The Eastern Mediterranean is a gold mine for wine, which is finally beginning to see its well-deserved place on the UK wine shelf. The region is home to some of the oldest wine producing countries and it really shows as the wines are so pure. Many of the wines are often produced from one of the hundreds of indigenous grape varieties grown in the area. The below are top picks from the UK Eastern Mediterranean wine pioneer, Steve Daniel.
“Amazing, fresh, intense and mineral Cretan grape. Like standing on a hillside overlooking the Aegean, you can almost smell the salty sea air and the mountain herbs and it’s great value. Crank up the BBQ stick on the seabream or seabass, and away you go.”
“The island of Brač is one of the most popular of the Croatian islands and a short hop from Split. Wonderful white wine from precipitous white stone slopes overlooking the town of Bol and the Adriatic Sea. A unique blend of Pošip (intense and mineral) and Vugava (exotic like
Viognier) with a splash of Chardonnay. The famous white stone from the island has been quarried for centuries and the white stone even built the White House.”
“Imagine yourself sitting in the harbour of Kalkan, watching the sunset, feasting on meze. A beautiful pale pink, delicate orange scented rose with just a touch of sweetness.”
“An amazing rare wine from a grape now only found in the Canaries, which was discovered and brought back from the brink by Doctor Grape: Juan Jesus Mendez.
“This is an enormously rich, intense and aromatic white wine
fermented in a blend of stainless steel and concrete egg fermenter. Tiny amounts are produced every year, and most of it is guzzled by the locals and discerning tourists. We manage to get an allocation every year.”
“A rich and intense spicy red made from the local Manto Negro red grape with the addition of Syrah and Cabernet. A great substitute for wherever you would use the best Malbec you can get your hands on. The perfect alfresco BBQ wine.”
“A great value Assyrtiko, and Lebanon’s first and only one! Assyrtiko may well have been taken to Santorini by the Phoenicians, so this might be a case of the grape going back to its original home. A brilliant partner to grilled seafood and all sorts of other Lebanese delights.”
There seems to be little knowledge about Lebanese wines within the UK even though the Bekaa Valley has been producing wines for over 6,000 years, making Lebanon one of the oldest wine producing countries! However, Lebanon Law under the Caliphate meant that wine production had to stop other than amongst Christians for religious reasons. This meant that modern day winemaking didn’t take place until 1847. So what is there to know about Lebanon wine production and Lebanese Wine?
1 – The Temple of Bacchus
Bekaa Valley, Lebanon is home to The Temple of Bacchus, the god of wine, winemaking and grape harvest – surely this means that Lebanon is also the home of wine and wine production.
2 – Lebanese wine is exported to over 30 countries
Lebanon produce around 8 million bottles a year (less than 1% of French wine!), however the wines are still exported to over 30 countries! Of these, the UK is the top country for exporting, yet the UK wine consumers are still often unaware of Lebanon as a wine producing country.
3 – The Only Assyrtiko in Lebanon
The Greek grape variety Assyrtiko pairs perfectly with Eastern Mediterranean foods including Greek, Turkish and you guessed it, Lebanese. Chateau Oumsiyat was the first producer to vinify the crisp and citrusy grape variety in Lebanon, ‘Cuvee Membliarus’. The wine is best paired with Lebanese small plates and Mezze.
4 – The Lebanese Bordeaux Blend
Lebanon produces many wines of similar style and grape varieties to Bordeaux and the South of France. Lebanon was occupied by the French until 1943, could the French occupation be the reasoning for the plantings of French grape varieties resulting in French blends? Chateau Oumsiyat Jaspe (the French word for variegation) and Grande Reserve are two examples of Lebanese wines using French varietals and produced in a ‘French’ style. As well as producing Bordeaux red styles, Chateau Oumsiyat (and other Lebanese producers) also cultivate and produce white Southern French styles, such as the mouth watering Chateau Oumsiyat Blanc de Blanc.
5 – Two Indigenous Grape Varieties
Within the 2,000 hectares of Lebanon under vine, there are over 25 different international and local varieties grown. The two most widely planted indigenous varietals are Obeidy and Merwah, both white grape varieties. Obeidy is an aromatic variety which has characteristics of exotic and tropical fruits, Chateau Oumisyat ‘Obeidy’ has exotic flavours with hints of peach and a touch of minerality which travels through to a clean salty finish.
Is it time to go and try some Lebanese wine?