When I gallantly (stupidly) volunteered to do a piece on wines from warzones (editor's idea), I never thought it would be quite this tricky. Without even a thought towards climate and terroir, it turns out such regions have more pressing matters that winemaking with which to concern themselves. Who would have thought? Mix in the various religious constraints and front line wines just don’t happen. And there I was, brimming with (terrible) ideas - like "5 '-istan' Wines"... Well, that fell flat on its face, although I have discovered wine is still currently produced in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan. I am yet to receive a sample.
I was a little worried about the timing too. Warzones aren’t the most cheery thing to write about at this already depressing time of year, but as the Military Wives stormed the charts at Christmas, it kind of works. Maybe some of those soldiers followed my advice and bought some of those wives some wine for Christmas. On a more serious note, I find it somewhat heart-warming that even in times of national strife, pursuits such as winemaking plough on.
So, after a bit of delving about, here’s a short compilation, in bullet points. Obviously.
- EGYPT - Sahara Vineyards, Casper Chenin Blanc
Vines planted this decade by an Egyptian/German guy just outside of Cairo and Luxor, with a hope to improve the quality of his country’s wine. Also produces Viognier, Blanc de Noirs and a Syrah/Carignan blend. Karim sells the majority of his grapes to larger mass producer Gianaclis, keeping only the best for his wines. Not yet seen on the British market. Tends to get around 14-15 points (out of 20), drinkable, especially if you’re there, but perhaps not yet worth seeking out.
- GEORGIA - Tbilvino, Mukuzani Special Reserve, Tsinandali
The 2003 vintage of this one won a Decanter Bronze Medal, various vintages available from georgianwnesociety.co.uk. Mukuzani is Georgia’s most highly regarded appellation. Tbilvino’s and other Georgian wines are also stocked by turtonwines.co.uk.
Georgia is widely credited to have ‘invented’ wine, or at least discovered that if you bury it in a shallow pit throughout the winter, grape juice turns into a fun potion. (OK, maybe that particular cuvee wasn’t great). Despite their turbulent history, wine production has never ceased. It is also claimed that the word ‘wine’ itself comes from the Georgian word ‘gvino’, which means, er, wine in Georgian.
- ISRAEL – Barkan, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010
This one’s from Waitrose, who happen to have a pretty good Kosher selection. Worth a punt for just over 8 quid. I haven’t tasted it but I’m going to buy some today and will leave a comment. Kosher wine from Israel doesn’t immediately appeal, but who am I to judge, let proof be in the pudding.
Although local consumption of wine is low (4.6 litres per person per year – that’s a good dinner party isn’t it?), 30 million bottles are produced annually, in all styles and several have been recognised internationally. In 2007 Parker awarded 100 points to 14 Israeli wines, a fact which surprised me. I’m off to Waitrose.
The Sampler also have an Israeli Shiraz (Kayoumi, Carmel Winery, Upper Galilee, 2006) for which won Decanter International Trophy for Syrah in 2010 which is rather impressive. If you hurry along, it should still be in one of their tasting machines (Islington branch)
- THE LEBANON – Chateau Musar, Ghazir, Bekaa Valley
This one’s a no brainer. Chateau Musar is well known for being The Lebanon’s most famous and well regarded wine export. Some people describe it as being like Bordeaux, but it’s bigger and meatier than that, though you can see where they’re coming from. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Mouvedre, Cinsault and Grenache, the winemaker Serge Hochar believes it needs as much as 10 years ageing before drinking. I drank the 03 in the summer and it was lovely, but could go on. They do white too, but go for the red. Or their junior and cheaper version, Hochar Pere et Fils. Head to Waitrose, Majestic or Roberson and for more info go to chateaumusar.com . Other Lebanese reds of some note include Chateau Ksara and Massaya Classic, also both from the Bekaa Valley.