Make Wine Not War A Lebanese Obeidy Wine Review
by John Dunham
“And so we’re told this is the golden age, and gold is the reason for the wars we wage. Though I want to be with you, be with you night and day. Nothing changes on New Year’s Day….”
These sullen lyrics by the Irish band U2 come from the lead single off their 1983 album, War.
When we think of the Middle East, we generally think of war, not of wine. But I discovered some amazing wines do come from right outside of the Syrian war zone in the Mediterranean country of Lebanon.
Lebanon is a small country occupying a mountainous strip of land along the far eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The country has a climate similar to that of Greece and Israel and is an excellent area to grow wine grapes.
Most of the country’s wine grapes are grown in the hills surrounding the Bekaa Valley and are often planted at very high altitudes (as high as 6,000 feet above sea level). The high elevations lead to cooler nighttime temperatures allowing the grapes to thrive. Limestone and clay soils add to the flavor profile of the mainly French varietals that are grown there.
However, in addition to the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Rhone varietals that are commonly used for export wines, Lebanon is home to a number of indigenous grape varietals including Obeideh (or Obeidey-there are other ways to spell it), a white varietal that is rich, floral and has been cultivated in the region since biblical times.
Fortunately, “the dogs of war” have not descended on the Bekaa Valley in recent years. As of last year, the country is producing about 9 million bottles of wine, about a third of which is exported. We had the opportunity to try some of these exports at a recent Lebanese Wine Day walk-around tasting at Aston Center in New York City.
Rather than focus on yet another region producing Rhone and Bordeaux blends, we focused our tastings on Obeidah.
Our first was Barka White (2016: about $11.00 based on the 2012) was a light straw yellow in color with a lot of floral on the nose. The wine is a blend of Obeidy and Sauvignon Blanc and the minerality is very high. It seems from the tastings that the Obeidah (or Obeidy) can easily be dominated by the blending wines. This is a seafood wine through and through and should be served as a Loire valley wine would be.
Domaine Wardy Obeideh (2014: $25) was clear straw yellow in color, with a buttery nose reflecting the fact that it spends 12 months in oak. This gives it a buttery flavor similar to a California Chardonnay but with more acid. Not a style that I personally like, but for those who do, this is something different to try and would pair similarly well with poultry dishes, creamy pasta or even sushi.
Chateau Musar is one of the Better-known Lebanese producers and is famous for bringing grapes across the front lines during the country’s civil war. It’s White (2007: $52) was light straw yellow in color. A blend of Obeideh and Merwah another local grape the nose is very floral with pear and some spice notes. On the palate, the wine was almost bitter up front but this quickly faded to honey and pear with some nuttiness on the end.
This wine from a well-regarded producer would be a good gift for those with an extensive cellar. It will pair with stronger poultry dishes, pork and of course seafood, but I would also drink this wine by itself,
Akttydes Ixsir White (2015: $25) a blend of Obeidy, Muscat and Viognier was the dessert wine of the bunch. Clear straw yellow in color, the floral nose of Obeidy was subsumed by the other grapes providing raisin, pineapple and pear notes. Sweet upfront with dominant Muscat notes of raisin, the fine finished quite clean with allspice notes.
My personal favorite of the tasting was Chateau St. Thomas Obeidy (2015: $15). I spoke with Joe-Assaad S. Touma, the owner and winemaker and he told me about the difficulties of producing wine right outside of a war zone.
The vineyards are literally on the Syrian border, and workers harvesting grapes and tending the vines must contend with the sound of machineguns and mortars. Fortunately, the violence has not spilled over the border and the winery is fine.
The 2015 Obeidy was clear pale yellow in color with honey and floral notes on the nose. The wine was clean with good acid, notes of honeysuckle peach and pear were finished with sweet spicy notes reminiscent of allspice and nutmeg. This is a great wine for the holidays and will pair wonderfully with turkey and stuffing, as well as with seafood, including even sushi.
In Conclusion, while you may never have heard of the rare grape Obeidah, it’s a wonderful grape from a troubled region. I hope that 2017 brings change for the better to the Bekaa Valley and its winemakers. This is a great region producing some very unique wines that really should not be missed.Give some a try!
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