How to pick the right wine for a Middle Eastern feast
However you define the Middle East geographically, we’re not talking about a dominant wine culture compared with the likes of France or Spain. True, Lebanon and Turkey have historic wine-growing traditions, but not Egypt, Jordan or other Arab states. Yet the food we think of as being Middle Eastern is a great complement to wine, subtly spiced and including a fair amount of red wine-friendly grilled meat.
Lebanon is one of the prime hunting grounds. As a former French protectorate, the grapes it grows – syrah, grenache and cinsault, along with a fair bit of cabernet sauvignon – are similar to those in the south of France, so the same varieties grown elsewhere will also work with Lebanese food; and made as rosé as well as red. If you’ve run down summer stocks, head to Waitrose and pick up a couple of bottles of Rosé de Balthazar (12.7%), from near Carcassonne, for £6.99, a good couple of quid less than most Provence rosés.
For such a hot country, Turkish wine is also fascinating, with surprisingly bright, zesty whites (look out for narince) and some appealingly brambly, indigenous reds, albeit with possibly unfamiliar names such as boğazkere, öküzgözü and kalecik karası.
Then there’s Georgia, which doesn’t really see itself as part of the region, but its wines go brilliantly with Middle Eastern dishes. Look out for amber wines made out of rikatsiteli and kisi, and reds from saperavi. (Oddbins has one, along with the amber wine, in today’s sidebar.)
And nearby Greece may not be in the Middle East, either, but its food is very similar. Any wine that goes with a selection of mezedes will work with meze such as falafel and baba ganoush. Again, there are intriguing whites – you may have heard of the crisp, citrussy assyrtiko – and exotically dark, smoky reds such as agiorgitiko and xinomavro.
Frustratingly, although these wines offer a rewarding departure from the well-trodden path of better-known varieties, few supermarkets and high-street retailers stock them in any quantity, if at all, and they’re often made in such tiny amounts that they tend to be pricey.
But you can easily substitute more affordable wines from other areas of the Mediterranean such as southern France, Spain and southern Italy. A good côtes du rhône, such as the rather delicious Vaison la Romaine 2017, just listed by Majestic (£8.99 on the mix-six deal), will do the job admirably.
I’ve suggested infusing a whole bottle of white rum with saffron, not least because the bottle is a handy receptacle and, once made, this keeps indefinitely, but by all means make it in a smaller quantity if that suits your needs.
Bring the water and sugar to a boil, turn down the heat, simmer for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave to cool.
For the rum, simply drop the saffron into a bottle of white rum and leave to infuse for 24 hours.
To build the drink, put all the ingredients in a shaker, add ice, shake and strain into a tall glass. Garnish and serve.
From Berber & Q, by Josh Katz (Ebury Press)