Egyptian wine tasting

Kouroum of the Nile

Beau Soleil 2008: 100% Benati

 

 

Name: Kouroum of the Nile

Winemaker: Labib Kallas  

Location: Gouna, Egypt

Established: 2002

Date: February 10, 2012

Tasted at: Winery in Gouna

Present: MK, Lawrence Osborne (writer and novelist), Labib Kallas (winemaker) and Andre Hadji-Thomas (Managing Director, Kouroum of the Nile)

In 2005, Lebanese winemaker Labib Kallas moved with his young family to the Red Sea resort town of Gouna. The brief was to make quality wines at the Kouroum of the Nile winery with grapes grown in the desert 500 km away on the outskirts of Cairo. Until then, and even now, the reputation of Egyptian wines has been pretty poor, with the ubiquitous Omar Khayyam, made by the rival Al Ahram Beverage Company, a standing joke among tourists and a byword for a migraine.

In the intervening years, Labib has done much to change this and I traveled to Egypt last week to see what he has achieved. The results were impressive, especially his use of the local Benati grape. On the night I arrived, I tasted an Omar Khayyam white made with 100% Benati at the bar at the Windsor Hotel in Cairo. It was flat and flabby and did not fill me with optimism. However in Labib’s hands, the grape shows its true potential. His Beau Soleil, made with 100% Benati, was the stand out wines of the trip. Benati can become the grape upon which Egypt can begin to build an international reputation. What is for sure is that the challenge to make quality Egyptian wines has been overcome. You can get freshness from the desert!

Making quality reds has been a case a trial and error. We started the tasting of Kouroum’s top of the range Jardin du Nile with the oldest wine first because Labib wanted to show the evolution of working with the relatively untested desert soil. As it turned out, the Jardin du Nile tasting not only showed the evolution of a wine but also that of a gradual understanding of the Egyptian terroir. “We had to adapt our pruning and irrigation methods as well as learning which vines needed ‘stress’ and which ones didn’t,” Labib explained.

Le Baron sparkling wine just 'corked'

A bonus was the sparkling wines, which were simply excellent. Selling Egyptian “champagne” to global consumers is always going to be tricky but Labib and Managing Director Andre Hadji-Thomas have a captive local market, so my advice is to throw back as much of it as you can when holidaying in Egypt!


Whites

Chardonnay in the Kouroum of the Nile vineyards

Sharazade

Alc: 12.5%.

2011

Grapes: Chardonnay, Vermentino, Thompson and Benati

Mid gold hue. Good acidity. Nuts and other savory flavors in the mouth. Finish pulls up a bit short.

 

Beau Soleil

Alc: 12.5%

Oak aging: Staves for six weeks

2011

Grape: Benati

Light gold hue. Grapefruit with a hint of cat’s pee on the nose. Good body in the mouth. Nicely rounded and reminiscent of Chardonnay. On this showing, the Benati can be Egypt’s signature grape in the international market.

2010

Grape: Benati

Mid gold hue. Warm savory nose. Fresh, soft and rounded in the mouth with notes of nuts and citrus.

2008

Grape: Benati

Mid gold. Evolved nose with nutty and honeyed aromas. Wonderful rounded texture in the mouth, again reminiscent of a gently oaked Chardonnay with notes of warm apples and cinnamon. The most complex of the three vintages. A revelation.

 

Stacking grafted vines

Jardin du Nile

Alc: 13%

2011

Grapes: Vermentino (90%) Viognier (10%)

Pale to mid gold hue. Good acidity on the front palate. Perfumed nose and beautifully textured in the mouth. The finish is smooth and fresh.

2010

Grape: Vermentino

Mid gold hue. Shy nose. Citrus notes in the mouth. Decent body and acidity. Finish is savory and sustained.

 

Rosés

 

Grafting vines at the vineyard: The importation of grafted vines is forbidden by Egyptian law


Sharazade

Alc: 12.5%

2011

Grapes: Montepulciano and Grenache

Gunmetal hue. Gutsy body. Good acidity and a savory finish. Subtle and elegant.

 

Beau Soleil

Alc: 12.5%

2011

Grape: Merlot

Labib decided his Merlot was not good enough for a quality red so he used it in his premium rosé. It gives good acidity, structure and lovely spicy notes. A full-on rosé, perfect for summer dining.

 

Reds

 

Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the Egyptian desert

Sharazade

(Alc: 12.5%)

2011

Grapes; Merlot (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo

Mid ruby hue. Shy aromas. Concentrated in the mouth. Savory finish.

 

Beau Soleil

Alc: 13%

2010

Grapes: Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah

Deep purple. Perfumed aromas. There is good balance and structure in the mouth. Surprisingly complex.

2009

Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot

Deep purple. Lively nose with abundant fruity aromas with pleasant savory notes in the mouth. Deeply gluggable.

 

Jardin du Nile

Alc: 13%

Oak aging: Use of staves for 3-9 months

2007

Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot

Deep garnet hue with a brick edge. Vegetal aromas with hints of toffee. Rounded but slightly acid. Short finish.

2008

Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot

Strawberry hue with hints of garnet on the rim. Crushed fruit on the nose with other secondary ‘animal’ aromas. In the mouth there is lovely freshness and an abundance of fruit. A wonderful wine, reminiscent of vintage Chateau Musars

2009

Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot

Deep garnet hue. Nose was a bit shy although there were hints of Mediterranean herbs such as sumac and thyme. In the mouth, good tannic presence. Forest fruits underpinned with licorice. Again, a wine that is beautifully balanced with good tannic integration.

2010

Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot

Deep ruby hue. Brooding fruits on the nose. Racy flavors in the mouth with lovely freshness and minerality. Sound structure and integration. A complex wine that should age beautifully.

2011

Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot

A work in progress but so far so good. The blend has once again changed and the wine, with a deep and lovely purple hue, gives intriguing aromas of violets and toffee and retains super freshness in the mouth.

 

Sparkling wines

Les Barons

Le Baron

Grapes: Chardonnay

Alc: 12.5%

Named after Baron Empain who built many of Egypt’s railways. Approached with trepidation, as one might when faced with an Egyptian sparkling wine but the preconceptions were erased the moment I tasted the delicate bubbles and the wonderfully biscuit flavors. Lawrence Osborne, who tasted with me, and who is the former wine critic of Vogue, declared that he could “drink it all day”. Elegant and balanced with sustained but not overbearing finish.

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