In The Beginning

I like a challenge so, when I got an email asking about a tasting mentioning all the Biblical references to wine and suggesting that, as a result, countries like Israel and Lebanon must have some interesting old vineyards, it sounded like a great theme. And I took the idea a stage further and included wines from other countries with long wine histories including Georgia; archaeological evidence suggests that might have been the first country in the world where wine was actually made, some 8000 years ago. The title I gave to the tasting: ‘In the Beginning’.

Traditionally, Georgian wine was made in qvevris – clay pots that were filled with grapes, sealed and buried in the ground for several months while the fermentation took place. That process is still in use there – and elsewhere, as those who read my last blog, ‘Clay Pots or Lunch’ will know.

Georgian white

But not all Georgian wine is made in this way and the example we tasted, Schuchmann’s Mtsvane (Wine Society, £11.50), is tank fermented. The native Mtsvane grape gave this white an attractive freshness and herbiness and a pleasant underlying richness, with delicately nutty hints on the finish from brief ageing in oak barrels.

Israel’s wines are not widely available in the UK, so I was pleased to pick up a bottle of Recanati’s Carignan/Petite Sirah in Marks and Spencer’s for £10.

Israeli red

This red, from the Judean Hills, west of Jerusalem, was lighter than I expected based on the blend of grapes, but very fruity and flavoursome and easily drinkable nevertheless.

Ksara red

The Ksara Reserve du Couvent, a Cabernet/Syrah blend from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley (Wine Society, £10.50) was altogether chunkier and more full-bodied and would have benefitted from being tasted with robust food and, probably, from decanting, too. But it was a very appropriate wine for an ‘In the Beginning’ tasting as the monks at Ksara were instrumental in introducing new French vine varieties and production methods into Lebanon in the mid-19th century, creating the basis of the modern wine industry in the country.

So, something that started as an unusual challenge ended, by general agreement, as a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting tasting.