Opinion: Lebanon, a blast from the past?

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

25 November 2015

Last week I was at a tasting of Lebanese wines. It was fun: a manageable number to get through in an hour, a few producers to chat to, and a splendid hummus-fuelled lunch, courtesy of Arabica Bar & Kitchen, afterwards.

In short, wine journalism as it used to be.

The ‘short tasting then slap up nosh’ element wasn’t the only way in which I was reminded of  doing this job in the 1990s, though. There was a slightly retro feel to many of the wines that rather took me (and I’m sure other tasters, too) by surprise.

What do I mean by that? Well, when I go to tastings now, there tends to be a consistency of quality. Clearly, there’s vintage variation, and some producers are better than others. But it’s rare to get such highs and lows as we found at the Lebanese tasting. There were five-star wines and one-star wines. Wines that you wanted to marry, and others that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. It made life interesting, for sure.

Moreover, there wasn’t even consistency within wineries. Usually, if you find a good producer, they tend to be pretty good across the board. Yes, they’ll have their star wines/varieties/vineyards, but in general they’ll be operating within a fairly narrow bandwidth.

At this tasting, though, all that was consistent was the inconsistency.

I found myself falling in love with one wine, luxuriantly swilling it round my palate like an old roué, then engaged in an unseemly scramble to the spit bucket for the next.

Some wines were slickly brilliant, others were clunky and clumsy. Oak and alcohol were all over the place. For those of us who like a glib generalisation, it was a nightmare.

But for all that, it was also interesting.

Lebanon is a small producing country in a horribly unstable region. That they are able to make (and export) wine at all is something of a minor miracle, so carping about a naive oak regime seems unnecessarily mean-spirited.

I make these points less by way of criticism than to point out that, for all its long winemaking history, I got the same feeling here that I did looking at Argentinian wine, say, 20 years ago; that there’s plenty of potential and interest to come out of the region, provided its wineries keep their collective eyes and ears open, encourage mavericks and innovation, and make good decisions.

Oh, and keep serving the hummus…

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