Wine has been made in Lebanon for at least 6,000 years. Modern Lebanese winemaking dates back to 1857, when Jesuit Monks planted Cinsault grape vines brought over from Algeria at Chateau Ksara in the Bekaa Valley. Today, there are over 30 wineries in Lebanon producing about 7 million bottles of wine per year. The Bekaa Valley at an altitude of around 1,000 m with long dry summers, cool nights and consistent rainfall, remains the home of major wines of Lebanon. Red wines account for most of the output; these are usually made from the classic red wine grapes of southern France; Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Members of the Harrogate Medical Wine Society tasted a selection of fine red wines from Lebanon at the Harrogate Masonic Hall a few days ago. Symingtons Altano Douro Blanco 2017 and Regaleali Catarrato 2017 were served before the tasting. The Malvasia Fina, Viosinho, Rabigato and Moscatel Galego grapes for this wine come from Quinta da Fonte Branca near Lamego and the high altitude vineyards in the Alijó and Favaios areas of the Douro Valley in northern Portugal.
1.Domaine des Tourelles Vieilles Vignes Cinsault 2015
Domaine des Tourelles in Chtaura was founded by Frenchman François-Eugène Brun in 1868. The 100 odd acres of organic goblet trained vineyards with vines up to 70 years of age are at an altitude of 3,280 feet above sea level. The iron-rich, gravelly and limestone soils are dry-farmed. Grapes are harvested manually. Red wines are fermented with indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks. The Vieilles Vignes 2015 is 100% Cinsault from 50 year-old vines. It is not often that one encounters 100% Cinsault. It is a fragrant, light, well made and pleasing wine. Alcohol 14.5% (£17.50) 15.5/20
2. Sendiäna Rouge 2014
Sendiäna Wines was founded in 2012 by Dr Charles Eid, Lebanese born and UK educated, who, with a passion for fine wine, had dreamt of setting up a winery in his motherland. The vineyards on the maritime side of Mount Lebanon and in the Bekaa Valley are at an altitude of 900-1,200 metres. The winemaker is Father Charbel Hajjar, a resident monk in the Monastery of St Jean high up on the slopes of Mount Lebanon. He is assisted by international wine consultant Ulrich Hoffmann. The monastery has a proud tradition of winemaking too, producing wine for its own consumption and for the surrounding villages since 1720. The wine principally of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a dash of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre and spends at least a year in mostly French oak prior to bottling. It is dark, full of fruit, spicy and attractive. 13.5% (£17). 16/20
3. Chateau Ksara Le Souveraine 2012
Established in the Bekaa Valley in 1857, Chateau Ksara’s ten vineyard sites with clay/chalk soils grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Caladoc, Marselan, Sémillon, Chardonnay, Clairette, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Gamay, Malbec, Verdejo, Vermentino, Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache, Muscat Gros Grain, Muscat Petit Grain, Ugni Blanc, Viognier, Arinarnoa, Gewurztraminer and Sangiovese without the use of herbicides and pesticides. The Le Souverain is a blend of hand picked and de-stemmed Arinarnoa (Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon cross), Marselan (Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon cross), and Cabernet Franc. The wine is aged for 24 months in new French oak casks, fined and bottled without filtration. This is a crisp, well balanced, complex and long wine. Lovely! 13.5% (£45) 16.5/20
4. Château Ksara Réserve du Couvent 2016
A destemmed blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc was fermented for 24 days at 28 degrees C. The wine was matured for 12 months in oak casks. Served with supper. Soft with good texture and went all with the game pie. (£9.95) 15/20
5. Ixsir Grande Reserve 2011
A blend of 61% Syrah and 39% Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards with calcareous-clay soils located on the hills of Batroun, aged for 12 months in French oak barrels, 60% new, 40% used once. This is a fabulous wine well worth seeking out. Lovely fruit and texture and compelling. It was the most popular wine of the evening. 13% (£22) 17/20 (UK Distributor: Enotria&Coe, Website: http://www.enotria.co.uk)
6. Massaya Gold Reserve, 2010
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 50%, Mourvèdre 40% and Syrah 10% from 50+ years old vines on chalky-clay soils from a 12 acre vineyard on the hillsides of the Bekaa Valley at an altitude of 900 to 1 200 metres, sorted by bunch and berry, fermented for a prolonged period and matured in oak barrels for 2 years. The wine was bottled without fining or filtration. Rich and Cabernet dominant. (£35) 17/20
7. Chateau Musar 2011
Chateau Musar needs no introduction. French in origin, the Hochar (pronounced “Hoshar”) family arrived in Lebanon in the 12th century. Chateau Musar was the first producer in Lebanon to achieve organic certification for its vineyards in 2006. Most are located in the Bekaa Valley, cradled between two mountain ranges running parallel to Lebanon’s Mediterranean coastline. Remote and unspoilt, the Musar vineyards were ‘organic’ by default before the term was coined. All the grapes are hand-harvested by local Bedouins between August and October. In the winery, ambient yeasts do the work of fermentation. The bare minimum of sulphur is used and the Chateau Musar Red wines are neither fined nor filtered.
The harvest of 2011 posed one of the most challenging experiences in wine-making at Chateau Musar over the last 20 years, as it was one of the most atypical years in Lebanese history. The wine is the traditional Musar blend of approximately one third each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan. Bottling took place 3 years later in 2014, after the wines spent a year in French Nevers oak barrels. Alcohol 14%. Elegant and pleasing as always. (£24) 17/20
8. Chateau Musar 2000
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan – approximately 1/3rd of each. It was fermented in cement vats and then aged for one year in French nevers oak barriques, blended and bottled at the end of the third year following the harvest and aged for a further 3 to 4 years in the cellars of Chateau Musar at Ghazir before its release in May 2007. Yield was 30 to 35hl/ha, Alcohol 13.5% and pH 3.87. Light. Beginning to fade a little but still very attractive. (Donated by presenter) 17/20
Apart from Chateau Musar and Ksara, the wines were new to most of the tasters. The high quality of the wines was a pleasant surprise and despite the relatively high cost, they deserve to be in all good cellars.
The tasting was followed by a two-course supper of Yorkshire Game Pie and Poached pears with a chocolate sauce prepared by Chris Durrant of the Masonic Hall. Members who do not eat meat (4) were served fillet of salmon with a hollandaise and tomato concasse sauce. Château Ksara Réserve du Couvent 2016 was poured with supper.
(28 members of the Society attended the tasting. Wines were presented by Dr. David Scullion who donated Chateau Musar 2000 from his personal cellar for this tasting. The other Lebanon wines were sourced from The Wine Society in 2018. The Altano Douro White was sourced from Fells)
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/310767403″>"Lebanon's Finest Reds"</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user12340500″>Bernard Dias</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
- Sendiäna, a new wine from Lebanon – Jamie Goode
- Wines of Massaya – Jamie Goode
- Chateau Musar – Jamie Goode
- “I wish I was in Harrogate” – Ralph Harris, USA (via Facebook)
- “Just to say I thought last nights Lebanon tasting was really informative with a couple of very nice wines in the mix” – Anita Blow, Wakefield
- “What a wonderful way to start the wine tastings of 2019.An excellent and informative presentation by David on a country we know little about and wines we have never had the opportunity to taste. Fascinating the mixture of grape varieties within one wine.Our favourite wine of the night was Ixsir Grande Reserve 2011, excellent in many ways and will we are sure improve with age. The Chateau Musar wines were also really good with preference being given to the 2011. Our least favourite was the Massaya Gold Reserve 2010 which was not to our palate at all.Thank you David and Bernard for an excellent evening.”– Pat & John Shore, Harrogate
- “Many thanks to you for the organisation and to Dr Scullion for presenting on Thursday evening. Really excellent wines.” – Jane Trewhella, Otley
- “Lebanese Reds tasting was excellent, lovely wines and a very informative presentation from Dr David Scullion – thank you.” – Ian Bexon, Harrogate