By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 2 September 2017
Lebanon and Chateau Musar have become synonymous in people’s minds, but there are now 35 wineries in Lebanon, many of them offering wines in the UK at affordable prices.
Some of Lebanon’s wineries are joint ventures with French winemakers and they use French grapes in their blends, offering a definite nod to Bordeaux and the Rhone with a wilder spicier undertone. With their Mediterranean climate and high altitude vineyards over 1000 metres in the famous war-torn Bekaa Valley twenty miles east of Beirut, the Lebanese can offer a wide range of styles from crisp light whites, intense roses to powerful spicy reds with an 'organic' focus.
Ixsir Altitudes White 2016
(13.5%; £16 www.greatwesternwine.co.uk)
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscat & Viognier
If you enjoy Rhone’s herby whites, this easy drinking Lebanese example definitely bears some similarity – with a zingier fresher zip and more citric flavours than you find in the Rhone. Made by a young Lebanese company, set up in 2008 in Batroun in the north of the country. Serve with seafood or spicy chicken.
Musar Jeune Rose 2015 ***STAR BUY***
(13.5%; £9.89/£10.99 Majestic Wine; £10.99 www.htfwines.co.uk; www.wadebridgewines.co.uk)
Grapes: Cinsault & Mourvedre
Lebanon’s warm days and cool nights at altitude has proved very suitable for producing rose. This is Ch Musar’s unoaked rose – a big chunky rose designed to be matched with spicy foods. The 2015 vintage has Rhone grape Mourvedre in the blend which gives it a bit more structure. Our tasters loved its crisp red apple flavours, floral undertones with good refreshing acidity to keep it fresh.
Reserve du Couvent 2014 Chateau Ksara
(13.5%; £9.50 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com; £12 Oddbins)
Grapes: Syrah & Cabernet Sauvignon
From Lebanon’s largest and oldest winery, Chateau Ksara, this reminded me of a tight structured Crozes Hermitage with slightly herbier, sweet spice flavours. Aroma was quite closed on opening, so decant and aerate for an hour before serving to enhance the blackcurranty fruits.
Musar Jeune Red 2014
(14%; £11.99 Virgin Wines www.virginwines.co.uk)
Grapes: Cinsault, Syrah & Cabernet Sauvignon
Unoaked young release from a blend of 50% mature organic Cinsault vines and 35% younger Syrah and 15% Cabernet vines grown in Bekaa Valley. Plummy youthful aromas, hints of spice, blackcurrant flavours with just a touch of Musar exotic. Certainly much more accessible in its youth than many Musar vintages – made by Chateau Musar’s winemaker Tarek Sakr.
Chateau Ksara Clos St Alphonse 2013
(13%; £10 Marks & Spencer)
Grapes: Syrah, Cabernet Franc & Cabernet Sauvignon
Of all the wines in our tasting, this was perhaps closest to Bordeaux in structure and style, but still with that characteristic wild exotic spicy scent you also get from Lebanese old vines. No wonder perhaps, as Ksara’s winemaker James Palge trained in Bordeaux and ages this for a year in French oak.
Massaya Le Colombier 2014 ***STAR BUY***
(15%; £12.50 www.thewinesociety.com; £13.50 www.tanners-wines.co.uk)
Grapes: Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah & Tempranillo
A lovely supple rounded blend predominantly Cinsault (60%) made by an excellent French-Lebanese joint venture. Our tasters loved its meaty, spicy notes and ripe berry fruit character; it shares more similarity with Languedoc reds, although the French winemakers involved in the venture come from Bordeaux and Rhone. Despite its high alcohol level, it seems very balanced. A perfect match with herby roast lamb.
Hochar 2012 ***STAR VALUE***
(14%; £12.95 www.thewinesociety.com; £11.99/£13.99 Majestic Wine)
Grapes: Cinsault, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon & Grenache
From younger vines in a single vineyard, if you are a fan of Chateau Musar you will find this baby brother, made from a similar grape blend, is a bit tamer, lighter and softer. Our tasters loved its mature plummy fruits and gentle spice note, but thought it lacked the wild flavours often find in Musar.
Domaine des Tourelles Red 2013
(13.5%; £8.49-£9.99 www.simplywinesdirect.co.uk)
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cinsault & Carignan
From an old winery in Zahle founded by French adventurer Francois-Eugene Brun in 1868, this medium-bodied red from a blend of 40% each of Cabernet & Syrah echoes many Languedoc reds with a sweet spicy undertone.
Ixsir Altitudes Red 2012 ***STAR BUY***
(13%; £16 www.greatwesternwine.co.uk)
Grapes: Caladoc, Syrah & Tempranillo
Another impressive wine from Carlos Ghosn’s new venture – with St Emilion chateau owner Hubert de Bouard as consultant it is hardly surprising that shows a strong resemblance to Bordeaux and Languedoc reds, despite being from an unusual grape blend. Caladoc, a southern French Grenache and Cot cross, gives it power, tannin and fruit, with Syrah’s violet scents and Tempranillo’s silky soft tannins.
Join Rose’s Lebanon v Bordeaux wine tasting at The Royal Scots Club, Edinburgh on Wednesday 6 September £45 www.rosemurraybrown.com