The official HQ of Les 5 du Vin or the astonishing ruins of Baalbek
Last week 11 Lebanese wine producers were in London for the first generic tasting in the UK organised by Wines of Lebanon. It was good to have an opportunity to taste a range of wines and again and meet some of the producers.
It was a vivid reminder of one of the most memorable press trips I have been on for in November 2005 the Circle of Wine Writers ran a four day trip to the Lebanon. There was a sense of optimism both in the country and in the wine industry that November. The Syrians had left after the assassination in the February of Rafik Hariri, the Prime Minister, and although there were still checkpoints most vehicles were waved through.
The centre of Beirut was in the process of rebuilding, although there were still clear signs of damage inflicted during the 15-year civil war, which had finished in 1990.
Our visit started in spectacular style. On the evening of our arrival we just had time to drop off our bags before we were whisked up into the hills above the city to Mounir’s restaurant (http://www.mounirs.com/main.asp). Here we joined a wedding party – one of Château Musar’s employees was getting married. We were welcomed by Serge and Ronald Hochar, who run Musar. It was great to be part of a magical occasion.
This set the scene for the marvellous and generous hospitality that we experienced during our trip. During our four days we spent most of our time in the Bekaa Valley and visited nine producers – many of whom were in London last week. We saw a mix of established wineries like Châteaux Keyfraya, Ksara and Musar along with new start-ups such as Doamine Wardy and Heritage.
We left the Lebanon with a strong sense that despite all the problems that the wine industry was moving forward with new wineries being established. Sadly less than a year after our visit in November 2005, the Israelis invaded again in July 2006.
I remember talking to Ronald Hochar at the London Wine Trade Fair in 2007. When I suggested that it must be very difficult following the invasion. Ronald just shrugged, saying we just have to get on with it – we have to survive.
At last week’s London tasting I was impressed by a number of the wines. These included:
Château Ka: their ripe and spicy 2006 Les Emirs (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache) and Château St Thomas (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah);
Château Ksara: the powerful 2006 Château Ksara Rouge and Cuvée 3eme Millenaire
Château Musar: the sweet and ripe 2003 Hochar Père et Fils (Cabernet, Carignan, Cinsault and Grenache) and the elegantly spicy 2003 Château Musar (Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault);
Domaine des Tourelles: 2004 Marquis des Beys (Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon) – concentration and violets;
Karam Winery: founded in 2004 in the Jezzine area and the only winery in southern Lebanon. I had never tasted their wines before but was impressed, particularly by the spicy 2009 Syrah de Nicolas and the 2007 Corpus Christi (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot and a small percentage of Graciano) – well balanced, elegantly spicy and long.
Habib Karam (Karam Winery)
Despite the boorishness of their neighbours it is good to see that Lebanese wines are once again apparently flourishing.
Cedar, snowy mountain and the moon