Chateau Belle-Vue, Bhamdoun
Boxes finally unpacked in our new home in Beirut - I was keen to get exploring (and drinking). My goal, to discover a winery a week and blog about it. The wine scene in Lebanon has seen a renaissance on a massive scale after the end of the civil war in 1990. At that time there were only really 3 wineries in production, now there’s over 50. Enough to keep me going for a year…
First on the hit list, Chateau Belle-Vue in Bhamdoun. Naji Boutros, the owner, grew up in Bhamdoun where his grandfather had a famous hotel and vineyard - Hotel Belle-Vue. But Bhamdoun was devastated by the civil war. Everything was destroyed - even the stones of the hotel. So when Naji returned to visit with Jill (his wonderful wife), nothing was left apart from a flat piece of ground on top of what once were the cellars. Nevertheless, in 2000 the husband/wife team set out to help rebuild the village which was once so special and to give back to the community in the best way possible: via good food and great wine.
The winery restaurant, Le Telegraphe, has undoubtably one of the most beautiful restaurant terraces in Lebanon. It’s full to the brim with lavender, endlessly flowering roses and zaatar - making it a feast for the nose. 90% of the restaurant staff come from the local area and they do a fantastic job of serving up unpretentious, locally grown food in professional and charming way. They also have a beautiful boutique hotel, just in case one night isn’t enough...
Now, on to the wine: first, the terroir. Its altitude varies between 900-1250 metres - just shy of Ben Nevis. This lifts the vineyards out of the stifling heat and humidity of Beirut, despite being only a 30 minute drive away and the closest winery to the capital. It’s cooled by the ocean breeze and scorched by the powerful sun. Snowy winters and long hot summers make it a winemakers paradise. 24 hectares of organic vines are farmed on a series of small plots Naji and Jill have accumulated around Bhamdoun, bringing together parcels of land in a painstaking process. They sit on a subsoil of limestone/clay over a deep bed of rock. Perfect to keep the yields low and make the vines work hard. Grapes are hand harvested at optimum ripeness and undergo a slow natural fermentation in stainless steel. The results; delicious, complex wines with finesse and elegant structure.
Let’s start with the flagship wine and international medal winner - La Renaissance, named after the re-birth of the vineyards. A Bordeauxlaise blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, they're currently pouring the 2010 which is aged for 24 months in French oak. Refusing to release their wines any younger than this represents the dedication to quality, pride and patience invested in the wine. And it shows on the palette: deep, refined and elegant. Dusty, fine grained tannin. Dark garnet in colour, with hints of black fruits and tobacco leaf. Le Telegraphe offers a fabulous vertical flight which gives the opportunity to taste older vintages, from 2005 onwards - the evolution is exquisite.
Le Chateau is their smaller production red. Again, I tried the 2010. A Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Full bodied and intense, with sweet Syrah spice and a whack ofwell-rounded tannins. The old Cabernet Franc vines bare tiny yields, and grapes are packed with flavour. Living proof that, as my mum always said, the best things come in small packages.
Now the whites. Starting with the Petit Geste 2013, which is their high-end offer. Described by Naji as a project which began as ‘just a bit of fun’, there’s really nothing frivolous about this. A serious, small production (about 1,000 bottles!) Sauvignon/Viognier blend. Savoury herbs such as sage, mint and laurel dominate the palate with hints of preserved lemons and peach. The herbal notes and minerality are reminiscent of an Assyrtiko.
Le Blanc du Telegraphe 2015 is the newest addition to the Belle-Vue portfolio, and takes a different approach to its production, based on Naji and Jill’s dedication to giving back to the community. It uses the Chardonnay and Sauvignon grapes of local farmers from Mount Lebanon, helping them get good value for their crop and to create sustainable income whilst also preserving the vineyards and agricultural land for future generations. Rather then see it turned to residential development. Crunchy green apple, passion fruit and floral aromas. Simple but very attractive, the perfect aperitif.
Visits can be made by appointment.
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone - (+961) 5 260 073 or (+961) 70 628 383