Lebanese wines have long enjoyed a fine reputation, due in no small part to Château Musar. Indeed, I’ve drunk some of that renowned winemaker’s offerings at several Central London Wine Society (CLWS) tastings – but tonight there was an intentional move away from them; the focus, instead, on Château Ksara and B&H Ghosn.
There’s nothing like starting the night with a bit of controversy and the evening’s sole white wine certainly divided opinion. This 2017 Domaine des Tourelles Blanc, from the Bekaa Valley, was a very clear pale yellow, with a surprisingly perfumed nose – a fact that might be explained by Viognier being the predominant grape.
I thoroughly enjoyed this wine, which hails from one of Lebanon’s oldest vineyards, and was surprised to hear my fellow tasters talking about oxidisation and bemoaning its lack of acidity. Undeterred, I awarded it 5/7, despite a lack of fruit.
We next sampled the same wine maker’s 2015 Domaine des Tourelles Vieilles Vignes Cinsault. Boasting an impressive 14.5% alcohol, I was taken by surprise by a whiff of cigarette smoke. Like its predecessor, there was a discernible lack of fruit and I’ll remember it as “savoury” – but I liked its heat and respectable finish.
On to Château Ksara’s offerings – and I was disappointed by its entry-level wine: the 2016 Central Bekaa Réserve du Couvent. Whilst appreciating its red cherry colour and reasonable amount of fruit on the nose, to taste I found it harsh and, in truth, slightly forbidding. Its pedigree is impeccable – Ksara is Lebanon’s oldest winery and was founded by Jesuit monks – but I had to concur with my fellow tasters, who bemoaned its excess of acidity, whilst debating whether it would best be drunk with food.
Château Ksara’s mid-level wine, a 2014 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, fared slightly better- possibly thanks to having been hand-harvested, foot-trodden and kept for eight months in concrete vats before going into oak? I enjoyed its black cherry colour and soft berry nose and found it much more interesting than its predecessor – but suspect it will be far more drinkable in five years’ time and would balk at paying its RRP of £16.
Happily, Château Ksara’s 2012 Le Souveraine, an equal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and the rare arinarnoa grape, rose to the occasion, delivering a 5/7 experience. I won’t pretend to have been bowled over by this wine, but did appreciate its jammy nose, tones of strawberry and decent finish. Some of my fellow tasters felt that this wine would improve with age; I’m not so sure – but can enjoy it now for what it is.
On to the other pre-eminent wine maker of the night and by way of contrast B&H Ghosn is a relative newcomer to the Lebanese wine scene, having been founded in the 1960s. I LOVED its entry-level wine, the 2017 Massaya le Colombier and a blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Tempranillo and Syrah. In my notes, I’ve commented on its damson colour and “intriguing nose” – and awarded it 6/7, relishing its “manageable” heat. At just £13 a bottle, from The Wine Society, this wine is a steal.
Funnily enough, I was underwhelmed by the same wine maker’s intermediate level wine, the 2013 Massaya Silver/Terraces de Baalbeck, fermented in concrete. There might have been a whiff of red fruit on the nose from this blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre, but there was precious little fruit and I wasn’t alone in disliking its unappetising finish. I awarded it 4/7 and certainly wouldn’t pay the £27 that Highbury Vintners are currently charging for it.
B&H Ghosn did, somewhat, redeem themselves with their top offering, the 2010 Massaya Gold Réserve; I was sufficiently impressed to award this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre and Syrah 5/7 and was surprised to hear that it had been nowhere near any oak.
With the penultimate wine of the night, the Mount Lebanon Sendiana Rouge 2014, we made a return to the older Lebanese vineyards. This was one of my favourite wines of the evening; I loved this blend of cabernet and merlot’s abundance of heat and jammy fruit. Proving the truth behind “To each their own”, many of my fellow tasters vehemently disagreed, bandying about words like “menthol”. No matter; I would happily pay the Wine Society’s RRP of £17.
All good things must come to an end and so it was that we arrived at our final wine, the 2011 Grande Réserve Ixsir, possessor of a rather fine label (these things matter to me). The colour of black cherries, this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah presented a generous whiff of cigarette smoke and some savoury tones which, interestingly, translated into a decent wallop of fruit. II suspect it will be even better in a few years’ time, but had no qualms about awarding it 6/7, this north Lebanese wine making for a very satisfactory end to the evening.
All in all, a respectable selection of wines from a fascinating part of the world; most of them easily accessible and all of them interesting in their own, inimitable way.