WINES OF LIFE AND STRIFE: The Levant - Lebanon, Syria, Israel
‘Yeast makes the wine - war or no war’ Serge Hochar, legendary winemaker of Chateau Musar
Time & Location
14 Nov 2023, 19:00
Balfour at St Barts, 66 W Smithfield, London EC1A 9DY, UK
The wine regions of the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean) are a combination of old world, new world and ancient world. Wine has been made by humans in the region stretching back to at least 7000 BCE, and it's deeply rooted in the history of the land. Wine has long been revered both amongst the masses in everyday life and for its uniquely spiritual power. According to the Book of Genesis, Noah planted vineyards soon after the flood and got drunk off the beverage. In the 8th century BCE, the religious prophet Hosea urged followers to stay close to God in order to "blossom as the vine, and their fragrance will be like the wine of Lebanon". Even the Greeks appreciated the finer qualities of the wines from this region, only attaining comparable winemaking skill centuries later. And why else would the Romans have built the Temple of Bacchus (main picture) in the Bekaa Valley?
The 19th and 20th centuries brought adaptations from abroad, mainly from France. Baron Edmond de Rothschild (of the Lafite / Mouton family) established Israel's first major winery in 1890. France's close political ties with Lebanon post-World War I ensured that modern winemaking techniques were imported and adopted from Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley. The region’s best known red wines are made from French grape varieties – cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot, cinsault, carignan, grenache, and mourvèdre. White wines often feature chardonnay and semillon in addition to local grape varieties.
And wonderful wine it was! We were thrilled to present premium red and white wines from some of the best producers in each country. From Lebanon and Syria, we featured the world-renowned Chateau Musar (Lebanon) as well as Domaine de Bargylus (Syria) and its sibling winery Chateau Marsyas (Lebanon). From Israel, we poured two very distinctive wines from this undeniably exciting and innovative wine country that is catching the world's attention. The evening reached a crescendo with a stunning Musar 1991.
Given that most of the wines have been sourced from a Capital Branch member’s private cellar, this was a rare opportunity.
Other than the 1991 Musar, which was virtually unanimously hailed as the Wine of the Night, the 2014 pairing of Israeli Clos de Gat and Syrian Bargylus vied as the most remarkable wine that evening. Each had its sense of place, with a wonderful balance of ripe fruit, brightness and woodsy, savory complexity.
That excellent wine is produced at all given the tumultuous conflicts over the past decades is hard to fathom. A 2020 film on the region's winemaking was aptly named 'Wine & War'. And the horrific situation between Israel and the Palestinians that broke out in October 2023 provided a somber reminder of the suffering that people in the region experience on an all-too-regular basis.
Given the prevailing political and military conflict, we considered whether to go ahead with this upbeat type of gathering. Ultimately, we decided to proceed. In so doing, we chose to honor the land itself and the bounty that it produces, as well as the passions, heroism and resiliency of individuals who have risked their lives to create a product that brings people together, rather than apart. We pray earnestly for life, and the cessation of strife.
Welcome Bubbly from Balfour
Barkan Classic Argaman - Red 2020 (Judean Hills)
Domaine de Bargylus – Blanc 2017 (Syria)
Chateau Musar - Blanc 2012 (Bekaa Valley)
Chateau Musar – Red 2011 (Bekaa Valley)
Chateau Marsyas - Red 2016 (Bekaa Valley)
Domaine de Bargylus – Red 2014 (Syria)
Clos de Gat Ayalon Valley - Red 2014 (Judean Hills)
Chateau Musar – Red 1991 (Bekaa Valley)
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