We’re off to the warmer climate of Lebanon this week with wine columnist John Kelman of Rutabaga who also shares a selection of perfect pairings, too.
A Lebanese sojourn on our wine journey sees us travel to the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon where we’ll find some fantastic wines to explore.
A favourite tipple of the ancient Egyptian’s, red wines from the region are more familiar, but we have here some whites to discover, too.
Known for their creative blending and native grapes, expect to see a lot of this within this selection.
Merwah is an ancient Lebanese grape variety and is very similar to Semillon in its style which is usually very popular in France and Australia.
Obeidy/Obaideh is another native grape variety which is traditionally used in producing grape brandy called Arak. It is similar in character to the in-demand Muscat.
Ugni Blanc is a grape variety that is most commonly referenced as Trebbiano. A style many will be familiar with, especially those who enjoy Italian wines.
Chateau Musar is one of the leading wineries in Lenanon and lies in Ghazir, around 20-25 miles north of the capital of Beirut. This house delivers unique wines for each declared vintage and each vintage has its own style so be prepared for some big flavoured varieties.
In this week’s selection we have wines designed to be enjoyed young and some that require a good amount of time in oak before their vintage honour is declared.
The climate, geography and environment may be challenging within this area at times, but they are worthy of trying out, especially if you are feeling adventurous and would like to try something different.
We look to Strictly Wine, Woodwinters, Fountainhall Wines (Stonehaven), Wine Raks, Great Grog and Rutabaga who represent some of the best national supermarket, online and local independent retailers for the range below.
With decades of experience with food and drink in and around Aberdeen and Scotland, I’ve also suggested some perfect pairings for you to try out, too.
Château Ksara, Merwah, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Italy, 2017, Vegan – 12.5% alc./vol. (white)
This dry wine boasts some citrusy notes and a ripe melon flavour. It is from Lebanon’s oldest grape variety and is a low yield wine surrounding the Douma area. Some simple grilled fish, perhaps lemon sole or witches, grilled with a little lemon juice, hollandaise and seasonal warm buttered potatoes will do the trick.
£13.27 (includes shipping, six bottle minimum) from Strictly Wine, 75cl
Château Oumsiyat, Obeidy/ Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, 2018, Vegan – 12.5% alc./vol. (white)
Grown and bottled in Mtein by Mount Lebanon this peachy wine is packed with stone fruit flavour and a little minerality. A crisp finish to it, some pistachio, dried apricot and grilled halloumi will knock through some well-seasoned bulgar wheat for a substantial salad or part of your meze.
£10.27 (includes shipping, six bottle minimum) from Strictly Wine, 75cl
Château Oumsiyat, Blanc de Blanc, Ugni Blanc/ Clairette/ Sauvignon Blanc/ Chardonnay, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, 2018 – 12.5% alc./vol. (white)
Bursting with juicy over-ripened fruits, a feeling of warmer months radiates through this wine. The Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay giving a little roundness to the finish of this Mediterranean style white. Harissa roasted chicken, with sunripened tomatoes, olives and artichoke will pair perfectly now that the nights are drawing in.
£9.27 (includes shipping, six bottle minimum) from Strictly Wine, 75cl
Domaine des Tourelles, Marquis des Beys, Cabernet Sauvignon/ Syrah, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, 2010 – 14% alc./vol. (red)
A big wine with lots to offer it is rich and earthy and juicy on the red berries. It has plenty of depth to it, too. Enjoy this wine on its own or with roasted leg of lamb with plenty rosemary and garlic scented root vegetables.
£25.95 from Wine Raks, 75cl
Château Musar, White, Obaideh/ Merwah, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, 2012 – 12% alc./vol. (white)
These grapes are unique to Lebanon and are therefore the go-to varietals for whites in the Bekka Valley. Fermented in Oak, this white requires a little time before the vintage is declared. Notes of ripened peaches and almonds are prominent and some rustic venison pate with plum jam for a perfect accompaniment would be my recommended pairing.
£29.95 from Wine Raks, 75cl
Massaya, Le colombier, Cinsault/ Grenache Noir, Syrah, Tempranillo Bekaa Valley, Lebanon 2018, – 14.5% alc./vol. (red)
A declared pleasure to drink (which I would not disagree) this tasty wine is a spicy wee number with almost festive spices on the nose (if it’s not too early)! Some rendered duck breast and a little berry compote would be just the ticket to accompany.
£18.00 from WoodWinters, 75cl
Château Ksara, Reserve du Couvent, Syrah/ Cabernet Franc/ Cabernet Sauvignon, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, 2016 – 13.5% alc./vol. (red)
This winery works to organic principles. A lighter touch, with a little pepper on the palate the tannins is not heavy within this wine. A little time on oak, rabbit and prune stew would be a perfect pairing.
£12.99 from Fountainhall Wines (Stonehaven), 75cl
Domaine de Tourelles, Vieilles Vignes, Carignan, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, 2018, Vegan – 14% alc./vol. (red)
A big wine with concentrated berries. Its rich prune-like flavour is utterly delicious. Pair with roasted picanha (top rump) beef, making sure to cut against the grain with some smooth polenta and pan juices.
£17.10 from Great Grog, 75cl
Domaine de Tourelles, Viognier, Chardonnay, Obeidi, Muscat d’Alexandrie, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, 2019,Organic – 13% alc./vol. (white)
A zippy freshness, this white blend has predominant stone fruits with a ripe pineapple finish. Don’t over chill this wine. Warm flatbreads with some velvety humous, a little pickled beetroot (plenty in season) with some dill would go down a storm.
£12.25 from Great Grog, 75cl
Chateau Musar , Red, Cabernet Sauvignon/ Cinsault,/ Carignan , Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, 2000 – 13.5% alc./vol. (red)
A wonderful example of the famed Chateau Musar, this vintage has great chocolate notes and is dark in tone, almost jammy. Best enjoyed with some lovely dry-aged beef, bone-in sirloin steak would also be a fantastic choice or, you could crack it open for Sunday roast.
£35 from Rutabaga, 75cl
Chateau Musar, Red, Cinsault/ Carignan/ Cabernet Sauvignon, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, 2004 – 14% alc./vol. (red)
This time with Chateau Musar you’ll find a nose of festive spice with a palate of dark fruits, but with a slightly lighter finish. Pair with charcuterie that has a peppery style like salami – the wine will cut through the fattiness. Splendid. Don’t forget the warm fresh bread or pitta!
£38 from Rutabaga, 75cl
Chateau Musar, Red, Cabernet Sauvignon/ Cinsault/ Carignan, Bekka Valley, Lebanon, 2011 – 14% alc./vol. (red)
This vintage has rich dark cherries, chocolate and soft cinnamon spice throughout it. The youngest of our three from Gaston Hochar it should perhaps be served with a little lamb stew with a side of Stornoway Black pudding mashed potatoes. A truly delicious pairing.
£32 from Rutabaga, 75cl
When not scribbling down wine-tasting notes, John Kelman can be found hosting virtual tastings and more at www.rutabaga.co.uk. You will also find a full list of wines and spirits on the site.