California Syrah – a winning speciality

Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley - photo courtesy of the vineyard.

Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley – photo courtesy of the vineyard.

I do quite a lot of teaching at The West London Wine SchoolWine and Spirit education Trust / WSET Courses mainly, but every now and again we hold a tasting debate there. What happens is that we choose a grape variety or style to compare in a tasting and then each of the school’s tutors champion a country or region that produces that style. It’s all good fun and I suppose that we shouldn’t read too much into the results, but recently we had a tasting debate on Syrah and the results were extraordinary, so I thought I would tell you about the wines.

I had decided to champion the Americas, while colleagues had each opted for other places; Jimmy Smith chose South Africa, Cherie Agnew is from New Zealand and decided to showcase the increasingly exciting Syrahs from her homeland, while Shane Jones, our resident classicist, took on the job of presenting Syrahs from France.

Whilst thinking about what actual wines to show, I decided to concentrate on just one area. We had already debated Syrah once before and I had shown one from Chile that was very well received, the delicious Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Syrah  (while the winning wine that previous time was also one of mine, the magnificent Syrah du Liban from Domaine des Tourelles in Lebanon),  so this time I chose to focus on the United States as I have tried quite a few really exciting American Syrahs of late. After a little contemplation both of my wines came from California.

The rules were pretty simple, we each had to present two wines, one per round, with the first one selling for under £20 and the second between £20 and £40.

I will just go off on a brief tangent about the name of the grape – Syrah. The grape originates in France and is called Syrah, as far as I can tell, no one knows why. We do know though that it does not come from Persia and has no link with the Persian city called Shiraz at all. Until the 1970s the Australians called the grape Hermitage – after the Syrah wine of the same name in France’s Rhône Valley. There appears to be no earthly reason why the Australians took to calling it Shiraz, none I can find anyway, so it is possible they just didn’t know how to pronounce Syrah, a strinization of Syrah if you will. Or it was a memory of a famous late nineteenth and early twentieth century Australian fortified wines band – fake Port if you like – called Shirazo. Such has been the success of Australian Shiraz though that many people like to call it Shiraz, wherever it grows. I stick to the original, unless the label specifically states Shiraz.

I will only tell you about my wines, because for the first time in the history of our debates one country won both rounds and had the biggest swing from unfavourable views before the tasting began to favourable views afterwards. That country was the United States. Both my wines came from California and they won both rounds of the tasting and the overall swing.

California map QS 2015 watermarked

Wine Map of California – click for a larger view.

California is of course much more famous for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay than anything else. Pinot Noir has become big in recent years, since the film Sideways and more importantly since Californian growers worked out which sites suit that fickle grape. Syrah though has been creeping up on the outside for quite a while. Although a little has been grown in the state for as long as the California wine trade has existed, it was the Rhône Ranger movement of the 1980s that really put California Syrah on the map and plantings developed at a great rate during the 1990s. Sadly the economic downturn from 2008 onwards, together with increased popularity of cheaper Australian Shiraz, caused sales of California Syrah to pretty well crash.

Its popularity seems to have peaked, but that means that a lot of the bulk production and vineyards in less suitable areas have now disappeared, leaving California Syrah largely in the hands of the real specialists. Growers who love the grape and grow it in the perfect locations to produce a distinctive style and wines of great quality. It was this that I wanted to illustrate with my two wines.

My first wine was one that I have admired for quite a long time:

Qupé Vineyards and Winery - photo courtesy of the winery.

Qupé Vineyards and Winery – photo courtesy of the winery.

qupe-central-coast-syrah2013 Qupé Syrah
AVA Central Coast
Qupé Vineyards
Los Olivos, California

Bob Lindquist created and runs the wonderful Qupé Vineyards and is a real Syrah specialist, perhaps the leading one in the state. Qupé – pronounced kyoo-pay – is the Chumash word for the California poppy. The Chumash people are native to California’s Central and Southern Coast areas.

Bob produces three different Syrahs, with this, his Central Coast Syrah, being his entry level wine, being a blend from different sites with the Central Coast region or AVA / American Viticultural Area. Don’t let that fool you though, it is very good indeed. Actually it is only 98% Syrah with some tiny dollops of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Tempranillo and it is a blend of vineyard sites too. 63% comes from cool areas in Santa Barbara County and Edna Valley, while the rest grows in the warmer, Mediterranean climate, Paso Robles area.

The wine is a blend from different vineyards:
42% comes from the Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, originally planted by the last Spanish Governor of California in 1837.
35% from French Camp Vineyard in Paso Robles.
2% is from the Carriage Vineyard – which also has an inn – in Paso Robles
11% from the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard in the Edna Valley, which has been biodynamic sine 2009.
4% grows in the Ibarra-Young Vineyard in the Los Olivos District AVA.
6% from Chabot Vineyard in Santa Barbara County.

Remember, apart from  Paso Robles these are cool areas, suitable for Pinot Noir, so the wine is subtle and savoury, despite its 18 months in French oak – neutral so the flavour does not dominate, just adds smoky spice.

The nose is lovely, generous and ripe, with bright, vivid black fruit together with a lighter, fresher note of cherry, as well as dry spice and black pepper. The palate is very smooth, mellow and round with velvety tannins and plenty of blackberry fruit as well as that lighter, fresher, cherry character. There is a touch of vanilla and smoky oak too, so the wine might repay a little bit of ageing or serving with a rich meal – 91/100 points.

Available in the UK at around £17-£20 per bottle from The Oxford Wine Company, Eton Vinters and others – click here for other stockists.
For US stockists, click here.

My second wine was from one of my favourite estates and winemakers from anywhere:

photo-vineyard

Joseph Swan Great Oak Vineyard – photo courtesy of the winery.

Swan2008 Joseph Swan Great Oak Vineyard Syrah
AVA Russian River Valley
Joseph Swan Vineyards
Sonoma, California

Joseph Swan started making wines in the Russian River Valley in 1967. The estate is historic and before Swan was only owned by two generations of a single family from the early days of pioneer settlement right up to 1967. The house itself was surrounded by old Zinfandel vines and the estate continues to use these to make one of the very best examples of the grape. In the early 1970 under guidance from André Tchelistcheff  Swan decided to become a Pinot Noir specialist. Some local vineyards had historically grown some Pinot, but he was the first to really specialise in it and he was so successful that today there is a Joseph Swan clone of Pinot Noir. A couple of sites are a bit warmer though and lend themselves to Syrah instead. Swan produce two single vineyard Syrahs, Trenton Estate Vineyard and the Great Oak Vineyard. Joseph Swan retired in 1987 and passed the winery and estate over to his son in law Rod Berglund, who had worked with him for many years. I have met Rod and he is a charming, modest and fascinating winemaker, who puts all his success down to his vineyards – you can see a couple of short interviews I did with him here. Joseph Swan vineyards is a true artisan winery with a hands -off approach similar to classic winemaking in Burgundy and the Northern Rhône.

I cannot tell you how the wine was made I am afraid as the winery did not respond to any of my emails, but that doesn’t really matter. Suffice to say that it is was a real treat.

The nose is rich and savoury, with some pepper and smoke and earth and leather from the ageing – it is 2008. There is plenty of fruit though, blackberry, cherry and raspberry too, together with some mushroom notes. the palate was elegant and refined, not a blockbuster, but no wimp either. It was refined, silky and savoury, but still with a solid core of fruit. There are spices, herbs, leather, earth, mushroom, cherry, blackberry and yes, that brighter, lighter raspberry note too. The finish is wonderfully round and complete. A fine, fine wine that would go with all manner of meat and cheese dishes – 94/100 points.

Available in the UK at around £30-£37 per bottle from The Secret Cellar and The Tasting Room, further stockist information available from Fields, Morris & Verdin.
For US stockists, click here.

Both of these wines are superb, as proven by the fact that they won their rounds of the tasting debate. Both of them really impressed the tasters and made the whole room feel very positive about California Syrah. So why don’t you try them? I think you will really enjoy the wines, they are subtle, fine and beautifully made. So the nest time you deserve a treat, give them a go and let us all know what you think.

Wine of the Week 7 – a great value, richly fruity red

The entrance to Château Ksara.

The entrance to Château Ksara.

As some of you may know, I visited Lebanon for the first time this year and got to visit many wineries and to taste many different wines. Overall I was very impressed by the quality of what I found. I didn’t taste anything that wasn’t acceptable and most of what I tasted was very good indeed. Sometimes the prices would make the wines difficult to sell on the UK market, but then Lebanese wineries are mainly small boutique operations and making wine on that scale does unfortunately cost money. However some of the wines offered fantastic value for money and a great quality to price ratio, this delicious white from Domaine des Tourelles for instance.

One of the wineries that I visited was Château Ksara and they make a lovely, great value red wine that I have made this week’s Wine of the Week.

Vineyards at Château Ksara, that is the winemaker Jack Plage.

Vineyards at Château Ksara, that is the winemaker James Palgé.

Founded in 1857 by Jesuit monks, Ksara is the oldest wine producer in Lebanon. Ksara had a bit of luck in 1898 when an extensive Roman cave system was discovered underneath the winery and this was expanded and repaired to become Lebanon’s only natural cellar system. It keeps at a steady 12˚C so is perfect to mature wine, as well as being an amazing place to visit.

The caves at Château Ksara.

The ancient caves at Château Ksara.

Wine production flourished and by the 1970s Ksara produced well over a million bottles a years, 85% of all Lebanese wine. In fact it was so successful that the Vatican considered that it got in the way of the religious aspects of monastic life and so instructed the monastery to sell the winery. Château Ksara was bought by a consortium of Lebanese businessmen and has never looked back.
I was hugely impressed by the range of wines they produce. It seems to me that they make a marvellous range of wines that stretch from attractive, easy going wines – the Gris de Gris Rosé or the Blanc de Blancs – to superbly crafted serious wines that need time to show their true worth, wines like Le Souvrain, their Chardonnay and even their standard Château Ksara red blend.
Well, while you are waiting for those wines to come round you can drink this lovely more easy drinking red:

James Plagé with the barrels that give that touch of mocha to his Reserve du Couvent.

James Palgé with the barrels that give that touch of mocha to his Reserve du Couvent.

wwl073700_chateau_ksara2011 Château Ksara Reserve du Couvent
Château Ksara
Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

40% Syrah 30% Cabernet Franc and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, dry farmed without irrigation, cold fermented in stainless stell tanks and aged for 12 months in French oak barrels.

The colour is an enticingly deep and vibrant ruby.
The nose gives powerful wafts of rich cherry, blackberry and mocha, coffee notes together with a touch of earth too.
The medium-bodied palate is rich with sweetly ripe fruit, the generous fruit and ripe tannins make it soft and supple. The climate shows with a  little bit of heat on the finish, but this is juicy, slightly herbal, lightly spicy, attractive and very drinkable indeed. Try it with lamb dishes, from roasts to tagines and casseroles – 88/100 points.

Available in the UK from around £9 to £11 per bottle, click here for stockist information, more stockists here, here & here
Available in the US from around $13 to $15 per bottle, click here for stockist information.

If you have never tried Lebanese wine before, or just never tried anything from Château Ksara before, I do urge you to give this wine a try, you will enjoy it.

 

Wine of the Week 3 – Domaine des Tourelles White

The sign at Domaine des Tourelles.

The sign at Domaine des Tourelles.

My recent trip to Lebanon was a wonderful experience that I enjoyed for its own sake and for the wines and wineries that I came across. I tasted a large number of  really good wines and met lots of people passionate about Lebanese wines – and I have now joined their ranks. There is a lot to like about Lebanon, both as a country and as a wine producer. None of the wines that I tasted were less than palatable and a large proportion of them were really very good indeed.

So, my wine of the week this week is a white wine that I really enjoyed, that is superb quality and represents stunning value for money to0. I will be writing more about the estate soon, so will just tell you about the wine today:

Domaine des Tourelles.

Domaine des Tourelles.

Domaine-des-Tourelles-White2012 Domaine des Tourelles white
Jdita, Chtaura
Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
This estate in bustling Chtaura is right on the main road through the town, yet manages to be a haven of tranquility. It’s such a beautiful and restful spot that as soon as you enter the gates you leave the noise and the traffic behind, even though it is just yards away. It is an old estate, the oldest secular wine producer in Lebanon, having been created by Jura-born Frenchman François-Eugène Brun in 1868. Nowadays it is owned and run by the delightful Faouzi Issa who is a an extremely fine winemaker who believes in non-interventionist winemaking and who crafts a very fine range of wines.

Map of Lebanon including the wine regions – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of Lebanon including the wine regions – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

This dry white is an enticing, aromatic and accomplished blend of 60% Viognier, 33% Chardonnay and 7% Muscat. Faouzi only uses wild yeasts and does everything as traditionally as he can, but for this white he eschews his beloved concreter tanks for a cold fermentation in stainless steel. The result is a first rate wine that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The nose is lifted, aromatic and very attractive with herbs, cracked white pepper, fresh mango and honey in abundance, with some creamy ripe notes too. The palate is mouth-coating textured and succulent, creamy with a touch of peach skin mouthfeel all balanced by good acidity and some taut minerality keeping it fresh, vibrant and fine. This wine just kept getting better and better in the glass too. Seriously impressive stuff, lovely with a whole range of foods from crisps to haute cuisine, the aromatic quality would make it good with pieces, while the texture and acidity would partner creamy sauces very well too and it would also be lovely with something like a piece of sea-bass – 91/100 points, marked high for being such great value.

Do try this wine if you can it is very good and very enjoyable too, everyone I showed it to really liked it.

Available in the UK for around £10.00 per bottle from Slurp, N.D.John more stockist information is available from the Domaine des Tourelles’s UK distributor, Boutinot.

Lebanon part 1 – land of beauty & promise

The Bekaa.

The Bekaa.

Lebanon has long fascinated me, both as a country and as a wine producer.

My wine interest was first sparked 30 years ago when the company that I was working for listed a Lebanese wine. The whole idea seemed exotic beyond belief and completely off the wall, but then I tasted it and the 1977 Château Musar totally won me over and I have loved the idea of Lebanese wines ever since.

Another thing that captured my imagination about Lebanon was when I heard about the ‘Zagwill’, a fisherman’s song from ancient Phoenicia – which is now Lebanon. Carved into a tomb near Biblos this is believed to be the oldest song lyrics the human race possesses.

These two things struck a chord with me and made me determined to see Lebanon one day and to learn something about this fascinating part of the world.

So, recently when I was invited to Beirut to attend the Horeca Food and Wine Show and to judge at the Horeca Wine Competition I leapt at the chance and I enjoyed every moment. I had some wonderful experiences, met delightful people who seemed only too happy to show me their stunning country, enjoyed some superb meals and tasted many excellent wines.

The Horeca Show during the round table wine discussion.

The Horeca Show during the round table wine discussion.

The fair was terrific too. It is an annual showcase for Lebanon’s food and drink industry and as well as boasting hundreds of stands showing off the products of the region, there were chef’s competitions and cocktail making competitions and the wine competition with which I was involved.

Beirut from my hotel.

Beirut from my hotel.

Me in a thoughtful moment during the wine judging at Horeca.

Me in a thoughtful moment during the wine judging at Horeca. Photo courtesy of Paul Op ten Berg.

I know that technically Lebanon is in Asia, but when you are there it doesn’t feel so very different from the European countries of the southern Mediterranean. In fact apart from the Arabic script on the signs, Lebanon often reminded me of Spain, Greece or Sicily. Beirut and the other towns I saw seemed chaotic and boisterous in much the same way as Seville or Catania in Sicily. The landscape too was very similar to these places and of course the food has a lot in common with Greek cuisine and I even noticed some similarities to Sicilian cooking as well. The national dish is kibbeh, which I love, and if it isn’t a first cousin to Sicily’s arancini then I would be amazed.

The centre of Joünié.

The centre of Joünié.

I suspect this European feel is partly because Lebanon has a mixed population of Muslims and Christians and enjoys a complex system of power sharing to ensure that no single part of the community dominates the other. As a consequence the place seems very free and easy to the casual observer with alcohol being readily available, lively restaurants and street life with attractive bars everywhere. In order to preserve this balance no official census has been taken since 1932, in case they discover there is a higher proportion of Muslims or Christians than they had thought.

Beirut's glamorous marina.

Beirut’s glamorous marina.

It is strange, but true, that on returning to London I saw more Muslim women wearing head scarves than I had in Lebanon.

I found it very interesting that despite France only governing the country for a little over 20 years, 1920 – 1943, French is spoken everywhere and the French influence lives on in almost every aspect of life. Other than the badges on the customs officers uniforms, one of the most obvious examples is the wine names. All the wine producers are Domaine this or Château that and the wine styles often have a very French feel to them too.

We tend to think of Lebanon as a new wine producing country, but the Phoenician’s were among the world’s first maritime traders and exported wines from Tyre and Sidon all over the Mediterranean world and so helped to spread wine to western Europe. This trade continued well into the middle ages when the territory we now call Lebanon was briefly controlled by Venice.

Lebanon’s civil war ended in 1990, so the country has enjoyed over 20 years of relative stability punctuated by sporadic turmoil caused by their neighbours – either directly or indirectly. I was told many times that Lebanon is fortunate in everything, except its neighbours. As Lebanon borders Syria and Israel, you can see their point – how unlucky can one country be?

This stability has been enough for wine making to really start to flourish and for the longer established producers to consolidate the markets for their wines. If Lebanese wines were a novelty thirty years ago, they are much more normal today.

Over the last ten years or so wine drinking has become much more the norm inside Lebanon and this too has helped growth. Sadly though, with some exceptions, I was told that the local wealthy almost totally ignore Lebanese wine and assume that imported wines are inherently better. One evening at dinner – at the excellent Mario e Mario Italian trattoria – I tried to wean two Beirutis off their imported French wine and on to the far better value local tipple. Sadly I failed, but they promised me that they would try more Lebanese wines in the future and not just take it for granted that foreign is better.

On the subject of restaurants, I feel that I should tell you about two other Beirut eateries that impressed me. Babel serves superb Lebanese food in a setting that takes your breath away. Built to look like a ruined biblical tower of Babel it resembles a set for a D.W.Griffith epic. I was also very taken with the more casual Al Falamanki on the Damascus Road. Although only a few years old it had a very traditional feel with courtyards and comfortable rooms furnished in different ways. When we were there the joint was jumping with happy diners of all ages together with groups of men drinking arrack, playing backgammon and enjoying their hookahs. It was so atmospheric I could well imagine them filming parts of a remake of Lawrence of Arabia here, oh and the food was delicious too.

Château Ksara.

Château Ksara.

The oldest wine producer in the country is Château Ksara which was founded in 1857 by Jesuit monks who quickly recognised that the Bekaa Valley was a suitable place to grow grapes and brought in a trained viticulturist monk to create and tend their vineyards. His plantings of Cinsault, together with those at the nearby Domaine des Tourelles in 1868, started the Lebanese wine revival which is still with us to this day. Ksara had a bit of luck in 1898 when an extensive Roman cave system was discovered underneath the winery and it was expanded and repaired to become Lebanon’s only natural cellar system. It keeps at a steady 12˚C so is perfect to mature wine, as well as being an amazing place to visit.

The caves at Château Ksara.

The caves at Château Ksara.

The First World War ended with Britain having defeated the Ottoman Empire which had ruled Lebanon for hundreds of years. The region was given to France to govern as a League of Nations Mandate and French administrators and soldiers soon arrived who expected to drink wine as part of their every day diet. This must have given real impetus to the fledgling wine industry and expansion quickly got under way. Château Nakad, the modern Bekaa pioneer was founded in 1923, while Lebanon’s most famous winery, Château Musar was founded soon after in 1930. Fitting the same pattern, Almaza, the country’s leading beer brewer also dates from this time.

Map of Lebanon including the wine regions – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of Lebanon including the wine regions – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

All the early wine production was in the Bekaa Valley in the east of the country and although there are now some other regions, it remains the centre of production. This was partly because it was already established as the principal agricultural region of Lebanon. Given that we think of wine as flourishing in areas where nothing else will grow, I was astonished to see just how green the Bekaa is. I was expecting a hard, biblical landscape of scrub – a desert almost – but instead found a fertile valley full of fruit and vegetable production.

The Bekaa.

The Bekaa.

The Bekaa.

The Bekaa.

Lebanon has a hot climate, with some 300 days of sunshine a year, so although ripeness is not a problem, excessive heat is and fine wine production would be very hard if the country was not so mountainous. Although the Bekaa is a valley – sandwiched between the Mount Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges – it is very high with most of the vineyards planted at around 1000 metres above sea level. The finer wines tend to be produced at higher altitudes and increasingly the new plantings are edging up to 1100 – 1200 metres. Up there the air is cooler allowing for slower ripening and better retention of acidity, freshness and balance in the wines. Large temperature drops between night and day conditions also helps retain acidity and freshness in the grapes. The Bekaa is also blessed with ample water from the snow melt running off the two mountain ranges.

There is huge variety in soils, but they tend to be limestone, with some sandstone too, so are generally well drained, but can offer great variety of colour, texture and weight – which is partly why all styles of wines can be produced here.

Looking down on the Bekaa Valley

Looking down on the Bekaa Valley – Syria is in the distance.

Apart from Châteaux Musar and Ksara, important producers from the Bekaa include the wonderful Château Kefraya, the beautiful Domaine des Tourelles, founded in 1868 this is the second oldest producer in the country, MassayaChâteau St Thomas, Château Ka and Domaine Wardy.

In recent years some new wine regions have begun producing wines and most of these are higher than the Bekaa Valley.  With vineyards planted between 600-1300 metres above sea level, the beautiful southern area of Jezzine is where Habib Karam’s Karam Winery is crafting some very fine wines that show the cooling effect of the climate and altitude – try the Rosé Arc en Ciel and the Saint John. The northern region of Batroun, planted at 400-1300 metres above sea level, is equally promising for cooler climate wines, Batroun Mountains produce a fresh Chardonnay and zippy Riesling that are quite delicious.

Me hogging the microphone at the post judging round-table discussion at Horeca.

Me hogging the microphone at the post judging round-table discussion at Horeca. Photo courtesy of Paul Op ten Berg.

In Chouf, 800-1100 metres above seal level, south east of Beirut, Château Florentine produce a very promising range of wines including the best Lebanese Sauvignon Blanc that I have tried and their elegant Château Florentine Grand Vin blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah.

Ixsir – named for Al-Iksir or Elixir, a secret potion that grants eternal youth and love – produce a very attractive range of wines from a wide range of vineyard sites from Jezzine to Batroun and the Bekaa. Their Ixsir Altitudes wines are good and drinkable, while their Ixsir Grande Reserve red and white are more ambitious, complex and fine.

Lebanon’s French influence is very apparent in the varieties they grow. Grapes from the French Mediterranean dominate the country’s vineyards, with most traditional reds being blends that include Cinsault, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Grenache, together with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and increasingly some Syrah too.

The white wines, which impressed me enormously are often blends including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Clairette and Viognier, but I also came across some decent Riesling and astonishingly good wines made from Obaideh and Merwah, which are both indigenous white grapes.

I found much to like in Lebanon and thought the wines were generally very good indeed, with many more high spots than lows. The wineries that I have mentioned all make very good wines with balance and elegance in their differing styles, but there were also some producers who made wines that didn’t excite me quite so much. A few seemed quite old fashioned in style, with little in the way of bright fruit. I tasted some that clearly need more work in the vineyard to tackle the raisining and green tannins, while some wines were volatile or bordering on dirty. None of this is unique to Lebanon of course, I can say the same about almost anywhere and for those producers I do wonder if they should change their points of reference for wine. It is quite clear that Lebanon looks to France as its rôle model, you can see it in most of the wines, but I wonder if some of the wines at the lower price points should become a bit less French-centric and take a peek at who else is making good wine in the Mediterranean world.

I really hope that over the next few years those producers will look at how places like Spain’s Jumilla – with a similar landscape and climate to Lebanon – have completely revolutionised their viticulture and vinification techniques to produce modern, clean and vibrantly fruity wines at the lower price points. Perhaps the locals would be more easily won over by wines of this type, as well as casual wine drinkers in places like the UK.

Recent growth though has been strong and with local and foreign demand both growing the number of commercial wineries has increased from just 4 in 1990 to 47 today. What is more, quibbles aside, they are producing wines that are always good and often very impressive indeed. I didn’t try anything that I did not find palatable and found the vast majority to be very pleasurable indeed.

Gone are the days when Lebanon produced wines with mere novelty value to provide a touch of the exotic. These are good quality wines that can be taken on their merits and enjoyed on their own terms.

I will be writing more about some of the wineries that I visited very soon, but in the meantime I would urge people to visit Lebanon, it really is a fabulous country full of wonderful sights, lovely people, great food and superb wines. See you at the Horeca Show next year?

More information is available from the Union Vinicole du Liban website and for the UK from Wines of Lebanon.