Impress your guests by pulling out a great bottle of wine from the Middle East.
THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN, known more commonly as the Near East or the Middle East, is home to a thriving wine industry.
Grape growing and winemaking date to Biblical times, and opening a bottle from Turkey, Israel or Lebanon is sure to trigger an interesting conversation at your next dinner party.
Turkey’s wine industry is well-developed, stretching to the 1920s and now having more than 150,000 acres of vineyards split into seven growing regions. While you will recognize some of the grapes grown there, Turkey has nearly 1,000 varieties indigenous to the region, with names such as Okuzgozu, Bogazkere and Papaskarasi. VinoRai, a Seattle-based distributor, imports Turkish wines to supply U.S. retail outlets, including Compass Wines and the online World Wines At Home.
Three from the Middle East
These three wines are from the Middle East. Each can be found in area wine shops.
Golan Heights Winery 2013 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon, Galilee, $37: The premium tier for Israel’s flagship winery, this was a top winner at the Decanter World Wine Awards. It opens with aromas of black cherry, vanilla, blackberry and new leather, followed by flavors of ripe plum, dark chocolate and black cherry, with smooth tannins and an opulent finish.
Chateau Musar 2008 red wine, Bekaa Valley, $45: A unique blend of cabernet sauvignon with Rhone varieties cinsault and carignan, this rustic red reveals aromas of beach fire, plum, flint and dried strawberry, followed by big chewy tannins and flavors of ripe, red fruit with a hint of cooking spices in the finish.
Diren 2014 Okuzgozu, Turkey, $15: Indigenous to Turkey, the name means “eye of the bull” because of its big red grapes. It’s a rustic and fascinating wine with aromas of golden raisins, smoke and cherry, followed by flavors of cherry, raspberry and spiced beef jerky.
Lebanon, a region famous for conflict, is home to several small wineries. The most famous is Chateau Musar in the fertile Bekaa Valley. It was started nearly 100 years ago by Gaston Hochar, who was a Bordeaux-trained winemaker. His son Serge — the winemaker — died last winter in Mexico. Chateau Musar is admired not only for the quality of wines, but also for the fact that it hasn’t missed a vintage because of war, even though some harvests have taken place as tanks have rolled by the vineyards.
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Just to the south, in Israel, is a thriving modern wine industry — 300 producers now dot the country from the Negev desert in the south to Golan Heights in the north. Golan Heights Winery was established less than a decade after the region was captured from Syria in 1967’s Six-Day War. While remains of wineries date to Roman times, Israel’s modern industry was founded by the owner of Bordeaux first-growth Lafite-Rothschild. A visit to Golan Heights is a little like visiting a modern operation in Napa Valley — except for when the Golani Brigade practices its mortar fire.