Lebanon

Five Unusual Wines For Spring

10 April 2013

Dr. Loosen Sparkling RieslingAt last, crocuses are poking their colorful little heads through the dirt, robins are bouncing along the sidewalks, and people walking outside have expressions other than a pained grimace. Spring has finally arrived, and in celebration of the season, I think I drink is in order.

Here are five bright, springy, and unusual wines sure to banish any lingering winter lethargy which might still be gumming up your system:

1. DEUTSCHER SEKT: Frankly, most Sekt, a German sparkling wine, tends to be unpleasant, with uninspiring flavors and bubbles the size of my big toe. That’s because most Sekt is made from bulk fruit grown outside Germany. Deutscher Sekt, on the other hand, is made with German fruit, likely Riesling, that tends to be of much higher quality. Deutscher Sekt tends, therefore, to be much more drinkable, and dare I even say delicious. The Dr. Loosen Sparkling Riesling, for example, has a fruity/floral nose, elegant bubbles and sweet fruit balanced by zesty acids. Available at Binny’s for $13.

2. SAVENNIÈRES: Because of this appellation’s favorable location on south-facing Loire hillsides and the low maximum yields allowed, Savennières produces “the world’s greatest dry Chenin Blanc,” according to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. If you, like me, can rarely afford to drink the world’s greatest anything, this wine is for you. Because it doesn’t have a lot of name recognition, prices tend to be very low in relation to the quality of the wine. I recently sampled a 2008 Domaine du Closel ”La Jalousie” that I described as “Rich, spicy and tightly focused — sheer delight.” But I’ve never had a Savennières I didn’t like, so don’t worry if you can’t find this specific example. Expect a bottle to cost $20-$25 in a shop.

3. MOSCHOFILERO: If you tend to prefer your whites to be aromatic and dry rather than rich and spicy, seek out wines made from this marvelous Muscat-like Greek variety. Whole Foods carries the excellent Voyatzis Wineries Kyklos Moschofilero, for example, which is a smashing value for $12 or $13. Of the 2011 vintage, I wrote, “After a slight prickle on the tongue, flavors of ripe pears and apples led to limey acids, a brief pop of white pepper and just a touch of limestone.” If you can’t find this specific Moscofilero, look for one from the Peloponnese’s high plateau of Mantinía, where the elevation keeps the vineyards cool enough, allowing this late-ripening variety time to fully develop. (Or just ask your wine shop for a recommendation.)

Massaya Classic4. ANYTHING BY MASSAYA: I’ve had very good luck with this Lebanese winery’s entry-level bottlings. The red Massaya Classic – a blend of 60% Cinsault, 20% Cabernet and 20% Syrah — is perfect for a party, with big, ripe fruit and a black-pepper kick at the end. The white Massaya Blanc is also a blend. Familiar varieties Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc each account for 15% of the wine, with the remaining 70% evenly divided between Clairette (one of the 13 varieties allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape), and Obeidi, an indigenous Lebanese grape. This wine was a bit viscous but balanced with juicy acids. When I tasted the 2009, I wrote, “The ancient flavors of honey, wood and resin stirred a desire to experience the terroir — to see the… Bekaa Valley for myself.” (The Massaya Blanc induced me to write one of my more emotional and sentimental posts.)

5. MÜLLER-THURGAU from ALTO ADIGE or OREGON: The Oxford Companion to Wine doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to this cross of Riesling and Madeleine-Royale, describing the wines made from it as “fat, flaccid… too often with a slight suspicion of rot… extremely dull, flabby.” And it’s true, this humble variety doesn’t tend to excel in its German homeland. Transplant it to more favorable, climes, however, and suddenly you’ve got something worth drinking. Here’s how famed wine critics Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher described a Kofererhof Müller-Thurgau from Italy’s Alto Adige region: “Flinty, with some melons and dirt but brighter than we had expected. Earthy but not heavy, with real vitality. Surprisingly juicy, with some white pepper.” I discovered a tasty  2009 Montinore Estate Müller-Thurgau from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which costs between $13 and $17. Ripe pear and apple flavors were balanced with a bit of prickle on the tongue, and tart acids pulled it together for the finish. I’d avoid German Müller-Thurgau, but if you see one from elsewhere, especially Alto Adige, ignore the protestations of your sommelier and give it a try.

Lighting A Fuse In Lebanon

11 April 2012

I was about to leave a wine tasting at Rogers Park Fine Wines & Spirits, when I noticed that half the people in line to check out had at least one bottle of Massaya Classic in their hands. Recently, I saw the Massaya Classic appear again, this time in In Fine Spirits‘ “tasting tournament.” It made it to the final four, at least. This obscure Lebanese red blend seems unlikely to remain obscure for long.

I wisely bought a bottle of the 2008 at the Rogers Park tasting, and I finally decided to open it and see what the fuss was about. The nose of red fruit, red meat and black pepper seemed promising, and indeed, it won me over at first sip with big, fruity flavors of cherries and plums followed by a peppery finish. I could see why this wine was so popular.

We paired it, perhaps in error, with some homemade pork tacos topped with guacamole, salsa, black beans, rice, cilantro and cheese. The wine became almost overpoweringly spicy, the black pepper kicking into overdrive. (I’m still working on a good red to pair with spicier dishes — if anyone has had any success beyond Lambrusco, please let me know.)

So what’s going on here? Is Lebanon poised to become a real player in the international wine markets? Although nowadays it’s associated more with Hezbollah and war, Lebanon has produced quality wine for thousands of years. Most of the vineyards (including Massaya’s) grow in the Bekaa Valley, where the ancient Romans erected a temple to Bacchus. Even then, this was major terroir.

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Twilight

16 May 2011

In the last couple of decades, Lebanon has unfortunately been more famous for its wars than its wine. It wasn’t always so. According to André Dominé’s Wine, excavations at Byblos, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, “…have shown that wine must have been made [in Lebanon] more than 5,000 years ago.” The Phoenecians exported wine to Egypt, and the Romans erected a temple to Bacchus in Baalbek, even now the heart of Lebanon’s wine industry.

Despite this illustrious history, Lebanon boasted just five wineries as of 1991 according to The Telegraph, and Dominé’s 2001 edition of Wine also lists only five wineries: Château Musar, Fakra, Ksara, Clos St. Thomas and Château Kefraya. These stalwarts have been joined by at least 25 more wineries in the last ten years, including “boutique” wineries such as Massaya.

This winery was something rather new, a partnership between the Lebanese Ghosn brothers, Dominique Herard (owner of Château Trianon near Saint-Emilion) and the Brunier brothers (owners of Domaine du Vieux Télégraph near Châteauneuf-du-Pape). In addition to producing highly regarded wines, Massaya embraced wine tourism, opening a welcoming tasting room and the idyllic Vineyard Restaurant.

I was fortunate to find a bottle of the Massaya Blanc at In Fine Spirits, my neighborhood wine shop. I secured the last bottle on the shelf, a bottle, the clerk confided to me, that he had intended to take home the night before.

“Massaya” means “twilight” in Lebanese, or in the more extravagant translation of Massaya’s distributor, “the time of day when twilight sets on the vineyard and the sky turns purple as the sun sets behind Mount-Lebanon.” The Massaya Blanc certainly made me want to see that sunset for myself.

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