Some Sundays were made for a glass of wine, its impossible to deny. There is a certain something about the fun, slightly irresponsible naughtiness which you simply don’t get on a Friday or Saturday which makes the occasional Sunday very jolly indeed. Sitting at Comptoir Libanaise on Wigmore Street in blissful denial of Monday’s existence and comforted with the knowledge that a feast of various Middle Eastern delights were en route, we contemplated the drinks menu…
I adore Lebanese food, there is something supremely skilful and exciting about the way they combine the contrasts of nutty almost fierce textures with a comforting sweet freshness which seems to run seamlessly through the cuisine. Lebanese wine however was a previously unexplored entity… A charming waitress eagerly recommended the Chateau Musar’s ‘Musar Jeune 2012’. So that was it, I lost my Lebanese wineinity to The Daddy of Lebanese producers on a slightly naughty Sunday, basking in the dying rays of the weekend on a London side street… Yummy.
Like young straw in colour with good decent legs (13.5 %!), upon appearance I wondered if it would stand up to the strong flavours of tahini and garlic which dominate the cuisine, how wrong could I be… The Lebanese are of course experts at food and wine. The nose prompted a sense of overwhelming déjà vu – honeyed peaches (post baking, pre dollop of ice cream) with a handful of tropical fruit salad for good measure. This was interestingly offset by a lovely zesty undertone of lemon drizzle cake. The floral/fruity nose reminded me of a fantastic Northern Rhone White (Condrieu specifically), this unexpected similarity made the bone dry finish even more surprising as it had none of the acidity I expected would be needed to balance fruity feast the wine. Of the varietals the Viognier certainly wears the trousers, its peachy nose; oily texture and bone dry finish dominates the wine and quite simply steal the show.
The blend is composed of 3 varietals; 35% Viognier, 35% Vermentino and 30% Chardonnay and is made without the use of oak which allows the different flavours to shine through. Lebanese producers have only began using climatic conditions during the 2012 harvest lead to low yields of Chardonnay as a result of damage from harsh April frosts giving a blend and flavour truly unique to this year. This could explain why the Viognier is the stand out varietal in the blend.
The wine was from the Bekaa valley, located less than 25 miles west of the cosmopolitan bustling capital, Beirut. The valley bares the scars of the recent Israel-Hezbollah conflicts, in addition to playing home to large illegal plantations of ‘Red Leb’. All this aside, its supposed to be a beautiful fertile valley which undeniably contains some of Lebanon’s finest vineyards as well as two spectacular ancient sites (Umayyad city of Aanjar and the temples at Baalbek). The valley has a broadly continental climate which swings from freezing cold wet winters to hot dry summers. It’s quite extraordinary that even the terrior echoes the conflict of flavours which make the wine so complex interesting and unique.
Taste apart, the body was astonishing – generous, gloriously fat but with delicately silky almost oily texture. It made such a difference to the food I was left wondering why I hadn’t been drinking this with every Lebanese I’d enjoyed. There was something quite charming knowing that this had come from one of Lebanon’s oldest Wineries, where production began under a castle in 1930. The business has now grown to be one of the country’s leading vineyards with an international presence. Chateau Musar famed for its family origins and notoriety of marching to the sound of its slightly unique drum beat in their methods of production and style.
Its crazy to imagine that in 1998 there were only five large vineyards in Lebanon, the country now boasts a booming seven fold increase, evidently I’m not the only one enjoying it! Think it would only be fair to try the others now though… There are 51 other Sundays in the year after all, Keskun!