By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 25 January 2020
Best Lebanese wines under £20 on our shelves:
DOMAINE DES TOURELLES WHITE 2018 (13%) ***STAR BUY***
£12-£12.50 Woodwinters; Great Grog; Bon Vivant in Edinburgh; Valhalla’s Goat in Glasgow; St Andrews Wine Co; ND John; Hennings Wine
Grapes: 65% Viognier, 20% Chardonnay, 10% Obeidi & 5% Muscat of Alexandria
My favourite Lebanese white. You might think they would struggle to make refreshing zippy dry whites in Lebanon’s heat, but with this four-grape blend grown at altitude the result is fresh, vibrant with nutty herby undertones. Made by one of Lebanon’s oldest winery, founded in 1868, run by charming Faouzi Issa who has worked for the likes of Rene Rostaing in northern Rhone and at Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux. Serve this herby exotically scented white with cured tuna or Mediterranean salad.
MUSAR JEUNE WHITE 2018 (13%)
£13.99 Virgin Wines; £12.95 ND John
Grapes: 40% Viognier, 30% Vermentino & 30% Chardonnay
Limey floral notes with citric minerally palate in this unoaked eclectic blend of southern French and north Italian grapes. The palate has a rich oily texture from Viognier and a hint of citric zest and butter from Chardonnay – made from young vines planted at 1,000 metres in the Bekaa valley to retain acid in the grapes. Like many Lebanese wines, it is fermented in cement lined vats. It’s the simplest of the Musar range, best served with herby roast chicken or seafood.
MASSAYA ROSE 2018 (13.5%)
£16 - £18 Tanners; Field & Fawcett; Richard Granger Wines; Selfridges
If you love Provence roses, you will enjoy this. It might look pricey for a Lebanese rose, but it is beautifully made by one of my favourite wineries in Lebanon created 21 years ago in the Bekaa valley by the innovative brothers Sami & Ramzi Ghosn with the help of two well-known French winemakers Bordelais Dominique Hebrard and the Bruniers from the Rhone; now with a glamorous new winery in Faqra. Cinsault grown on chalky clay soils at altitude creates this strawberry-toned spicy savoury crisp clean rose.
MUSAR JEUNE ROSE 2018 (13.5%)
£11.95-£12.99 Roberson Wines; Solent Cellar; Gerard Seel
Grapes: 85% Cinsault & 15% Mourvedre
Pale dry rose which looks like a Provencal rose, but tastes more southern Rhone with its raspberry fruits, nutty undertone and very weighty palate – an ideal rose for drinking in a chilly winter. It has a distinctly spicy undertone and a baked finish indicating its warm origin. Made by the saignee method – bleeding off the juice from skins after maceration – fermented in cement vat and unoaked. Try with baked salmon or tuna salad.
DOMAINE DES TOURELLES RED 2016 (14.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£12-£13 Woodwinters; Great Grog; Bon Vivant in Edinburgh; Valhalla’s Goat, Glasgow; St Andrews Wine Co
Grapes: 40% Syrah, 40% CS, 15% Cinsault & 5% Carignan
Very popular with our tasters who loved its upfront juicy cherry fruits, spicy character, liquorice undertones and smooth soft tannins. It is not as earthy and powerful as other reds in the tasting, but approachable, elegant and brilliant value. Tastes like a smooth Cotes du Rhone with a touch of Lebanese spice. Perfect with roast lamb or spicy vegetable bake.
COTEAUX LES CEDRES DES LIBAN 2014 (14%)
£11.99 The Co-op
Grapes: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Tempranillo, 5% Syrah & 5% Arinamoa
Not for the faint-hearted. The colour is dense with liquorice and spice aromas more appealing than the palate which is chunky and powerful with bitter chocolate notes and firm tannins. A Fairtrade wine made by Les Coteaux d’Heliopolis co-operative, with 250 members across 11 villages in the Bekaa valley, which was started after the destruction of illicit cannabis and poppy crops offering local growers a real chance to create a new ‘legal’ livelihood. Made under supervision of the inimitable Faouzi Issa (winemaker at Tourelles).
CHATEAU KA SOURCE DE ROUGE 2015 (13%)
£12.42-£15.99 Fine Wine Musselburgh; Hay Wines; Hennings Wine; www.htfwines.co.uk
Grapes: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah & 10% Merlot
Quite delicate, cherry fruited, softly tannic, good value example of a Cabernet Sauvignon blend, Chateau Ka is the only Lebanese winery producing wine entirely from its own vineyards, the other wineries buy in some grapes from growers. Chateau Ka was initially set up by Akram Kassatly in early 1970s, but closed during the ravages of Lebanon’s war – it was not reopened again until 2005.
VIELLES VIGNES CINSAULT 2017 (14%)
Grape: 100% Cinsault
Cinsault is fast becoming a very trendy grape – particularly in southern Chile. It has been farmed in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley since mid C19, now being revived – and matured in old French oak for 8 months. It is amazing now to be able to compare this Lebanese Cinsault with Chile’s efforts from old vine Cinsault. Fig, morello cherry, plummy fruits with piquant tart acidity typical of the grape - you need to love Cinsault to enjoy this.
HOCHAR 2013 Chateau Musar (13%) ***STAR BUY***
£19.99 for 2013 vintage at Raeburn Wines; £13.50 for 2016 vintage at The Wine Society
Grapes: 50% Cinsault, 35% Grenache & 15% Cabernet Sauvignon
From vineyards near Aana in Bekaa valley, made from 30 year old vines – it tastes like a mini-Musar. Exotic dates and spice aromas, cassis fruits, smooth rounded with elegant tannins and savoury depth. Matured in French oak for 9 months, it has a hint of smoking bonfires and tobacco. Just like Musar’s flagship wine, it has so much character – but approachable earlier. There are younger vintages of this wine currently available (eg 2016 vintage is £13.50 at The Wine Society), but Hochar 2013 is my current favourite.
CHATEAU KSARA 2016 (14%)
£16 The Wine Society
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Petit Verdot
More Bordelais than Rhone, our tasters enjoyed its cedary notes, green pepper flavours, elegant blackcurrant and plum fruits and very spicy characterful palate – this is Chateau Ksara’s estate wine. From a winery originated created by Jesuit monks, the French influence in the vineyards began in earnest after WW1 French soldiers were stationed in Lebanon as part of the Versailles peace agreement and the monks started to plant these Bordeaux varietals.
MASSAYA LE COLOMBIER 2018 (14.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£13.95-£14.95 Lea & Sandeman; Tanners; The Whisky Exchange; Buon Vino
Grapes: 35% Cinsault, 35% Grenache, 15% Tempranillo & 15% Syrah
Another cracker from Massaya. Our tasters were impressed with Massaya’s recent vintage with its gentle spice, strawberry and cherry fruits, peppery undertones. The Ghosn brothers make this wine from 40 year old vines on hillside slopes at 1000m in the northern Ras Baalbeck and Hadath Baalbeck where the fruit is more minerally – made to be drunk young to enjoy its primary fruits.
Join Rose’s Wine & War Masterclass on 18 June at The Royal Scots Club in Edinburgh £45 www.rosemurraybrown.com