A guide to Lebanese Syrah

Syrah is the dark skinned grape behind the great wines of the Northern Rhone and one which has achieved remarkable success in Australia, where it is known as Shiraz.

In recent years, it has become a firm favorite with Lebanese producers across the country, from the North to the Bekaa to South Lebanon, who value its longevity as well as its aromas and flavors of spices, licorice and black fruits. “But  you must taste my Syrah!,” is a cri de guerre one incresaingly hears these days.

I believe it is a grape that, in Lebanon, has produced more exciting results than the often pedestrian Cabernet Sauvignon, especially as a varietal* and it should also come as no surprise that in the Southern Rhone, with its mild winters and hotter summers, Syrah is often blended with Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan and Cinsault, grapes that have been lent great expression by Lebanon’s generous terroir.

Anyway, below are a selection of Lebanon’s Syrah varietals for all tastes and budgets taken from my notes I made during my summer tastings. Arranging all the Syrah’s by grape rather than the winery, it was noticeable how the same flavors – licorice and cassis in particular – always crop up. And yet theses wines are very different in their own way. Just saying.

Enjoy!

PS The second edition of my wine guide comes out next month. A great stocking filler if you are really desperate.

 

Lebanese Syrah varietals

Batroun Mountains’s Syrah 2010 is aged six months in one-year-old French oak. There is cassis on the nose. It has a good body and structure with licorice, prunes and more black fruits in the mouth. $10**

Château Sanctus’s Le Sublime 08  has a nose of pork meats and ham. Elegant and mature. In the mouth, the signature licorice has been marshaled into an expression of something more than just a flavor. It, along with the berry fruits and leathery spice, defines the character of the wine. $27

Coteaux de Botrys’s Château Syrah 09 is aged for six months in new oak. Deep purple hue. Fresh and supple in the mouth, the tannins are nicely rounded, delivering flavors of spice, licorice and cassis. $20

Domaine des Tourelles’ Syrah du Liban 2009 is aged for 20 months in new American oak and made with 35-year-old Syrah grown ‘goblet’ in the red soil of Kefraya. Deep purple hue. The nose is dominated by spearmint and licorice, while the palate is fresh and mineral with suppleness that belies its youth. Waves of black fruit give way to a lovely floral finish, overlaid with peppers. $40

Domaine Wardy’s Syrah 07 has pepper and cloves on the nose. In the mouth the wine is mellow and fresh with notes of licorice and lovely ripe fruit. $10

Heritage’s Syrah 2011 Aged for six months in used oak. Integrated, smooth and balanced. Licorice and cassis in the mouth with a lovely mineral finish. $11

Karam Winery’s (no relation) Syrah de Nicolas 2007 is aged for 12 months in new and old oak. There are coffee beans and peppers on the nose. While the tannins are a bit showy, the overall effect is that of a lively and playful wine awash with cool black fruit and a finish of licorice, cassis and menthol. $17

* Any wine made from one grape

**Lebanese retail prices

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