Here is the latest feature on wine from our wine columnist, Paul Rudge of Reubens Wine Store in Dunfermline, Fife. This week he writes about Lebanese wine.
Lebanon is said to be the ancient home of the vine and it is quite certain that wine production has played an important role in the indigenous culture for centuries. Lebanon is a paradise for grape growing with its limestone soils, high altitude vineyards and near perfect climatic conditions.
However, as most will be aware, the recent history is that of a beautiful land, torn apart by civil war and destruction due to its borders with Syria and Israel and a uniquely complex communal make-up. Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Christians and Druze are the main population groups in a country that has been a refuge for the region’s minorities for centuries.
Although the history of wine making goes back thousands of years to the Phoenicians, modern wine making began in the mid 1800s when French Jesuit monks planted the Cinsault grape variety from Algeria, at what is now Chateau Ksara, in the central Bekaa Valley.
Further French varieties followed, like Grenache and Syrah. The French influence between the World Wars promoted a culture of wine drinking and French is widely spoken fluently throughout Lebanon. In the last 20years, more French varietals have been planted;Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Muscat, Chardonnay, Semillon to name but a few. It is impossible to imagine the constraints and difficulties the Lebanese winemakers have to work under. In 1975 Lebanon descended into a 15-year civil war that raged until 1990, which impacted dramatically on the wine industry. The current Syrian conflict which began in 2011 is still causing border tensions between the two countries with over one million Syrian refugees having fled into Lebanon.
Thankfully for us, the conflicts have, over the years, produced determined, forward thinking, positive winemakers and characters like Gaston Hochar at Chateau Musar, have kept winemaking alive. Chateau Musar has blazed a trail for the Lebanese wine industry and is a fantastic ambassador. Their wines enjoy iconic status around the world and have inspired a new generation of winemakers wanting to emulate and surpass Musar.
One such winemaker is Akram Kassatly of Chateau Ka, who like many of his counterparts has a tragic story to tell. Having graduated in oenology from the university of Dijon, he returned to Lebanon in 1973 and built his winery in the central Bekka valley.
During the civil war the winery was completely destroyed. However, Akram never forgot his dream of making wine and in 2005 he built Chateau Ka. Today, it is one of the best equipped wineries in Lebanon. So if you are looking for something different to drink this weekend, why not give these two wines from Chateau Ka a go?
Chateau Ka Source de Rouge, Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah 14% 2012 £12.99
A classic Bordeaux blend with a dash of syrah thrown in. The colour is dark and deep like Beirut, sorry I mean beetroot. On the nose, gentle spice, herbs, pepper and vanilla lead to a palate packed with rich black fruit and cassis flavours. The finish is soft and silky smooth with nuances of gentle spice. Pair with fillet steak or rack of lamb.
Chateau Ka Source Blanc, Muscat, Semillon, Sauvignon 13% 2011 £11.99
This innovative and vibrant white is full of tangy, citrus fruit and honeysuckle character.
Crisp, lively, yet rounded on the palate with a lifted, refreshing finish. Pair with antipasto, seafood or a light curry. ( Khushis of course )
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(pictured above, the Baalbek ruins in the Bekaa Valley where most Lebanese wine is made)