Vineyards in Kefrayya, Lebanon. Photo by Areej Khaddaj from Shutterstock.
Vineyards in Kefrayya, Lebanon. Photo by Areej Khaddaj from Shutterstock.

Surprising location of stunning wines

WEEKEND MAGAZINE: WINE WITH TRAVIS

WHEN we think of Lebanon, I suspect we tend to think of historical civil war conflict, tabouli and hummus. And perhaps even its Roman ruins and the beaches of Beirut. But what we don't seem to commonly appreciate is that the country also has a wine industry steeped in history and contemporary winemakers crafting wines of excellent quality.

Winemaking in Lebanon seems to have originated in the Bekaa Valley, where to this day the industry flourishes. This region runs up the centre of Lebanon at an elevation of about 1000m. With its fertile soils and the protection of surrounding mountains, it was identified by the ancient Romans as having ideal conditions for grape growing. In early days, the monks made wine for religious purposes; as evidenced by the numerous references to the wines of Lebanon in the old testament of the Bible.

In fact, the first of Jesus' miracles in which he turned water into wine at a wedding feast, is widely thought by Christians to have taken place at Qana, a town in Lebanon located about 29km from Tyre. These days, the country's best-known wineries are located in the valley - with producers like Chateau Ksara leading Lebanon's international reputation for viticulture.

Modern winemaking in the Bekaa Valley really started in the 1850s, though at that time sharia law prohibited wine production or consumption except for religious pursuits.

I hadn't tried a lot of Lebanese wines but recently, a close friend whose mum's ancestry is traced back to an old feudal lineage from a village called Bednayel, gifted me a carton of wines from Chateau Kefraya to sample. And I'm indebted to him for the opportunity to not only expand my palate, but to enjoy some first-rate wine in front of the fireplace on a chilly Saturday night.

Starting proceedings was the Chateau Kefraya Blanc de Blancs 2017 - a delightful blend of viognier, chardonnay and muscat a petits grains. On the nose there are floral hints of pineapple and peach, but once on the palate, the fragrant nose gives way to waves of honey, apricot and even grapefruit. She's a voluptuous kind of gal, and the finish is nicely rounded out by a herbaceous edge and some gentle acidity. It's only 12 per cent alcohol so it will work wonderfully well when spring arrives and you trot out a goats cheese, quinoa and fig salad. If it sounds like your thing, you can find it online through Flox Wines and Spirits in Melbourne.

But if you're inclined to seek out a Lebanese wine experience, the starting (and end) point has to be the Chateau Kefraya les Breteches 2016. It's a blend, though highlighted by cinsault; the French grape that was the genesis of modern winemaking in the Bakaa Valley. In the glass, the deep red colour has purple hues on the edges and you'll quickly identify characters of brambly mulberry and white pepper on the nose. But once on the palate the sweet, juicy red fruits and blackberry evolve and gently embrace a tannic backbone through a tannic and spicy finale.

Quality normally comes at a price but this one seemingly flew under the accountant's radar as online you'll get it for about $25 a bottle. It's perfect for a mezze plate or if you're a traditionalist, a meal of kibbeh and tabouli. Here's cheers to our Lebanese friends.

To read more Travis Schultz wine reviews go to travisschultz.com.au.