By Susan Keevil
I’ve been Lebanized. I’m not driving the streets of Henley like a Beiruti taxi-driver (a sure way to instant license loss now I’m back here in the UK) but I’ve become a total convert to this country’s array of food – and the wines that almost miraculously match it.
For me, the most startling combo was Tabbouleh (fresh parsley, tomatoes, mint, onion, bulgar wheat, olive oil and the sharpest of new-season lemon juice) with 2009 white Chateau Musar. Tabbouleh has all the ingredients of a guaranteed wine killer, but for this stunning 60:40 blend of local Merwah and Obeideh grapes it is a zesty BFF. Smooth apricot/orange blossom characters with unctuous richness seem to glide around the tangy parsley flavours, which in turn bring out the crisp acidity of the wine. I could go on – and this white certainly did, to a luxurious, peachy finish.
Lebanese grape vines have to watch their collective backs at the moment, however, as at this stage in the season their leaves (just reaching their photosynthetic prime) are very likely to be pilfered by passing chefs. Fresh, soft and vibrant green (see photo), they’re at the ideal stage for wrapping Lebanon’s Warak Enab and Warak Arish mezze favourites (stuffed vine leaves to you and I). Chateau Musar hires guards to protect its vines from culinary motorists as they forage their way down the Beka’a Valley…
And if anyone had doubts about the presence of wine in their lives, Lebanon’s Beka’a has evidence that we are far from the first to revere the fruit of the vine. The temple at Baalbek (pictured), built by the Romans from the 1st century BC over a period of two centuries, stands 31 metres high and was entirely devoted to the worship of their wine god Bacchus. That’s a lot of wine love!