Saint George, Jordan
Jordan might not be your first port of call when it comes to Middle Eastern wine, however during a trip to this amazing country – home to some of the most incredible places in the world such as Petra, the Dead Sea, Wadi Rum and one of the warmest welcomes in The Middle East (the list goes on…) – I got to try some surprisingly awesome wines.
Fittingly, for a country with such a rich history, Jordanian wine was allegedly served to Jesus at the feast of the Last Supper. However, although it was one of the first out of the blocks, until recently there has been a 1000 year pause in production – happily this has been rectified although production remains small. To put it into context, Jordan produces about 500,000 bottles annually (that’s less than Cloudy Bay produce in a year), its neighbours Lebanon and Israel produce approximately 8.5 million and 36 million respectively.
Over 90% of Jordan’s fruit/vegetable exports are tomatoes, cucumbers and aubergines – exports of dates and olives are creeping up, but grapes remain off the main agenda. Jordan’s climate is scorchio, or ‘subtropical arid’ if you like (the same temperature as Mendoza or Magalouf) and over 97% of its farming land relies on irrigation. A controversial issue in itself.
Jordan’s wine industry is dominated by two major players; Jordan River and Saint George. For my money the wines of Saint George were more interesting, so the focus is on them. Omar Zumot, the owner of Saint George is quite the visionary and is widely regarded as The Daddy of modern Jordanian Wine. He cut his teeth in the Rhone (Ardeche specifically) and Bordeaux and a few years later planted his first vineyard in Madaba – the winery was named after the Byzantine Church of Saint George, home to one of the most beautiful mosaic’s in the world. A couple of years passed and unable to resist the fertile lures of the sandstone-limestone rich soils of Samas Al-Sarhan (in the north by the Syrian border) the vineyard area was swiftly added to his portfolio. This is now their main plot.
Zumot brought over 31 different ‘Noble Varieties’ to plant in the fertile Jordanian soils to see what worked and what didn’t, and every year they experiment with different varietals – last year they added Gamay, Touriga Nacional, Malbec and Nero D’Avola to the portfolio. It’s exactly this brave, non-compromising, innovative attitude that places Saint George at the top of their game.
Organic Viticulture is very much the centre of their wines, shunning pesticides/chemicals and instead opting for Awassi Sheep who graze on the vine leaves (see picture below). The head viticulturist, Youseff, makes all of his own fertilisers from natural ingredients such as garlic and a fantastically talented Bulgarian, Iva, does the wine making. It’s a team effort and very much a labour of love with the emphasis firmly on quality not quantity – average yields hover below 3 tonnes per hectare.
The Wines – My Top 4
Gewürztraminer 2016 – Turkish delight, rose petals. buttery, long pretty finish with a whiff of petrol. Akin to an Alsace heavyweight, full bodied, decadent but well balanced.
Sauvignon Blanc 2016 – Round and creamy with a whack of typical Sauvignon acidity. Primary tropical fruit aromas with an innate smokiness.
Merlot Rose 2016 – If tasted this blind, I’d easily confuse for a red Anjou. Fleshy ripe red berries, violets and a tad of residual sugar. Carbonic maceration gives it a classic Beaujolais-esque candied twist which precedes a long fruity finish. Give me this on a hot day, anytime.
Pinot Noir Winemakers Selection 2009 – The clear winner. If you’d told me that I’d find a such a cracking Pinot a stones throw from the Jordanian border with Syria – I wouldn’t have believed you. Precise structure, good acidity, well integrated oak and dusty tannins. At around £22 a bottle, it’s a steal.
Massive thank you to the gorgeous Alizee at Saint George, who was so generous and knowledgeable – an absolute gem!