Life & Style Weekend - - MAGAZINE | FOOD & WINE - WORDS: TRAVIS SCHULTZ To read more Travis Schultz wine re­views go to traviss­chultz.com.au.

When we think of Le­banon, I sus­pect we tend to think of his­tor­i­cal civil war con­flict, tabouli and hum­mus. And per­haps even its Ro­man ruins and the beaches of Beirut. But what we don’t seem to com­monly ap­pre­ci­ate is that the coun­try also has a wine in­dus­try steeped in his­tory and con­tem­po­rary wine­mak­ers craft­ing wines of ex­cel­lent qual­ity.

Wine­mak­ing in Le­banon seems to have orig­i­nated in the Bekaa Val­ley, where to this day the in­dus­try flour­ishes. This re­gion runs up the cen­tre of Le­banon at an el­e­va­tion of about 1000m. With its fer­tile soils and the pro­tec­tion of sur­round­ing moun­tains, it was iden­ti­fied by the an­cient Ro­mans as hav­ing ideal con­di­tions for grape grow­ing. In early days, the monks made wine for re­li­gious pur­poses; as ev­i­denced by the nu­mer­ous ref­er­ences to the wines of Le­banon in the old tes­ta­ment of the Bi­ble.

In fact, the first of Je­sus’ mir­a­cles in which he turned water into wine at a wed­ding feast, is widely thought by Chris­tians to have taken place at Qana, a town in Le­banon lo­cated about 29km from Tyre. These days, the coun­try’s best-known winer­ies are lo­cated in

the val­ley — with pro­duc­ers like Chateau Ksara lead­ing Le­banon’s in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion for viti­cul­ture.

Mod­ern wine­mak­ing in the Bekaa Val­ley re­ally started in the 1850s, though at that time sharia law pro­hib­ited wine pro­duc­tion or con­sump­tion ex­cept for re­li­gious pur­suits.

I hadn’t tried a lot of Le­banese wines but re­cently, a close friend whose mum’s an­ces­try is traced back to an old feu­dal lin­eage from a vil­lage called Bed­nayel, gifted me a car­ton of wines from Chateau Ke­fraya to sam­ple. And I’m in­debted to him for the op­por­tu­nity to not only ex­pand my palate, but to en­joy some first-rate wine in front of the fire­place on a chilly Satur­day night.

Start­ing pro­ceed­ings was the Chateau Ke­fraya Blanc de Blancs 2017 — a de­light­ful blend of viog­nier, chardon­nay and mus­cat a pe­tits grains. On the nose there are flo­ral hints of pineap­ple and peach, but once on the palate, the fra­grant nose gives way to waves of honey, apri­cot and even grape­fruit. She’s a volup­tuous kind of gal, and the fin­ish is nicely rounded out by a herbaceous edge and some gen­tle acid­ity. It’s only 12 per cent al­co­hol so it will work won­der­fully well when spring ar­rives and you trot out a goats cheese, quinoa and fig salad. If it sounds like your thing, you can find it on­line through Flox Wines and Spirits in Mel­bourne.

But if you’re in­clined to seek out a Le­banese wine ex­pe­ri­ence, the start­ing (and end) point has to be the Chateau Ke­fraya les Breteches 2016. It’s a blend, though high­lighted by cin­sault; the French grape that was the genesis of mod­ern wine­mak­ing in the Bakaa Val­ley. In the glass, the deep red colour has pur­ple hues on the edges and you’ll quickly iden­tify char­ac­ters of bram­bly mul­berry and white pep­per on the nose. But once on the palate the sweet, juicy red fruits and blackberry evolve and gen­tly embrace a tan­nic back­bone through a tan­nic and spicy fi­nale.

Qual­ity nor­mally comes at a price but this one seem­ingly flew un­der the ac­coun­tant’s radar as on­line you’ll get it for about $25 a bot­tle. It’s perfect for a mezze plate or if you’re a tra­di­tion­al­ist, a meal of kibbeh and tabouli. Here’s cheers to our Le­banese friends.

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