-year-old vines grown at 1000m altitude in the Bekaa Valley. Cinsault was widely planted in the Bekaa Valley in the 19th century, but fell out of favour with winemakers who tended to prefer ‘nobler’ varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wine and Lebanon, currently showing that they can make distinctive quality wines evocative of their terroir and worth a try.

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