While I was in Lebanon during the spring, I had a chance to spend a few days in the Beqaa Valley, which holds the treasure of the ruins of Baalbek at its northern end, but holds its other treasure to the southern end, the wines of Lebanon. The wine culture in Lebanon goes back centuries.
The reputation of the wine of Canaan was such that Egyptians reported it to be “as abundant as flowing water.” So needless to say…. I fit right in here.
I got in touch with Sebastien Khoury of Domaine De Baal by email a few days before I wandered over to that part of Lebanon and he was kind enough to meet me at a local restaurant to sample some of his wines. We sat down and he started the tasting with a bottle each of his 2008 white and red blends, beautifully paired with a platter of sashimi of a local whitefish and salmon, and I began to ask him about the wine culture in this tiny country.
In walked the Lebanese Minister of Culture, accompanied by another local winemaker for lunch. Sebastian got up and made his greetings – three cheek hello kisses in this part of the world – and introduced me.
Domaine de Baal is a relatively new winery. Its first vintage was in 2006, when Sebastien starting building the winery two weeks before the last crisis this small country faced, the war that year between Israel and Hezbollah that ravaged parts of Lebanon.
The two month war happened right during harvest time and although most of the violence was in the south and over near Beirut, Khoury told me that it still presented some enormous obstacles for his fledgling winery, most tellingly that since the airport in Beirut was closed for weeks, he had difficulty getting oak for his barrels and spare parts for his machinery.
But he perservered and is making a couple really lovely wines right now. He has cultivated about 5 acres of grapes, soon to be 8-9 acres, and is using French vines that use very environmentally friendly growing methods. As he said, “it is easy to do here. There is no rain from June to October, so there are limited disease problems.”
The red, as usual, was my favorite. It is a blend of 60% Cabernet, 30% Merlot, and 10% Syrah. It is really, really smooth, even at its young age. The tannins are extremely limited and it is drinkable right off the shelf. It exhibits a full bodied flavor, full of the flavor of blackberries, cherry, and plum.
He hopes to do some more exporting to the States over time and if you can find it on your shelves, snap it up. In the meantime, perhaps use it as another excuse to come over to the Middle East and visit.
When I started posting a little bit on wine, I got contacted by a few folks that wanted me to try out some other wines from around the world. So I think I am needing to start a “wine list” that I need to keep track of. Right now, I’ve got Chateau La Lagune, Domaine de Bel Air and Franz Haas on my current list of things I haven’t tasted yet… but are more than willing to put to my lips soon enough!