The Big O: The Lebanese Obeideh

The Big O

Lebanon’s native white, the Obeideh, which until now has been used mainly in the production of arak, is, by popular demand, elbowing its way to the front of the nation’s wine consciousness, demanding to be recognized as the country’s signature grape.

Unlike Cyprus, Lebanon has no indigenous reds and there are only two native whites, the Obeideh and the Merweh*, which can make decent wine. Fans of Serge Hochar’s trippy Chateau Musar whites will be familiar with these grapes, but these wines are so eccentric in style; so limited in quantities and so, relatively, pricey, that their gospel has had a tiny, albeit informed, congregation.

And yet there is arguably no better way to build a country’s wine identity than through its indigenous grapes. The Obeideh is more than a marketing tool. It’s a damn fine grape in its own right with only misguided elitism – the Lebanese are often reluctant to champion anything home grown or unfashionable – has restricted its use.

Last week, the award winning Wines of Lebanon campaign was in Dusseldorf for ProWein 2013. Over the three days, I gave talks on Lebanese wine and briefed members of the European wine press. They all asked the same question: “Let me taste a Lebanese grape”.

It’s a no brainer. At a fair that covered the space of several soccer fields and with literally thousands of wines preening in front of Europe’s buyers and sommeliers, Lebanon was always going to need something the others didn’t have if anyone was going to sit up and notice.

GRAPE 2

Elegant and understated, the Obeideh is biscuity, faintly floral, and can deliver lots of ‘fat’ in the mouth. Combined with fruitier grapes, there is a restrained intensity and a surprising complexity that can set it apart from many easy drinking wines. Can it age? Just ask Hochar, whose 2005 white is the youngest on the market.

Massaya, the Franco-Lebanese winery, located just outside the Bekaa border town of Chtaura, was the next major producer to use Obeideh, along with Clairette, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, in its entry level Classic Blanc. Not only, does Ramzi Ghosn’s Obeideh earn its place in the blend on merit, set alongside familiar grapes, the first time consumer is going to feel more confident in taking the plunge.

Domaine Wardy, the Zahle winery, known more for its varietals, has also made Obeideh the base grape for its Clos Blanc, which also contains Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay and a dash of Muscat. As a result, it was one of the Lebanese stars of ProWein 2013.

Elsewhere, 7 (because it is made from seven varieties) from Batroun Mountains in North Lebanon contains both Obeideh and Merweh, while the latter can be found in Les Cimes from Tazka in the North Metn.

The message from Germany is loud and clear: European consumers want to taste a Lebanese grape. We have a great one, so why not celebrate it?

 * A grape that many claim to be the original Semillon

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