31 Jan 2011

Jonny Wilkinson, a modest sports hero

Jonny Wilkinson is one of the best fly-halves ever to have graced rugby fields at the highest level. One may find Dan Carter (or others) superior, especially now, but there is no denying his talent, his achievements and his determination to come back to the highest level after several years of long injuries and short come-backs that would have made most people just pack in all in.

Having won the World Cup with England in 2003 (and actually creating the final victory in that cliff-hanger of a finish with a drop-goal in the last minute of the game against Australia), his career went through a long rocky spell, largely due to injuries, and maybe partly on account of his admirable fidelity to his long-standing club, Newcastle, although he probably could have made a mint by accepting other offers. Although he played for England through most of the next World Cup in 2007, and helped the team to another final (lost against South Africa) with his precision kicking and courageous defense, his place as undisputed fly-half in the national team has become more and more tenuous, to the point where he is now, at best, only number 2. Yet he is now back in the England squad for the coming 6 nations European tournament, and we will see how he fares.

What Wilkinson has done to restart his career has been to move from northern England to Southern France, where, for the past 2 seasons, he has played extremely well and consistently for Toulon (see photo above), sometimes holding the team together, scoring tons of points with the boot (540 to date, which is an average of over 13 per game played), and always giving his best in defense and in attack. It has been his performances with Toulon at the highest level, including in the European cup for clubs where they recently beat Munster, one of the terror teams in that competition, that have regained him his place in the English squad, despite the general ruling to exclude those players living and playing outside England from the national selection. 

I do not know the man, but was very interested to read an  excellent and longish interview with him recently in the French sports daily, L'Equipe, conducted by Arnaud Requenna. In this interview he comes across as a very modest person, perfectionnist and self-effacing, for whom stardom must have been quite hard to handle. His bravery on the field is as legendary as his skill. I particularly like this quote from the interview:

"Rugby is a bit like a miniature version of life. In life, as I have read, if you want to succeed in something, the best way is to help others to achieve their objectives."

Wilkinson is a Buddhist (as I have read). He also speaks French remarkably well. 
Now here's one for the girls...

Go Jonny, go .....and be good!

30 Jan 2011

Wine of the week 10

Château Gruaud Larose 1916

This choice could easily lead to my being accused of harbouring just that sort of elitism for which I criticised Jonathan Nossiter in the article published yesterday on this blog! But I am not suggesting that you should rush out and buy this wine. For a start it is going to be very hard to find. And it may not be to everyone's taste anyway. But, to the group of wine professionals who had the good fortune to share it last Friday, thanks to the generosity of Yves Legrand, it was unforgettable for several reasons.

The bottle was in impeccable condition for a wine that is now over 94 years old. It had almost certainly been reconditioned, as the (crumbly) cork bore marks that would date from the 1960's or 1970's, according to one specialist who was there (Laurie Matheson, who is the wine expert for the auctioneers Artcurial). As can be seen from the photograph, the label is faded but intact, and the foil condition impeccable, as was the level of the wine in the bottle. There were actually two foils seals over the cork. The initial red seal was covered with the gold one you can see on the photograph above, which may enhance the theory of a reconditioning at the estate at some point.

However good the wrapping, the proof of the pudding is the eating, so let's move to the taste of this wine. Its colour was surprisingly dark. Without knowing is age beforehand, I would have said that it was the colour of a wine of 30/40 years, not over 90. I had a bit of a cold yesterday, so my smelling capacity was reduced. All the same I dedected strong white truffle aromas (the white truffles of Alba are very reminiscent of garlic), also a touch of mint and something animal-like such as old leather and fur. The feel on the palate was lively, with highish acidity yet quite a rich, velvety texture. In fact the tannins, although well burnished and drawn out, were still quite firm and noticeable under the flesh of the wine. Sinewy is probably the word. The wine was very much alive and kicking. Indeed it constantly evolved in the glass, actually improving during the 30 minutes or so that we spent admiring it and reflecting on its birth and lifetime, as we ensured and accompanied its death.

It is always a moving experience to drink a very old wine. I feel as if I have gotten into a sort of time-machine and can see the generations who were alive at the time, and who made it or drank it when it was young. One should remember that this wine was produced during the First World War, which means that it was probably made essentially by women and old man, as most able-bodied young men in France at that time were either dead or sitting in trenches waiting for another bloody charge.

As I was taking the pictures above with my telephone camera (the wine was a surprise, or I would have taken a proper camera), I noticed the leaves and their pattern on the ground in the pocket vineyard that Yves Legrand has planted in front of his bistrot, Issy Guinguette, and above the huge undergound cellar storage system that he founded some 30 years ago at the suitably named Chemin des Vignes. Only when I downloaded the pictures and was making my selection did I notice that there were fresh new shoots, announcing the coming season, pushing through the carpet of dead leaves from the vines. Life goes on.  

To know more about the Legrand family and what happens at Le Chemin des Vignes: http://www.chemindesvignes.com/

29 Jan 2011

Mondovino, Jonathan Nossiter and criticism

It is often quite hard to see through the smoke-screens that can arise around products or topics that receive wide critical or public acclaim. Although not a national blockbuster, the film Mondovino, which was released in France a few years back to surprising success for a film purporting to be a documentary, is a good example of this. What this film achieved in a positive sense was to put some aspects of wine and wine topics on the public place, way beyond the limited field of wine geeks and professionals who read specialist publications and so on. But, to me, the main problem with the film Mondovino is that it is reductive in its assertions, transforming the world of wine into something rather black and white through a cosy set of induced conclusions in which the bad guys are clearly designated, and the good guys put to the fore as heroes in a world-wide struggle to defend you and me. This is similar to the way in which Michael Moore operates, taking some outrageous behaviour or examples and then twisting the evidence to construe with his foregone conclusions. Of course it is easy to be in agreement with such conclusions when it comes to the use of guns in the USA in a film like Bowling for Columbine, or the erratic behaviour of George W. Bush. But, in the case of wine, things are neither that simple, nor, thankfully, as dramatic. Having returned twice to see the fim after harbouring a slightly uneasy feeling during my first viewing of it, I felt, at the time of its release (and even more so now), that Nossiter was not entirely honest in his approach to the issues he raises in Mondovino.

A recent encounter with Nossiter on the scene of a TV talk show in Paris tends to confirm me in my opinion, as he appeared defensive and even aggressive in response to my fairly mild criticism of Mondovino, resorting to conspiracy-type theories that tend to be the mark of the paranaoid. I will return to these later.

I have heard that the full-length version of Mondovino, which is available in CD form and which lasts for 10 hours, is far less simplistic than the shortened version initially released. I have not yet had the patience to look at this long version, although I know that I should in order to be fair: I will do in time. It is unhappily in the nature of things that complex issues get reduced to simplified catch phrases in order to lure a wider public. The cinema version of Mondovino uses this procedure quite efficiently by beginning, if I remember rightly, with the owner of the French winery called Mas de Daumas Gassac (Aimé Guibert) declaring to the camera that "wine is dead !" The point of view resumed in this absurd remark, aimed to shock the spectator and further developed as a thesis in the film, is, broadly, that large companies, rich people, and a small number of critics have colluded to homogenise the taste of wine on offer and crush the small producers and debase the "true" taste of wine. This, in my humble opinion, is simply not true, despite all the criticism that can be levelled (and I have often been outspoken in this direction myself) againt the US wine critic Robert Parker and what surrounds his ways of operating and tasting.

I have worked in the wine business in various fields and capacities for close on 30 years and am certain that wine today is not only, on average, far better than it was 30 years ago, but also more diverse in its flavours and character. Behind this lies the science of modern enology and the progress in knowledge that it has fuelled, and a constant process of revision in the way wine-producers think about the whole cycle of wine production, with a growing emphasis on the quality of the raw material, grapes, and land management techniques used to produce them. In an increasingly sophisticated world market, there are ever-increasing niches for unusual and individual wines, alongside large-scale production (of improved quality as well) designed to fit the constraints of mass-market distribution.

But Nossiter, who returned to the topic in a book published after his film was released, seems obsessed with the idea that wine critics, in particular, are "bought" by the big bad capitalists of the wine world. Now there are black sheep in every walk of life, and I have heard tales of a famous, now deceased, English wine critic (who was also a member of the Communist party!) who used to leave Bordeaux châteaux with his car well laden. But the pitiless control exercised on wine critics by their readers and peers nowadays simply makes this thesis unrealistic in the vast majority of cases. Magazines cannot survive without advertising, but it is hardly in the interest, in the long term, for a specialist magazine to loose its credibility with what is a core group of informed readers by bending to commercial pressures on its editorial staff. Bad magazines or other media come and go and some have certainly been guilty of complicities. But those who last and have credibility do so because their readers (and not only their readers) find them to be credible, even when they may not agree with everything they say. Nossiter, or anyone else, is welcome to check out my bank account if they seriously feel that I am in any way party to illicit influence on the opinions that I express about wines! 

There is another point that should be raised here about Nossiter's approach and the examples he uses to defend his theory. He is clearly an elistist, since, in his film as in his book, most or all of the examples that he uses to illustrate what he considers to be the "right" path to be followed in terms of wine are bottles whose prices start at around 25 euros and sometimes much more. In particular he mentions a number of top-notch Burgundy producers, with whom he seems to be very friendly. Nossiter may feel that he is defending the consumer from the big bad capitalists, but that consumer will need to have a silver lining to his pocket to resist the lures of big business. When the socialist party was in power in France, an expression for some of the behaviour seen at the time was "la gauche caviar", which could be translated as "the left-wing caviar brigade".

I find it ironical that someone who made what was, after all, an agit-prop movie, strongly critical of some aspects of the wine scene, should himself find it so hard to listen to criticism of his own approach and conclusions. Without going into details of his less-than-honest ways of showing people by various filming and editing techniques in Mondovino, I can only resume these by saying that this film is NOT a true documentary, and that it shows a vision of wine that is personal to Nossiter, but which does not reflect a far more complex reality. And this remark does not detract from his talents as a film-maker. I wish him every success with his new film about Brasil, where he lives. I will go and see it.

28 Jan 2011

Too good to be true ?

Saw this sign on the side of a Paris doorway last week. Roughly translated, it produces this in English :

Are you there Sigmund?

Prague, Museum of Decorative Arts and tourism

There is so much to see in the city of Prague that it can be hard to know where to start. Prague has to be one of Europe's most splendid cities, showing levels of creativity and beauty that cover a very long time span. I happened, by chance (does chance really exist?), to start a visit to this town a couple of years back by going to the Museum of Decorative Arts, probably because it was conveniently near the hotel I was using in the old part of the town.

The outside of the building is nothing special, being of that slightly lumbering style that has been favoured for museum architecture all over the world, at least until the mid-twentieth century, and with some notable exceptions. It is impressive enough, but I can see no progress over the daunting Victorian monstrosities of the 19th century, apart from a slight reduction in scale.

No, it is what it contains that makes this museum  a revelation of the incredible richness of creativity in just about every field of craftsmanship during the 1920's and 1930's in what was then Czeckoslovakia.

Whether one looks at graphics, typography, photography, ceramics, fabric and clothing design, cabinet-making, metal work, etc., in all these fields there is a spirit of invention combined with rigour in its application that shines through the extremely rich and well-presented collection of the museum.

One of the discoveries I made there (shows my ignorance perhaps) was the photography of Frantisek Drtikol.

As I said before, most craft and design activities show huge depth in this collection, with a combination of elegant simplicity and innovative ideas. The context around Europe produced a lot of this kind of work, but the Czech school seems to have been particularly fertile

As magnificent as it may be, medieval and baroque architecture is far from all Prague has to offer. It is rare, when wandering around cities, to see whole facades of a certain era relatively unchanged by successive fashions. In Prague, even the doorknobs and other fittings often remain true. Maybe this is why it is so often used for film shootings. But the town is far from being a giant open-air museum.

A word of advice, valid for Prague as for virtually any city plagued by mass touristic influx: avoid the main streets, predestrian or otherwise, as these all contain the same stupidly boring shops of international brands that you find everywhere in the world. You just have to walk one block to either side of these crowded streets and not only will your path become miraculously free of the madding crowd, but you will also discover the feel of the city with its specific shops and restaurants rather than a sort of international shopping mall stacked with mindless brand-mania at all price levels, from Macdonald to Vuitton. 

Fly low and slowly, as an anxious mother said to her freshly qualified pilot of a son

27 Jan 2011

Cobbold, the Prince of dribblers

I have not followed Association Football (or soccer, for short) for a long time. In fact, the day I saw English supporters of Liverpool fight Italian supporters of Juventus at the Heyssel stadium in Belgium in 1985 (39 dead in the stampede that surrounded this!), I swore that I would never watch another game of soccer. And I have stuck to this since, at least to date. Rugby is my winter game, as most of those who read this blog may have gathered. Maybe I was more use as a rugby player than at soccer. But there is something in the spirit of rugby, even now in the professional era of most sports, that appeals to me so much more that what I see in soccer, especially nowadays.  

Yet I have to acknowledge that some of my relations have been involved with the game known in Europe as football at estimable levels. Two cousins, Johnny and Patrick Cobbold, were both presidents of Ipswich Football Club, including during the period when the club won a European Cup with Alf Ramsey, who later went on to train the England team, as coach. But the most illustrious was undoubtedly William Nevill Cobbold, who played 9 times for England in the late 1880's (as well as being a county cricketer). Below is a biography written by Anthony Cobbold on the family web site.

"William Nevill (Nuts) Cobbold (1863-1922) is described on the FA web-site as "the Michael Owen of his day". Vic Wayling, Founder-Curator of the Football Museum says "W N Cobbold was one of the pioneers of the game, he was also a Corinthian and England international forward of the 1880s"

He was born on 4th February 1863 at Long Melford in Suffolk, third son of Rev. Edward Augustus Cobbold (born 1825) and Matilda Smith.

He started playing for the local club in Long Melford, went on to play for Charterhouse (1880-1882) and was Rustat Scholar at Jesus College, Cambridge (BA 1885; MA 1889) gaining his first football Blue in 1883, playing for Cambridge against Oxford for the next three years and as Captain in 1885 and 1886. He won nine caps for England (four of them against Scotland) from 1887 onwards.

Obituaries may be given to eulogistic commendation, but even making allowances for that, the accounts of his football prowess were seriously remarkable.

"Cobbold was often styled the Prince of Dribblers. We have never seen his equal as a forward of pace and of skill in control of his ball in every imaginable condition of the game, from the fast ground on the glorious Godalming heights to the slough on the old Leamington ground, Blackburn, where we once saw him playing for England against Scotland; it was in 1887. Cobbold usually played inside left and in Internationals his partner outside was as a rule the ever famous E.C.Bambridge. In full cry he would trap the swiftest of passes without check of stride; as the ball reached his toes up would go his arms like the sails of a windmill, and he would easily dribble past the backs. And then we would see those crashing shots at long or short range; he could shoot equally well with either foot."

In 'The Annals of the Corinthian Football Club' C.B.Fry says of him "As a dribbler we have never seen his equal. He had a peculiar shuffling run; just a wriggle between the halves, and a wonderful knack of shooting at quite unexpected moments and impossible angles."

Vic Wayling recalls "Cobbold in those days was team skipper, and this job then carried the additional task of selector. So that he might have a better opportunity of watching the England trialists in action one day, he elected to play in goal. After a short while he grew tired at the lack of scoring so much that after stopping one attack, he took the ball with him, beating one man after another, to eventually dribble the ball into the back of the opposing net for a goal."

As if that wasn't enough he was a County cricketer (Kent and Cambridgeshire) and was formerly President of Lawn Tennis at Cambridge."

26 Jan 2011

Zadie Smith

I recently read Zadie Smith's third novel, entiled "On Beauty". I am never too sure about how much titles reveal, or conceal, about the suject matter of the books they adorn and present to the yet unknowing reader. Maybe they are not supposed to tell us all, but just to entice us, which is fair enough. And, in any event, how can one resume the contents of a book of over 400 pages in just two words?

In this case I am still not quite sure what to think about the title, although this book indeed contains a very perceptive and subtle vision of beauty through the often thick fog and noise of family relationships. This is the second of Zadie Smith's novels that I have read, after her hilarious and brilliant first rendering, called White Teeth. I still have her second novel, Autograph Man, sitting on a shelf waiting for its moment. Smith's mixed background and experiences are thoroughly used in On Beauty: a Jamaican mother and an English father, university life in England and on the East Cost of the USA, suburban London, the contrasting worlds and languages of the campus and of rappers all come to play through the looking glass of relationships in and around a family of mixed race. Yet this novel uses these elements as a source of authenticity for the situations and dialogues, not just as a powdering of personal experience.

White Teeth is a riot of a book, describing totally outrageous situations with a verve and talent for dialogue that I found brilliant and yet true. It is one of the funniest novels I have read, but there is much more to it that the comedy of the situations and the dialogues. Having lived in multi-cultural areas of London, for me it was sometimes like returning to situations and characters that I had known or could have known, even if they get well stretched for the purpose of comedy.

On Beauty is much calmer and, in a sense, more ambitious as it attempts to deal with the long-term relationships of couples and the questions that inevitably arise in these, compounded by the complexity of mixed cultures coming together, and the tensions of daily life in families which include widely differing personnalities. What is very impressive is Smith's capacity to hit the right tone in her dialogues, whatever the protagonists be. And, in this, to set a mood which illustrates different facets of her characters. I did not come away from reading On Beauty wanting to live with these people, but I did go a long way to understanding them better and recognising through them aspects of behaviour all around me. I supose that this could be the sense of the title, after all.

Please read on ....

25 Jan 2011

My eighth bike was a Bultaco Sherpa 250T

A Bultaco Sherpa T (for Trials) 250

This I owned at the same time as the Norton Commando in 1969/1970 when I tried my hand at trials. I was not very good at this acrobatic exercise, and never praticed, living in London. Maybe the two are linked. The lack of pratice, apart from competing in a few trials, meant that I did not improve much either. I can well remember the first obstacle on my first trial competition. It was an almost vertical, head-on drop down a muddy slope, followed by an equally vertical climb up the other side. I took a look at it and thought "I'm NOT going down that!". Well I did, but I only got about half-way up the climb up that followed.

Anyway it was a great little machine, although mine looked a little more battered than this pristine example.

Maybe it's a time for a bit of oldies trials now? put put....

24 Jan 2011

Pictures from a train 2

Said I would do this again.....

and what do the cows think of that ?

23 Jan 2011

Wines of Lebanon 2

Here is the English version of the article I published yesterday in French. I have also changed the photographs to make this one different.

landcape near Tfifane and the cellar of the Ixsir winery

Wines from the Lebanon (2)

Account and conclusions of a blind tasting conducted in Beirut on January 13th 2011

The method
Each producer was asked to supply two wines, of their own choice, both in terms of the wine and the vintage. The wines are mostly listed in the order in which they were tasted. This was established (by somebody else, to ensure that I did not know which wines I was tasting) in chronological order in terms of vintages, starting with the oldest.
Within each vintage, the order was random. In the notes below I have only changed the order so as to group wines according to their vintages.
The tasting took place in the morning of January 13th at la Crave restaurant, which is perfectly lit by natural light and is to be found in the Achrafieh district of Beirut.
All the bottles were concealed by tinfoil.
The prices mentioned were given by the producers as being consumer prices per bottle in Lebanese shops. They are given in US dollars.

a). the red wines

Château Musar 2001 (price $26)

blend: cabernet sauvignon, cinsault, carignan (maybe some others)
The colour is much paler than almost all the other wines. It has also been burnished by time, showing this wine to be quite a bit older. The nose is as fine as it is complex, showing all the subtle nuances that can derive from long ageing, without being marked by wood aromas: hints of wax, mild spices, orange peel, hay and tobacco come to the surface. It is pretty rare to find such aromatic complexixity in any wine currently on the market (I am not talking about older, collector’s wines that cost ten times as much!). The feel on the palate is refined and smooth, made vibrant by the acidity wrapped inside. This is a beautiful and moving wine, quite as long as it is complex. It clearly stands apart from contemporary norms (I note than many enologists and experts do not seem to appreciate it, which, to me, illustrates a sad tendancy towards « political correction » in wine tastes). This wine takes me on a journey through time and space. (It must surely be Musar!)
note: 18/20

Hochar Père et Fils 2004 (price $17)
blend: cabernet sauvignon, cinsault, carignan (maybe some others)
Another pale and burnished hue. The first bottle showed a hint of bad cork. The second showed some of those complex layers of aromas similar to those of the wine before and which are so hard to describe. It is just a bit less expansive. The palate is, again, smooth and well polished in texture, with fine fruit flavours that are close to jam. This fine wine is as accessible as it is generous and reminds me of the old style of Riojas. Clearly similar to the previous wine, with a notch less in terms of complexity. Very reasonably priced for this quality. 
note: 16,5/20

Château Khoury, Symphonie 2004 (price $15)
blend: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, syrah
Quite intense and attractive aromas. Reminded me of plums. Fine substance, just as intense in the mouth as on the nose. A very good, modern style of wine with finely honed tannins despite its concentration. One could easily wait for a few more years before drinking it. Very reasonably priced too.
note: 16/20

Château Bellevue, La Renaissance 2005 (price $24)
The nose seems intensely packed but does not really show its paces. On the palate, the wine appears dense and even a little massive, with a touch of acidity on the finish that hardens the feel of it (was it acidified?). Its a good wine, although a bit monolithic for my liking. This very « international » style has its followers though.
note 15/20
PS. I later tasted the 2006 vintage of this wine at the estate and found it much  finer and better balanced.

Wardy, Private Selection 2005 (price $40)
blend: syrah, cabernet sauvignon
Oak and fine fruit of the cherry type blend in the nose. Well built, but with somewhat austere tannins that act as a strict framework for some generous fruit that also contains pleasant freshness. I am not entirely convinced by the balance and harmony of this wine, but it is very well made and full of character. Its price seems high compared to others in this series.
note 15/20

Wardy, Château les Cèdres 2006 (price $13)

blend: cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot
Very pleasant fruit on the nose, of the cabernet sauvignon type. Yet this wine kind of falls apart on the palate, becoming confused and a bit aggressive through some harsh tannins that make the finish dry out.
note: 13/20


Château Saint Thomas 2006 (price $22)

blend: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah
A fine nose that shows plenty of volume. Tightly knit and even austere on the palate, with, again, tannins that dominate and dry out the fruit flavours. Feels as if the extraction was excessive.
note : 13/20

Ksara, Cuvée du Troisième Millénaire 2006 (price $24)
blend: cabernet franc, petit verdot, syrah
The nose shows fine and dense fruit aromas reminiscent mainly of cassis. An elegant wine that combines structure with a good degree of freshness and fruit flavours of the stone fruit type (plums and cherries). Good length too.
note : 15/20

Château Khoury, Symphonie 2006 (price $12)
The nose shows a touche of volatile acidity, without this being unpleasant in any way. The fruit aromas are warmish. This chewy fruit character comes to the fore on the palate, underscored by a nice fresh touch. Good structure for a wine of this price level.
note: 14,5/20

Domaine des Tourelles, Marquis de Beys 2006 (price $22)
blend: Syrah et Cabernet Sauvignon (50/50)
Very attractive nose of red and black fruit. Juicy and delicious on the palate, with noticeable but well integrated tannins. Good length as well for this very good wine.
note: 16/20

Bargylus 2006 (price $19).
NB. This wine comes from Syria, but is produced by the same team as Marsyas.
Warm and attractive nose. Plenty of good fruit on the palate, resulting in a very drinkable and harmonious wine. Good length. Very well made.
note: 16/20

Côteaux du Liban, Château 2007 (price $10)

blend: syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot
Pleasantly fruit nose, close to strawberries. Warmish. Clean and well made. Good quality level at this price.
note: 14/20

Ksara Château 2007 (price $11)
blend: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot
Similar style to the previous wine but less good on account of tannins that dry out the fruit on the finish.
note : 13/20

Château de Botrys, Château des Anges 2007 (price $20)
blend: syrah
Very juicy, with good structure to back up this attractive fruit. The tannins are drawn out and the whole feel is quite powerful. This has not yet achieved full harmony in its balance as it still seems rather big and massive. Promising though.
note 15/20

Domaine de Baal 2007 (price $25)

blend: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah
A complex range of aromas on the nose, with leather, spice and meat coming through. Thus it appears quite a bit older than the previous wine, even if it is from the same vintage. I liked the delicate way these aromas showed. The fruit sensation on the palate is delicious, initially almost sweet, then drawn in to a tighter feel by firmish tannins. This has very interesting character.
note: 16/20

Massaya, Silver Selection 2007 (price $10)

blend: cinsault, grenache, cabernet sauvignon blanc, mourvèdre
The colour is on the light side. Good substance on the palate, well balanced between warmth and freshness, with decent structure. Good at this price point.
note: 14/20

Clos St. Thomas, Les Emirs 2007 (price $12)
blend: cabernet sauvignon, syrah, grenache
The nose seems earthy and dusty. Fairly full body on the palate, with rather rustic tannins. Fairly simple and not entirely clean.
note: 12/20

Domaine des Tourelles, Syrah du Liban 2007 (price $38)
The nose is fine and pure, showing excellent, non-intrusive use of oak ageing, along with some very refined fruit aromas that made me think of certain Italian wines. On the palate the refinement of the fruit (of the bitter cherry type) adds to this « italianate » accent. The tannins are silky and long, and the balance excellent. A beautifully made wine, modern and refined. Worth its high price.
note: 17/20

Côteaux de Botrys, cuvée de l’Ange 2008 (price $14)
Good fruit on this attractive and delicious wine. Fresh and well built.
note: 14/20

Adyar, Expression Monastique 2008 (price $10)
blend: 40% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 30% Grenache
Warmly expressive on the nose, with gentle hints of moka. The palate is juicy and finely textured. Feels pleasantly airy. Well made and reasonably priced.
note: 14,5/20

Adyar, Monastère de Mar Moussa 2008 (price $18)
blend: 40% Syrah, 30% Cabernet-Sauvignon, 30% Mourvedre.
The second wine tasted from this cooperative linking 8 maronite monasteries who produce individual wines in different parts of the country. This wine shows more spicy aromas and flavours than the previous one. This warmer, « southern » feel suits it well enough as the substance is of good quality, even if the whole is not quite in balance yet. Give it a year or two.
note: 14,5/20

Massaya, Gold Reserve 2008 (price $23)
blend: cabernet sauvignon, mourvèdre, syrah
The nose needs airing (reduction). Quite intense and dense on the palate. Good, youthful tannins, still a bit boisterous. Will need some more ageing but this shows promise.
note: 15/20

Ixsir,  Grande Réserve 2008 (price $17)

Quite fine, many fruit-based aromas, with a reasonable hint of oak. Quite fleshy on the palate with tannins that hover between the velvety and the rough. Good substance that needs refining a bit, it comes with energy and length.
note: 14,5/20

Château Marsyas 2008 (price $22)

Strange nose (nail varnish) that needs airing for a bit to clear up. On the palate the feel is warm and pleasant, with a suave texture. The tannins are well integrated into some powerful fruit flavours. A pity about the nose!
note: 15/20

Conclusions on the red wines

This series showed a very good average quality level.  Clearly Lebanese red wines can (and indeed should) be measured against the production of any country with a similar, mediterranean type climate. I would say that one of the weak points of the ensemble is that, with the obvious exception of Musar, a lot of the wines are very similar in style. This surely has something to do with the fact that many wines use the same grape varieties in their blends: cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot, in that order, seem to form a national standard, although there are of course variations. Another factor is the relative similarity of the climate all over this quite small country, excepting the variable altitude factor, and about 90% of Lebanon’s wine grapes are produced in the Bekaa valley anyway. One could add that the sub-soil almost everywhere is calcareous limestone, with top soils varying a bit according the proportions of clay, sand and broken stone contained. If one adds into the equation the fact that most producers have now fully integrated the modern wine-making doxa and equipment, then it stands to reason that the only variables are small details in farming and wine-making techniques, such as harvest dates, sorting or not of the grapes, soaking times and ageing techniques. I agree that the devil is in the detail, but the scope for differentiating one Lebanese wine from another is still not enormous at each price point.

If I had just two wishes for the near future of Lebanese wines, one would be to see a wider range of grape varieties introduced and used. The other would be to see a reasonably precise zoning of the provenance of grapes, and mention of these zones used on labels, with some form of control in place. I understand that there is a very modern laboratory in the country capable of checking these things. It seems to be underemployed at the moment! Now I am not suggesting that all wines, from the Lebanon or elsewhere, should come from narrowly defined regions. That would be silly! Just that what you see should be what you get, in other words a good degree of truth on labels. At the moment the situation seems to be one of « artistic » licence.

To return briefly to the topic of varietal diversity, I did see, during the 4 days I spent in the vineyard and visiting estates, some encouraging signs that this is on the increase:  a touch of petit verdot or cabernet franc here, a dab of sangiovese, tempranillo or malbec there. It is not fortuitous that Musar, a wine whose difference from the herd seems to divide opinions (mine is very clearly expressed in the tasting notes of this article), includes some very different grape variaties in its blends, in particular cinsault and carignan. These are long-established in the country and adapted to its climate. I was surprised to see so little grenache used in such a hot and dry climate, for instance. Musar, once again, uses some, as does Clos St. Thomas. Mouvèdre is possibly an interesting variety as well, particularly in the hilly coastal region between Batroun and Kfifane, north of Beirut. Here, where a few interesting smaller produecers are currently emerging, I notise that Adyar and Botrys are using mourvèdre in some of their blends. One can also find it in the Bekaa, with Massaya and a few others.

b). the white wines

Château Musar 2004 (price $26)

blend: merwah, obadieh

Yet another very singular wine. The nose reminded me of wax, honey, green and white vegetables and slightly over-ripe apples. Unique and very beautiful! The palate holds as many surprises. I dedected flavours similar to preserved fruit and ginger. Yet this wine is just the opposite of one whose flavours overpower you. It is vibrant and subtle, constantly evolving so that one returns to the glass, time and time again, with curiosity and pleasure. This is the fruit of a game of hide-and-seek with oxidation that has been raised to the level of a fine art. Such a wine is undoubtedly an acquired taste, but, for someone raised on Fino Sherry, the apprenticeship is under the belt!
note: 16/20  

bottles of Musar white spanning 35 years


Domaine de Baal 2008 (price $18)

blend: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc

A nose that combines pleasant aromas of white and yellow fruit. Seems almost sweet on the front palate, then tightens up with a fresher feel. The chardonnay plus the oak ageing provide spicy flavours and a slightly warm finish. A good wine with some subtlety.
note: 14/20

Château Khoury, Rêve blanc (price $7)

blend: riesling, gewurztraminer, chardonnay,

This most original blend has produced a very pleasant wine that is light and delicate. The nose has both freshness and aromas of ripe fruit. Elegant and well balanced on the palate, this would make an attractive aperitif summer drink, and is very reasonably priced.
note: 14/20

Clos St. Thomas, Les Gourmets blanc (price $7)

blend: sauvignon blanc, chardonnay

The nose is reminiscent of boiled fruit drop sweets. Some delicacy on the palate but not much complexity. Pleasant enough.
note: 13/20

Ixsir, Attitudes 2009 (price $9)
Curiously « sweaty » nose and flavours that appears to be quite chemical on the palate. This seems to have some problems.

note: 9/20

Ixsir Grande Réserve 2009 (price $13)
The nose smalls musty (possibly over-sulphured). Quite ordinary and lacking in definition.

note: 10/20

Côteaux de Botrys, Prince blanc 2009 (price $12)
Nose of tropical fruit. A bit odd on the palate as it contains some gas and some rather chemical fruit flavours.

note: 10/20

Côteaux du Liban, Blanc du Clos 2010 (price $8)
blend: chardonnay, viognier
Nothing special here. Over-warm and flat.
note: 11/20

Kefraya, blanc de blanc 2010 (price $9)
Boiled sweets on the nose. Very ordinary.
note: 11/20

Wardy, Sauvignon blanc 2010 (price $8)
This holds up better as it has nice freshness, as well as a slight bitterness to the finish.
note: 12/20

Ksara, Chardonnay 2009 (price $12)
Good flavours and a pleasantly rounded texture, although the oak is a bit obvious. Pleasant enough but a bit weighty and lacking in precision. Very « new world » standard » chardonnay in style.
note: 12,5/20

Bargylus blanc 2009 (price $31)
Comes from Syria but produced by the team at Marsyas.
Moderately expressive on the nose, this has refined substance and texture, but is not very complex. An agreable wine but not worth its price.
note: 13,5/20

Marsyas blanc 2009 (price $15)
Good clean flavours. Well made. A pleasant wine, although one would like more complexity.
note: 13,5/20


Conclusions on the white wines

On the basis of this tasting, I was struck by the considerable gap between the high average quality level of the reds and this very ordinary series of whites. Later on I did taste two very good whites from Wardy during my visits, but this particular series was most unexciting, apart from Musar. Too many wines showed faults, and most were just banal. I am not convinced that the grape varieties used, in which chardonnay and sauvignon blanc dominate, are the most interesting way to go for Lebanese white wines. Maybe there should also be more exploration of specific, higher-altitude sites to bring more peps to these wines through naturally higher acidity.

My thanks to Muriel Rozelier of the magazine Le Commerce du Levant for her tremendous help in organising this tasting and the vists that followed.

all photographs by David Cobbold

Vincent sidecar round a circuit

I love this trailer (see link below) of a black&white documentary filmed about a Vincent sidecar combination ridden by a Belgian couple, Michel and Bernadette. Judging by the number of other sidecars that they overtake in a short time, these two are no slouches and the Vincent has plenty of oomph (apparently bored out to 1300cc..) And the music tack is great too.

Here is a picture of how this beast probably looks on its own:

I think there must be more good crazy people in Belgium than in any other country I know! Hope they get a government soon.

(are you out there Luc? Got any ideas on this?)

<iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/13681310" width="400" height="225" frameborder="0"></iframe><p><a href="http://vimeo.com/13681310%22%3ELedermann Racing Team. "It takes two" - Teaser</a> from <a href="http://vimeo.com/truebikerspirit%22%3ETrue Biker Spirit</a> on <a href="http://vimeo.com%22%3evimeo%3c/a%3E.%3C/p>

Wine of the week 9

This time we find ourselves in southern France, and the Languedoc region...

The wine is from an estate called Mas Jullien, and this is one of their two red wines, called " Les états d'âme". It is from the 2008 vintage and the appellation Terrasses du Larzac. I am not sure what the wine is made from, but I suspect by it's taste that it is mainly (or entirely) grenache. The label (which tells us next to nothing about the wine itself) is very unconventional and consists mainly of a poem written by the producer, who has a very high reputation in the region. He also produces one of the few seriously good white wines in this warm region.

I will just translate the last line of the poem that takes up most of the label for you, as I like it a lot :
"Spare me fear, I nurture doubt"

Olivier Jullien varies the way he produces this wine each year, according to the conditions and profile of the vintage.

tasting note
I found the nose rather animal, and so not too attractive initially, although quite expressive. It clearly needs some air and smelt much better the next day when I took the photograph above. The wine really comes into its own on the palate, which is just as well as we don't just sniff wines, do we? I found it vibrant and "sappy", full of delicate and delicious fruit flavours. There was nothing heavy or over-alcoholic about it, unlike so many wines from the area. Being made from grenache the tannins are very light too. The texture is smooth and the whole thing is very drinkable. Two of us drank all of the bottle bar a small glass during lunch, with me doing most of the hard work! It went really well with a huge and juicy veal cutlet.

Its retail price in France is in the vicinity of 15 euros, which is on the high side for this type of wine, but there is no disputing its quality.

22 Jan 2011

Vins du Liban 2 (version française)

dans le vignoble de Bekaa sud


Vins du Liban 2

Lors d’un récent voyage dans ce pays, j’ai dégusté, à l’aveugle, une quarantaine de vins libanais. J’étais très impressionné par la qualité moyenne des vins rouges, et un peu moins par les blancs. Par la suite j’ai pu visiter un certain nombre des domaines concernés et dont j’avais particulièrement aimé les vins. Ces visites feront l’objet d’un autre article.

Dégustation à l’aveugle du 13/01/2001
La méthode
Chaque domaine a été sollicité pour deux cuvées. Libre à eux de choisir lesquelles, ainsi que le millésime présenté dans chaque cas.
Les vins sont listés, presque toujours, dans l’ordre de leur service, qui fut ordonné (pas par moi, afin de respecter l’anonymat), en commençant par les millésimes les plus anciens. A l’intérieur de chaque millésime, l’ordre était aléatoire. Dans les notes j’ai regroupé les vins par millésime quand ils n’étaient pas toujours ainsi.
La dégustation a eu lieu dans la matinée du 13 janvier 2011, au restaurant le Crave, dans le quartier d'Achrafieh, à Beirut.
Les bouteilles étaient toutes masquées.
Les prix indiqués sont ceux fournis par les producteurs, pour le marché libanais et en dollars US.

a). Les vins rouges

Château Musar 2001 (prix public : $26)

La robe est patinée et bien plus claire que celle de la plupart des autres vins. Clairement un millésime plus ancien. Le nez est aussi fin que complexe, avec toute la subtilité qui vient d’un long elevage, sans influence marquée du bois : notes de cire, d’épice douce, d’écorce d’orange, de foin, de tabac blond, etc. Il est rare de rencontrer une telle complexité aromatique dans un vin en vente actuellement. Matière raffinée et suave, rendue vibrante par une acidité bien intégrée. Ce très beau vin est aussi long en bouche que complexe. Hors normes contemporains (et je note que bon nombre d’œnologues ne semble pas l’apprécier, ce qui montre une triste normalisation du goût !), ce vin me donne une impression de traverser le temps. Il s’agit certainement de Musar !
note : 18/20

Hochar Père et Fils 2004 (prix public $17)
Une autre robe claire et patinée par le temps! La première bouteille avait un soupçon de bouchon au nez. La deuxième dévoile le genre de complexité si difficile à décrire que j’ai trouvé dans le vin précedent, mais d’une manière un peu moins expansive. La bouche est très suave, polie et patinée, autour de belles sensations fruitées qui vont vers de la confiture. Cette belle matière est aussi accessible que chaleureuse et me fait penser à un vieux Rioja. Clairement apparenté au vin précédent, avec un peu moins de complexité. Prix raisonnable pour ce niveau de qualité.
note :  16,5/20

Château Khoury, Symphonie 2004 (prix public $ 15)
Nez assez intense et très attrayant, qui rappelle surtout la prune. La matière est fine, avec le même degré d’intensité qu’au nez. Un vin moderne dans son approche, mais dont les tannins sont fins malgré sa concentration. On peut l’attendre encore quelques années afin de le laisser s’épanouir pleinement. Prix très raisonnable.
note 16/20

Château Bellevue, La Renaissance 2005 (prix public $24)
Le nez est intense mais ne semble pas très expressif à ce stade. Matière dense et un peu massive, avec une pointe d’acidité en finale qui a tendance à durcir l’ensemble (acidification ?). C’est bon mais un peu trop monolithique à mon goût, dans un style assez « international » qui peut plaire.
note 15/20
PS. J’ai dégusté le 2006 de ce même vin à la propriété et l’ai trouvé mieux équilibré et plus fin.

chai à barriques de Château de Bellevue, région Mont Liban

Wardy, Private Selection 2005 (prix public $40)
Le nez mêle notes boisées avec un beau fruité de type cerise noir. Une belle structure, qui reste relativement austère et qui encadre solidement une matière chaleureuse qui comporte, en parallèle, une sensation de fraîcheur. Je ne suis pas totalement convaincu par l’équilibre et l’harmonie, mais c’est un bon vin ayant du caractère. Son prix me semble élévé par rapport à d’autres.
note 15/20

Wardy, Château les Cèdres 2006 (prix public $13)

assemblage : cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot
Un bon nez de fruit, typé cabernet sauvignon. Mais ce vin semble confus et un peu agressif en bouche, avec des tannins qui assèchent la finale.
note 13/20


Château Saint Thomas 2006 (prix public $22)

assemblage : cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah
Un beau nez qui donne une impression de volume. Vin plus serré et austère en bouche, avec des tannins qui assèchent la sensation de fruit. Trop extrait probablement.
note : 13/20

Ksara, Cuvée du Troisième Millénaire 2006 (prix public $24)
Au nez, une belle expression fruitée, assez dense, dont les arômes évoquent le cassis. Vin élégant, reliant structure et fraîcheur autour de saveurs fruitées qui rappellent les fruits à noyaux. Bonne longueur.
note : 15/20

Château Khoury, Symphonie 2006 (prix public $12)
Le nez dévoile un soupçon de volatilité, pas désagréable, autour d’un fruité chaleureux.  En bouche ce fruit est net et groumand, souligné par une touche de fraîcheur. Bien structuré pour un vin à ce niveau de prix.
note : 14,5/20

Domaine des Tourelles, Marquis de Beys 2006 (prix public $22)
Assemblage : Syrah et Cabernet Sauvignon (50/50)
Un très joli nez, avec des arômes de fruits rouges et noirs. Gourmand et juteux en bouche, avec des tannins présents mais bien intégrés. Très bon vin avec une bonne longueur.
note : 16/20

Bargylus 2006 (prix public $19).
NB. ce vin vient de Syrie, mais est élaboré par la même équipe que Marsyas.
Nez chaleureux et très attrayant. En bouche, une belle présence de fruit, et de la gourmandise comme ligne de conduite. Assez long et très bien fait.
note : 16/20

Côteaux du Liban, Château 2007 (prix public $10)

assemblage : syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot
Le nez est agréable, chaleureux et fruité (fraise). C’est net et bien fait. Un bon standard à ce niveau de prix.
note : 14/20

Ksara Château 2007 (prix public $11)
assemblage : cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot
Dans le même registre mais en moins bien. Des tannins secs qui dominent le fruit.
note : 13/20

Château de Botrys, Château des Anges 2007 (prix public $20)
assemblage : syrah
Vin très juteux, avec pas mal de structure derrière cette jolie matière. Les tannins sont longs et l’ensemble puissant. Tout n’est pas encore parfaitement harmonieux, car l’apparence reste un peu massif et imposant, mais c’est prometteur.
note 15/20

Domaine de Baal 2007 (prix public $25)

assemblage : cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah
Le nez est complexe, autour de notes de cuir, d’épices et de viande. Cela paraît donc nettement plus évolué que le vin précedent, pourtant du même millésime. J’aime bien la délicatesse de ses arômes. Les sensations fruitées en bouche sont gourmandes et presque sucrées au départ, mais se resserrent ensuite autour de tannins encore solides. Vin de caractère.
note : 16/20

Massaya, Silver Selection 2007 (prix public $10)

assemblage : cinsault, grenache, cabernet sauvignon blanc, mourvèdre
La robe est peu intense mais la matière est belle, bien équilibré entre chaleur, fraîcheur et une certaine structure. C’est une réussite à ce niveau de prix.
note : 14/20

Clos St. Thomas, Les Emirs 2007 (prix public $12)
assemblage : cabernet sauvignon, syrah, grenache
Le nez semble terreux et poussièreux. En bouche la sensation est assez pleine, avec des tannins un peu anguleux. Relativement simple et pas totalement net.
note : 12/20

Domaine des Tourelles, Syrah du Liban 2007 (prix public $38)
Les nez est aussi fin que pur, faisant montre d’un élévage luxueux et très soigné, ainsi que d’une tonalité fruitée raffinée qui m’a fait penser à certains grands vins d’Italie. En bouche, l’intensité des saveurs (cerises amères) renforce cette impression italienne, avec des tannins fins et soyeux et une très belle équilibre.
Un très beau vin, moderne mais raffiné. Il vaut son prix relativement élévé.
note : 17/20

Côteaux de Botrys, cuvée de l’Ange 2008 (prix public $14)
Bon fruit pour un joli vin plein de gourmandise. De la fraîcheur et de la structure.
note : 14/20

Adyar, Expression Monastique 2008 (prix public $10)
assemblage : 40% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 30% Grenache
Un nez expressif et chaleureux, avec des notes de moka. En bouche, c’est juteux et fine de texture. Sensation aérienne bien agréable. Très bien fait et d’un prix raisonnable.
note : 14,5/20

Adyar, Monastère de Mar Moussa 2008 (prix public $18)
assemblage : 40% Syrah, 30% Cabernet-Sauvignon, 30% Mourvedre.
Deuxième vin dégusté de cette coopérative qui fédère 8 monastères maronites dans différents secteurs du pays. Celui-ci apparaît plus épicé dans son expression, aussi bien qu’au nez qu’en bouche. Cete accent très « sudiste » est très seyant car la matière est belle, même si l’équilibre n’est pas parfait.
note : 14,5/20

Massaya, Gold Reserve 2008 (prix public $23)
assemblage : cabernet sauvignon, mourvèdre, syrah
Le nez nécessite de l’aération à ce stade (réduction). La matière est assez intense et serrée, avec des tannins fins, encore jeunes. Aura besoin d’un peu de temps, mais  très prometteur.
note : 15/20

Ixsir,  Grande Réserve 2008 (prix public $17)

Les nez, autour d’un bon fruité, est assez fin. Présence de notes boisées dans des limites raisonnables. En bouche, sensation charnue avec des tannins mi-veloutés, mi-rugueux et une matière vivante mais encore un peu rustique. Belle longueur pour ce vin énergique.
note : 14,5/20

Château Marsyas 2008 (prix public $22)

Le nez est d’abord singulier (vernis à ongle) et nécessite une bonne aération. En bouche une très belle matière chaleureuse avec une texture suave. Les tannins sont bien fondus dans un ensemble puissant qui démontre une belle présence fruité. Dommage pour le nez.
note : 15/20

Conclusions sur les vins rouges

Très bon niveau d’ensemble de cette série de vins. Cela signifie que les vins libanais peuvent, sur le plan qualitatif, se mesurer à la production de tout pays ayant un climat similaire, de type méditerranéen. Parmi les points faibles, on doit souligner que la plupart de ces vins, hormis Musar et son second vin, ont des styles assez proches. Cela vient sans doute du fait que presque tous les assemblages (la plupart étant issu d’assemblages) utilisent les mêmes cépages, cabernet sauvignon, syrah et merlot en tête, et en partie parce que que le climat est globalement identique partout dans le pays, hormis le facteur d’altitude. On peut ajouter que les sous-sols sont aussi tous de type calcaire, avec plus ou moins de cailloux, d’argile ou de sable dans les sols. Parfois les sols sont ferrugineux, comme dans la photo ci-dessus. Tout cela implique que, si les méthodes de vinification utilisées suivent les canons de l’oenologie moderne, il reste uniquement des approches de culture et des détails dans la vinification pour faire varier les styles des vins : dates de vendanges, tries ou non-tries de raisins, durées de macération et approches de l‘élévage.

Si je dois émettre deux souhaits pour l’avenir des vins libanais, cela serait de voir s’introduire davantage de diversité dans l’encépagement, et d’assister à un zonage plus précis et fiable des sources des raisins, à mentionner sur les étiquettes. Je ne dis pas que chacun doit produire des vins uniquement à partir de sa propre production, ni éviter d'assembler des origines diverses, mais simplement qu’il serait utile pour l’émergence de styles distinctes, liés à des orgines diverses, de savoir précisement quelles sont ces origines pour chaque vin. Pour le moment, on est dans un flou « artistique ». Sur le plan de la diversité de l’encépagement j’ai vu, au cours de 4 journées de visites effectuées dans différentes zones du vignobles, quelques signes encourageants : un peu de petit verdot ou de cabernet franc par çi, des expériences avec du sangiovese, du tempranillo ou du malbec par là.

Pour revenir à Musar, un vin qui divise un peu les opinions (le mien est clairement exprimé ci-dessus), il n’est pas fortuit que ce vin fait appel, entre autres, à du carignan et du cinsault, cépages très anciennement établis dans ce pays, à côté du roi cabernet sauvignon. Dans ce climat chaud et aride, j’étais surpris que peu de domaines aient planté du grenache, par exemple. Il semblerait que Musar, encore lui, soit un des rares à le faire (Clos St. Thomas aussi). Le mourvèdre pourrait aussi offrir un potentiel intéressant, particulièrement dans la zone côtière (ou proche de la côte) entre Batroun et Kfifane, entre Beirut et Tripoli, qui voit émerger quelques nouveaux producteurs intéressants. Adyar et Botrys exploitent déjà un peu ce cépage dans cette région, et on en trouve aussi dans le région de Bekaa, utilisé par Massaya et d’autres.

b). les vins blancs

Château Musar 2004 (prix public $26)

Encépagement : merwah, obadieh

Encore un vin à part. Nez qui évoque le cire et le miel, ansi que des légumes vertes et blanches et des pommes un peu blettes. C’est unique et, pour moi, très beau. La bouche est tout aussi étonnante : j’ai senti des saveurs proche du fruit confit et du gingembre. C’est tout le contraire d’une saturation par la puissance des saveurs. Ce vin est vibrant et on y revient avec plaisir. Ce travail qui joue à cache-cache avec l’oxydation et ses altérations progressives de la matière du vin est porté içi au niveau d’un art. Mais c’est assurément un goût acquis. Pour quelqu’un élévé sur les saveurs des finos de Xérès, l’apprentissage est fait ! 
note : 16/20  

Domaine de Baal 2008 (prix public $18)

Encépagement : chardonnay, sauvignon blanc

Un beau nez qui mêle aromes de fruits blancs et jaunes. La matière en bouche apparaît presque sucrée au début, puis se reserre sur une sensation de fraîcheur. La part du chardonnay et un élavage partiel en bois apportent des notes épicées et une finale chaleureuse. Bon vin ayant de la finesse.
note : 14/20

chai à barriques, Domaine de Baal, Bekaa

Château Khoury, Rêve blanc (prix public $7)

Encépagement : riesling, gewurztraminer, chardonnay,

Cet encépagement original a produit un vin très plaisant, vif et délicat. Le nez allie vivacité et notes de fruits murs. Elegance et bon équilibre sont au rendez-vous en bouche. Joli vin pour un apéritif à un prix très raisonnable.
note : 14/20

Clos St. Thomas, Les Gourmets blanc (prix public $7)

Encépagement : sauvignon blanc, chardonnay

Le nez est très « bonbon anglais ». Matière assez fine mais peu complexe. Vin plaisant.
note : 13/20

Ixsir, Attitudes 2009 (prix public $9)
Le nez est curieux, rappellant la transpiration ! Pommadé en bouche. Pas du tout mon style, et clairement ayant des défauts.

note : 9/20

Ixsir Grande Réserve 2009 (prix public $13)
Nez de serpillière (trop de soufre probablement). Assez standard et ordinaire, sans relief.

note : 10/20

Côteaux de Botrys, Prince blanc 2009 (prix public $12)
Nez de fruits exotiques. La bouche est curieuse car il y a une présence marquée de gaz et un fruité assez chimique.

note : 10/20

Côteaux du Liban, Blanc du Clos 2010 (prix public $8)
Encépagement : chardonnay, viognier
Assez ordinaire : chaleureux et manquant de relief
note : 11/20

Kefraya, blanc de blanc 2010 (prix public $9)
Nez de bonbon anglais. Vin très standard
note : 11/20

Wardy, Sauvignon blanc 2010 (prix public $8)
Une certaine tenue par une acidité bien présente, et une pointe d’amertume en finale.
note : 12/20

Ksara, Chardonnay 2009 (prix public $12)
Une belle matière un peu trop masquée par un boisé marquée. Vin agréable mais un peu lourd et manquant de relief.
note : 12,5/20

Bargylus blanc 2009 (prix public $31)
Vient de Syrie mais élaboré par l ‘équipe de Marsyas.
Nez moyennement expressif. Une matière raffinée mais sans grande complexité. Plaisant mais bien trop cher pour ce niveau de vin.
note : 13/20

Marsyas blanc 2009 (prix public $15)
Un bon vin assez directe et simple. Désaltérant mais pas fascinant.
note : 13/20

Conclusions sur les vins blancs

Sur la base de cette dégustation, je ne peux que constater un grand écart entre la qualité moyenne des vins rouges et des vins blancs du Liban. Il est vrai que j’ai pu déguster, plus tard et à la propriété, d’excellents vins blancs du Domaine Wardy, mais, dans cette série, il y avait trop de vins ordinaires ou ayant des défauts. Je ne suis pas certain que les cépages utilisés, largement dominés par le chardonnay et le sauvignon blanc, constituent la bonne voie pour les blancs du pays. On essaie pas mal le viognier, mais (encore une fois hormis un vin de Wardy), ces vins ne m'ont pas convaincu. Sur la plan géographique et climatologique on est dans une configuration très méditerranéenne, semblage au Languedoc, au Roussillon ou à des zones de l'Espagne. Je pense qu'il faudra essayer des plantation plus en altitude et probablement d'autres variétés. Une fois de plus, Musar se singularise en utilisant deux cépages autochtones, dont le merwah me paraît particulièrement inétressant. L'autre, l'obadieh, est la variété utilisée pour l'arak (quand celui-ci est fait avec des raisins, ce qui n'est plus obligatoire!). 

vignes dans le sud de la vallée de Bekaa

Toutes les photos de cet article sont de David Cobbold

PS. An English version of this article will appear tomorrow