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Lebanon going back to its - Cinsault - roots

Published:  01 February, 2017

Lebanon is going back to its roots - in every sense.

Domaine des Tourelles, one of the country's oldest wineries (it was founded by a French railroad engineer in 1868) released Lebanon's first Old Vine Cinsault at a tasting in London this week.

The event marks a significant shift for the tiny, 9 million bottle, industry which has made a name for itself for making international style, Bordeaux Rhone blends.

Showcasing one of the varieties - the others are Carignan and Grenache - on which the modern Lebanese industry was founded, is the first indication that winemakers are taking more seriously grapes that by and large where seen as second string varieties.

"Cinsault is our heritage," said winemaker and owner Faouzi Issa in London for the tasting organised by UK distributor Boutinot and which included a still vibrant 1976 Lebanese Cinsault, also from Tourelles as well as varietals from South Africa and Chile. "It is a profound expression of the Bekaa Valley terroir and it can give us an identity in a crowded global wine industry," he added.

Cinsault is used extensively in Lebanon in what the industry refers to as its "entry level" blends (AND famously as one third of Chateau Musar), but so far only Tourelles and the nearby Domaine Wardy have taken the plunge and showcased the Cinsault, a grape that was brought to Lebanon from Algeria by the Jesuit brothers in the mid 19th Century and who went on to establish Chateau Ksara in the Bekaa village of Tanail.

Others are sure to follow this new trend; Chateau Kefraya, Lebanon's second biggest winery, has been working with both old vine Cinsault and Carignan but has yet to decide if it will blend or take the varietal route. But what is for certain is that a grape that was once seen as a mere workhorse is now beginning to get star billing.

Another overlooked variety that may be heading for even greater exposure is the white Obeideh, one of two indigenous grapes found in Lebanon.

It may, along with the Merweh, have been the grape that made Chateau Musar's trippy flagship white, but to the rest of the sector it was, until very recently, the variety that simply made arak, Lebanon's aniseed based eau de vie.

Now producers have seen its value, both as a component in the blends of Lebanon's rapidly improving white wines and as a 'signature' grape similar to the Greek Assyrtiko.