Archives for category: Eastern Mediterranean

On Thursday 14th February the ICC group met for a Tasting of wines from Lebanon, backed up with other E. Med. offerings from Cyprus, Santorini and Israel. The question relating to this tasting is if we can discern anything specifically Eastern Mediterranean about the wines.

Here are my notes:


“PETRITIS” (KYPEROUNDA WINERY, CYPRUS) 2017   –   13½ %   –   TheDrinkShop £13
This wine, 100% Xynisteri, has and slightly oaked nose – with melon fruit and a vaguely Chardonnay weight. The palate has sweet fruit – Galia melon and the same structure as a richer Chardonnay too, some acidity but the sweetish balance offset more by a gravelly minerality and some spice… a little plump IMO.
Ratings:        Quality:  15/20   Value:  15/20

THALASSITIS (GAIA, SANTORINI) 2017   –   13 %   –   TheDrinkShop  £18
Citrus nose with a light salty impression. Palate is clean and refreshing and a line of grapefruit acidity and hints of a sour peach… rather food friendly with a saline minerality…
Ratings:        Quality:  15.5/20   Value:  15/20

MASSAYA BEKAA VALLEY ROSÉ 2017   –   13½ %   –   Tanners  £16
This is the onion skin pink of a good Provencal Rosé, and it resembles it in many ways, being 100% Cinsault!  This has a genuine hint of strawberry fruit (rather than a suggested metaphor) and lovely fruit acidity and some mineral… very balanced and very enjoyable!
Ratings:        Quality:  16/20   Value:  16/20

MASSAYA “LE COLOMBIER” BEKAA VALLEY 2017   –   14½ %   –   Tanners  £15
Hints of mint / eucalyptus / menthol on the nose and a warm dark fruit. Palate is rich with a chocolate texture, some spice and mineral supporting a plum – prune fruit… developing herby notes later in a rather Southern Rhone style (Syrah, Cinsault and Grenache make up 85% of the assemblage, together with Tempranillo!) and rather a good version!
Ratings:        Quality:  16/20   Value:  16/20

CLOS DE GAT HAR’EL JUDEAN HILLS SYRAH 2013   –   14½ %   –   Tanners  £21
Big blackberry, salty, prune notes. Palate has a sweet fruit, some woody notes and alcohol burn in a rather Californian big Shiraz style. The fruit resolution is slightly sweet with salty counterpoint making the overall impression a bit cloying and “heavy” – that said the wine’s lack of development makes it seem somehow insubstantial.
Ratings:        Quality:  14.5/20   Value:  13.5/20

CHÂTEAU MUSAR (HOCHAR, BEKAA VALLEY) 2010   –   13½ %   –   Tanners  £29
This was a very hot dry year and Musar lost about half of its Cabernet to drying out. So the mix is about equally Cinsault, Carignan and Cabernet with – especially the last – contributing dried berries. The result is amazing with hints of oily Amarone-style bitter cherry, some prune and some savoury notes in a sprity package. The palate is balanced by lovely supple acidity with some Italianate leather hints, very ripe plum fruit and some spice. One would probably guess at a, very good, Amarone – but this has a slightly wild complexity. Just fabulous and worth the money IMO…. I wish I’d bought more
Ratings:        Quality:  18/20   Value:  15.5/20

A very interesting tasting, with the Lebanese wines all out-shining the other examples – making them look a little simple or clumsy or both.

To the original question – is there anything specifically E. Mediterranean-ish about the wines – the answer is an unsurprising No!
The Island wines were rather specific and might well work with very specific food. I, at least, can imagine drinking the Santorini well-chilled while eating grilled sardines on a beach… The Israeli wine was big and very… well… New World in style, whereas the Lebanese wines were decidedly old world: two French and the Musar (very memorably) rather Italian.
Musar is a phenomenon!  I have probably tasted 15 or so vintages over the last 20 years and they are always different: different blends; different styles but always good, a sign of a great winemaker. I have to say, though, that this 2010 was the most impressive of all – an early contender for wine-of-the-year. Mmmmmmm

À Bientôt

Advertisements

Actually, there is no recognised area, or group of countries, classified as the “Eastern Mediterranean” from a Wine perspective. So before planning this tasting I have had to make a decision as to which areas to include. As the tasting theme was actually entitled “Lebanon and the Eastern Mediterranean” I have had the central focus defined… but what else to include?

First I decided to limit how far West, and North, the term “Eastern Mediterranean” might extend – and as we had a tasting from the neighbouring Balkans earlier I decided on this map:


This basically draws the Western boundary as the Aegean Islands of Greece, but not the mainland or anywhere further West. In wine terms this probably limits us to: Lebanon; Israel; Turkey; Cyprus plus the Aegean Islands (and Crete) from Greece.

Until recently Turkey produced more wine than all the rest of these area put together – nearly 80 million bottles a year… However recent events have halved the amount produced and export has become less significant. I decided to leave aside Turkey and concentrate on Lebanon, backed up by Cyprus, Israel and Santorini.

The Lebanon has become a very fashionable country for wine in recent years. This growth in appreciation largely driven by the massive acclaim for the legendary Chateau Musar, made by the equally famous Gaston Hochar. When I started formally studying wine in the early 1990s there were only 7 wineries in the country, and Musar was the only Lebanese wine one encountered, gaining attention for it’s quality as well as its unique origin. I attended a vertical Musar tasting in 2000, the variation and interest was captivating, although the wines were then around the £10 mark… they are reaching close to £30 now!


Although the Lebanon is steeped in history (records show wine growing there in the Phoenician period and for 2,000 years before), production dwindled to nothing for over 1,200 years until modern wine-making was revived under French, English and Jesuit influence in the 19th Century. Modern Lebanon now has around 50 wineries and produces about 9m bottles. Over 80% is red and the main grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Syrah which alone count for 50% of all the wine, Most other grapes are also French with Carignan leading the also-rans. There are a few indigenous white varieties like Obaideh and Merwah: the ingredients of Chateau Musar’s white! Over half the wines are from grapes grown in the Bekaa Valley where altitude is over 1,000 metres – although the wineries are rather more widespread.

Israel has a similar history of newly revived wine production, and again most of the planting is what we might call French/International – with emphasis on Bordeaux grapes and Syrah. These account for about two thirds of Israeli wine which now amount to about 30m-40m bottles. There is a wider spread of grapes than in the Lebanon and more whites: as you might expect Chardonnay leads the way with Sauvignon Blanc prominent – although Viognier, Semillon and even Gewurztraminer can be found!


While both Israel and Lebanon look to altitude to temper the excessive heat of the general climate our other two sources use maritime influence in addition. While the mainland countries are reviving long dormant old viniculture with French grapes, Cyprus and Santorini are continuing old styles with indigenous grapes.

Cyprus produces about 17 m bottles – so in between Israel and Lebanon. There are many grapes planted, but only 5 take up more than 5% of vines: Xynisteri  (33.3%); Mavro (13.6%); Carignan (7.5%); Shiraz (6.6%) & Cabernet Sauvignon (5.1%). These first two indigenous grapes therefore make up half the planting and the white Xynisteri is the most typical grape to taste!

Santorini is tiny, although its over 4m bottles is a tad more than the whole UK. The island is most famously known for its indigenous white grape varieties Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani. Whites bearing the Island name must be 75% Assyrtiko, and unsurprisingly it accounts for about 80% of plantings. Only fair – therefore – we taste one of those wines…

So is there a distinctive Eastern Mediterranean style? – we shall see, although I’d be surprised. Distinctive Island wines based on old white grapes to suit a fish cuisine on one hand and International red grapes grown at altitude on the other. And are even the two mainland countries – with similar grapes – producing similar styles?

Notes should be with you within the week.

À Bientôt

%d bloggers like this: