From Latakia with love (and some well managed tannins)


Not all news that comes out of Syria today is bad. For example, Domaine de Bargylus is proving that the country can make stunning wines. Then again, give the region’s awesome  DNA, instead if being surprised, we should be asking why have we had to wait so long.

Still, I suppose it is the the biggest wine news to come out of Syria since the goddesss Pagat helped her father, the hero Danel, cultivate the vine (only to then be doped with her own wine by the villainous Ytpan who subsequently killed her brother Aqat).

I guess it’s always been a rough neighborhood.

So just how good is Bargylus? Well put it this way, open a bottle of the 06 red (if you can get your hands on one) and there is a very good chance you will say something like, “Bloody hell! That’s rather good”. If you don’t, it’s either corked or you have no soul.

Clearly I am biased. Why? Because I like it (see my notes below). But everyone who I know who has tried has been similarly moved. Even my uptight Lebanese mate who always tells me that for Euro 1 he can buy a Bordeaux that will clobber anything Lebanon can offer, said it was “very good”.

Even a winery owner friend, who is normally very sniffy about anyone else’s wine, conceded it was “not bad”.

Even British food critic Tom Parker Bowles, with whom I had lunch earlier this year, took a sip, sat back and said, “that’s grown up, wine that is.”

Even the eminent wine critic Derek Smedley MW, who gave it a 94/100, wrote “The nose has lots of black fruits underpinned by minerals. There is a lot happening on the palate. First rich black fruit, blackcurrant and black plum with freshness towards the back lots of bilberry and bramble. It is all in balance the fruit given a wild racy feel from the minerals that lie beneath.”

Even Jancis Robinson MW, the head girl of wine critics senior common room, tried some and was “particularly impressed by the 2007 Bargylus red, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with real savor and depth of flavor”.

And even my sister’s friend Peter, who having drunk it at her house in London spent the next day looking it up on the Internet. He was disappointed to find out the price in the UK of the 07 is around £35. But hey, you can’t have everything, I guess.

Bottom line, Domaine de Bargylus is Syria’s first modern winery (its vines grow on Jebel al-Ansariyeh on the outskirts of the port city of Latakia) and I must be honest and say that it has been a long time since a wine from this region made so excited


You see Bargylus could do for Syrian wine what Château Musar did for Lebanon and I don’t mean that we must highlight the fact that the wines comes from a country in the midst of civil conflict. That may be true today, but eventually, like Lebanon, the world will have to acknowledge the magnificent potential of Syria’s terroir, which in the case of Jebel al-Ansariyeh produces wines with amazing mineral freshness that has been exploited to its full by Stephane Derenoncourt, one of France’s most respected consultant winemakers, whose services Bargylus has retained.

If you want to try some (honestly, who wouldn’t?) Tawlet and Domaine de Bargylus are holding four winemakers’ lunches on 7, 14, 21, and 28 December. For those of you who don’t know, winemakers’ lunches bring together producer and consumer and in doing so fulfill the Souk el Tayeb philosophy to champion local food and drink producers.

In the meantime, to get you in the mood, enjoy my tasting notes, taken from Michael Karam’s Lebanese wines: an Independent guide, which will be launched at Librairie Antoine in the Beirut Souks on December 22.



Grapes: Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc


Very light pear, almost translucent hue. Mild citrus and apple on the nose. Lots of body, decent acidity with a hint of “steel” in the mouth and very good length.

Older vintages

2008: Mid-pear hue. Nose a bit shy. “Fatter” than the 2009. In the mouth there is a strong savory element, pleasingly underpinned by the fruit. Long spicy finish.

2007: Mid-pear hue. Mild floral and apple nose. Excellent balance – fruit, texture and acidity – in the mouth. Fruit in the finish is the standout moment of this truly spectacular wine.



Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot

Alc: 14.5%

Royal purple hue. A nose of pine and berries that defines the wonderful minerality possessed by this wine. The tannins have been well-managed to achieve superb integration with the fruit. Beautiful finish. Racy but elegant. The Latakia terroir has delivered freshness and body without compromising either.

Older Vintages

2007: Nose is fruitier and more exuberant than the 2008. In the mouth there is a wonderfully fresh dryness that gives way to berry fruits underpinned with spice and menthol. A staggeringly good wine that proves “International” need not mean over extracted and dressed in expensive oak.

2006: First Bargylus vintage. Pleasing menthol and raspberry nose. Fantastic freshness and minerality. Tannins more present than in the 07 and 08 so still an element of broodiness. Massive body, but due to the skill of the winemaker, one in which the wood has not hidden the fruit.


3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    hisham said,

    was the 2nd 09 white meant to be 06?

  2. 3

    hisham said,

    Great blog Michael. Thank you for creating it.

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