MK in Harpers wine and Spirits weekly

get_imageI am proud to have  started contributing to Harpers, the UK’s leading wine and spirits monthly, and will be posting my columns and news items on this blog. Here are my first two, one on Lebanon’s booze revolution and another on Domaine Bargylus’s heroic efforts to export its wines from war-torn Syria.





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Domaine Bargylus: Some good news from Syria

The only good news coming out of Syria

The only good news coming out of Syria

Just a quick note about the latest Domaine Bargylus vintages (the only good news coming out of Syria today) I tasted recently at “La Cave de Joel Robuchon” in the Beirut Souks earlier this month.

White 2010 – 60% Chardonnay 40% Sauvignon Blanc

Golden pear hue. Nutty and citrus nose. Lovely flinty crispness on the front palate. Good body with rich fruit on the mid and back palate. Complex and ever so slightly evolved, but the acidity is still there and structure firm. Substantial but with a lightness of touch. A wine and a terroir that are developing a genuine identity. Truly world class and a snip at roughly $20

Red 2009 – Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot

Fresh mineral nose with aromas of dark fruits and cloves. Good integration and further minerality with dark brooding cassis and a hint of mint in the mouth. Still young, but with excellent potential. Approx $31

Photo: No Garlic No Onions

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Interviewed by Douglas Blyde


Wine writer, sommelier and all-round aesthete Douglas Blyde came to Lebanon earlier this month as part of a pres trip organized by Wine of Lebanon campaign, which seeks to raise awareness of our wine in the UK. Below is his interview with yours truly.

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A Lebanese-Czech beer revolution

And now for something a bit different

A few of the Schtrunz beers

A few of the Schtrunz beers

Emil Strunc (pronounced Schtrunz) and his wife Olga live near Jounieh, east of Beirut, where they brew 24,000 bottles of Schtrunz beer each year in a 25m2 space that Emil, who is half Czech, calls a “nano-brewery”. Emil hopes to eventually take his production to roughly 75,000 bottles.

Emile and Olga Strunc

Emil and Olga Strunc

On Friday, at Tawlet, I had the chance to taste various interpretations of the eight styles of beer he brews: Kölsch, Hefe Weissen, Dunkel Weiss, Witbier, Munich Amber, Vienna Amber, Black IPA and the peerless Biere de Garde.

The delicious Vienna Amber

The delicious Vienna Amber

Tawlet intends to stock the beer and plans to hold an ‘event’ soon. Watch this space.

In the meantime, one has to ask the question: Has Mazen Hajjar, founder of 961 and LB, started a beer revolution in Lebanon?

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IWC: Lebanese medal winners

Congrats to Chateau St Thomas, Chateau Musar, Chateau Ksara, Chateau Ka, Chateau Florentine and Domaine des Tourelles

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Château Sanctus: A hidden treasure from North Lebanon


As I head to Paris tomorrow for a what should be a landmark event in the ongoing evolution of Lebanon wine, one in which 29 producers from all over the country will be showing their wines at the Hotel Georges V, I want to share my tasting notes from a recent visit to Château Sanctus in Marmara in the Batroun region of North Lebanon. Sanctus will be in Paris and I urge you to seek them out, as I do all the wines on show.

Ramez Awad, owner of Chateau Sanctus

Ramez Awad, owner of Chateau Sanctus

Not only are the wines – of which owner Ramez Awad makes only 12,000 bottles (from 4 ha of vines grown at 900 meters) each year – among the most exciting in Lebanon today, they are typical of how I see the Lebanese wine industry developing: micro producers across varied terroir making wine of amazing diversity and quality.

Château Sanctus in February

Château Sanctus in March

Batroun is now home to eight wineries, making it Lebanon’s second most active wine region after the Bekaa Valley. The grapes in batroun are grown at between 400 and 1,300 meters in vineyards that are both sea facing and planted further inland. This potential for diversity in terms of style and character will no doubt consolidate Batroun as the boutique hub of Lebanese wine.

Bulgarian oak

Bulgarian oak

Raw, sexy and wild, Sanctus wines are the closest in style I have tasted to Serge Hochar’s iconic Château Musar reds, but with less volatile acidity and more roundness and intenseness of flavor in the fruit.


Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Nose of red roses. In the mouth, the wine is silky smooth with flavors of ripe black fruits, especially cassis, and bell peppers. A serious wine that needs decanting. $17*

Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Basil, black peppers and Parma ham on the nose. In the mouth the body is elegant and the fruits are ripe. A suave, grown-up wine. $34


Aged in second year Bulgarian oak. A genuine iron fist in a velvet glove. Intense flavors with soft rounded fruits. Decanted for six hours, but worth the wait. The Bulgarian oak is a change. $35


Rain drenched wood, mushrooms and bell peppers on the nose. Lush red fruits in the mouth and a deliciously velvet finish. $25

Syrah 2008

Black velvet hue. 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. Decant to fully enjoy. $27


Wild and wonderful nose of dried fruits. Needed time after decanting but patience paid off and the tannins and the black fruit were sublime. $27

Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah 09

Two years in new French oak. Notes of wild earthy fruits and wild spice. Idiosyncratic and sublime. Decanted, as it needed time to settle. $35


Aged in new Bulgarian oak. Nose of smoked sausage, dried figs and raspberries. Needed time to settle, but evolved with savory flavors and black fruits in the mouth. Again the Bulgarian oak offers something different and earthy. $35

Grenache 2010

Steely, oxidized nose. Not unpleasant. Good fruit. Not as complex as its stable mates. $15


Ramez Awad

TEL. +961 3 661 699


All prices retail from the winery

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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.


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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