Lebanese wine plays three UK gigs

And so to the UK with seven Lebanese wine producers – Châteaux Ka, Kefraya, Ksara and St Thomas, Domaine des Tourelles, Ixsir and the Karam Winery (no relation) to ramp up the profile of our most famous (legal) national product. Last week saw tastings and masterclasses in Manchester and Bristol followed by a foodie-based tasting in London with chef and blogger Bethany Kehdy (http://www.dirtykitchensecrets.com)

London tasting at Ateliers des Chefs

My wingman in Manchester was Tim Atkin MW (http://www.timatkin.com), while in Bristol I had Fiona Beckett (she of the Two Fionas http://www.the2fionas.com) to cover my back. Both are fans of Lebanon and its wine and both have credibility in spades. The four classes were bags of fun and very rewarding but they also confirmed my suspicion that few people really understood the idea of Lebanon as a wine producing country.

MK gives a masterclass

Of course everyone knows about Chateau Musar, but Musar’s reputation and presence on the world wine map has been so dominant it has cast a shadow over the rest of Lebanon’s producers. This is particularly unfortunate given that Musar’s style is so completely different from that of the wines on show last week. Thus it was time to demonstrate that Lebanon can produce modern wines more (or at least equally) suited to the palate of the regular UK consumer.

Bethany Kehdy cooks up a storm at the London tasting

I use the word ‘modern’ cautiously because it can be used as a synonym for ‘international’, another slightly sniffy word that describes wines that are over extracted and dressed in expensive oak. It is a style championed by the famed American critic Robert Parker but is one, which many see as lacking in essential character. And while there is a willing market for these wines, an increasing number of UK wine critics are favoring less oak and more ‘traditional’ fruit.

Taking Lebanese wines to more UK consumers

In London, Oz Clarke, one of the UK’s most respected wine gurus said he was most taken with Lebanon’s unoaked wines, citing La Maison from the Karam Winery as the standout bottle on the table that day. Habib Karam, might covet his ‘bigger’ wines, but in the UK at least there is a tranche of consumer that has become tired of wood and is seeking solace in well put-together fruit.

The surprise of the road show was the Chateau St Thomas Pinot Noir. It couldn’t be done, they said. Lebanon’s too hot, they said. Well it could and it isn’t. It showed fresh and fruity with that lovely glassy Pinot color, and what Karen Hardwick of the Wine Academy in York called “wonderfully layered with a lovely burnt finish”.

One recommendation that was constantly made, and I am reluctant to mention this as many of the Lebanese producers know my feelings on the subject and might accuse me of having an “I told you so” moment, was that we need a ‘signature’ grape, a varietal with which consumers can associate with Lebanon.

The whites are easy. In Obeideh and Merweh, we have two historic grapes that can advance the cause of Lebanon’s rapidly improving white segment, but the red is trickier. As I write there is no indigenous red, but there is an argument (and this is shared by many people in the UK I have spoken to) for adopting Cinsault, a relatively unknown grape that has been the backbone of the industry for over 150 years, a grape that in my opinion best expresses the Lebanese terroir, but which sadly is not held in the highest regard by all Lebanese producers. Oh and it makes fabulous wines. It’s just a thought.

The three days were a first for Lebanon’s burgeoning generic campaign. At last we were selling Lebanon as a country and a wine producer before selling the individual wineries. The message is getting through that no one will buy Lebanese wine in any great quantities, or outside the Lebanese restaurant trade, until this happens. When consumers can stand in front of the wine shelf and a Lebanese wine, close their eyes, imagine all things good about our country and then reach for the bottle, then we will have succeeded.

Scarlet Wines from Cornwall summed it up on its blog, describing Fiona Becket talk about Lebanon. “Towards the end of the tasting and [I was] thinking of a possible family holiday [in Lebanon]…Family holiday in Beirut?  Are you crazy?  But having met the people and drunk the wine – I’d go.  Perhaps it’s time for us all to think of Lebanon for positive reasons – like the fantastic wine the country produces.”

Till next week….

Feedback from the media









4 Responses so far »

  1. 3

    Geza P. Steingaszner said,

    Much needed and revealing article about an area with biblical background that unfortunately is not recognized for the right reasons.

  2. 4

    ghida said,

    You’re a champion! as I said earlier, you talk about our lebanese wines as if they were your BABY!!!
    I loved your huge blog…
    Keep up your positive spirit and big thanks for your joyfull presence anytime in the UK…
    have a nice week…
    enjoy Lebanon…
    Chateau Ka

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