Bacchus in Lebanon

Bacchus is the Roman god of wine and drunkenness, with his Greek counterpart Dionysos, he was celebrated by winemakers all over the Mediterranean region. But the biggest temple dedicated to this divinity is actually neither in Greece not Italy, it’s in Lebanon.

bacchus

Temple of Bacchus at Baalbek

It’s located in Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley which incidentally is the heart of wine production in Lebanon (funny how that works out). The wine industry in Lebanon waned and waxed over centuries, thriving under the Greeks, and then the Romans, forbidden when Islam started dominating the region, then back in grace during the Crusades, then barely tolarated under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. It took off again during the French Protectorate in 1920 and managed to survive the Civil War of the nineties. Now it’s expanding again and more than 3000 hectares are planted.

Ksara

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carignan, Cinsault and Grenache are the more prevalent varieties. There are 3 traditional producers, Ksara, Kefraya and Musar, with Ksara accounting for roughly 70% of the total production. Today there are more and more smaller producers opening shop, many of them French expats.

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Three shades of red

I’ve decided, as a studying project over the next couple months, that I would learn more about Californian wines.

I’d like to focus on reds made from the grape varieties used in the Bordeaux region. Contrarily to Burgundies, Bordeaux wines tend to be a blend of various varieties in varying proportions. There are three main varieties used: Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. They each have distinct characteristics and producers blend them depending on the result they want to achieve by emphasizing certain traits or dampening other ones. Here are a few key points for each grape (broad strokes).

Cabernet-Sauvignon : the Structure

cab sauv

Cabernet Sauvignon is a relatively new grape, a cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. It is pretty hardy, produces low-yields and ripens late. Common flavors are blackcurrant, blackberry, green bell pepper or even cedar and tobacco. In a blend, Cabernet-Sauvignon contributes high acidity and tannins, a key element to give structure to a wine and give it good aging potential. It also has a strong affinity with oak, which of course doesn’t hurt in terms of aging.

Merlot : the Body

merlot

Merlot is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world, and, the most planted grape in France. It tends to produce full-bodied, smooth and velvety wines with black and red fruits aromas : blackberry, plum, cherry, blackcurrant,… It ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon and can overripe quicly after that. In a blend, Merlot provides softness and body, mellowing the tannins and acidity of Cabernet-Sauvignon

Cabernet-Franc : the Fruit

cab franc

Cabernet-Franc is used to make varietal wines in the Loire valley, notably near the town of Chinon, but it is also one of the varieties used in the Bordeaux blends. Like Merlot it ripens earlier than Cabernet-Sauvignon (the reason it can grow in a cooler climate like the Loire Valley). Common aromas would be raspberry, blackcurrant and violets. In a blend, Cabernet-Franc contributes fruit flavors and finesse. It doesn’t have the staying power of the other two grapes but it can add some flavor to the mix.

There are other varietals used in Bordeaux, mostly Malbec (color) and Petit Verdot (tannins and colors), but these are the main three. Depending on where you are in Bordeaux, wines will have more of one varietal and less of the others. Some wines are Cabernet-Sauvignon dominated (mainly on the Left Bank), some are Merlot dominated (Pomerol and St-Emilion) and there even are Cabernet-Franc dominated wines (Cheval Blanc, Ausone)

Now that the basics, and to be honest, these are the very, very basics, are explained, it’s time to start drinking!

Wine Trivia : Be my Valentine

Ok, time for the answers, as often, the Drunken Cyclist leaves the competition in the dust ! Congratulations, especially for finding number 5 which was downright tricky.

1)     Fog : Nebbiolo,  Italian

2)      Spicy Traminer, Gewurztraminer, German

3)      Little sweet one : Dolcetto, Italian

4)      Black pinecone : Pinot Noir, French

5)      Black black (2 languages) : Negroamaro, Latin and ancient Greek

6)      Little green one : Verdicchio, Italian

7)      Little early one : Tempranillo, Spanish

Now for this week, since Valentine’s Day is approaching, I have a lovey-dovey question : Which wine is particularly prized as a gift for Valentine’s Day because of a big heart on its label ?

Ramblings indeed

It’s good to be home. I got back to Boston yesterday and I had time to get back to work today. I also, fortunately, got time to dig in before the snow storm hits tonight and tomorrow morning. I think I have enough wine to survive, I’ll be fine.

This being said, once the storm is over, I’ll have to re-stock. My wine rack looks sad right now. Is there anything sadder than an almost empty wine rack? This means I’ll have to go wine shopping. I’m considering just doing it online and see what I can get delivered (I’m lazy, that’s my worst flaw). I don’t have anything specific in mind but I know that I want to respect a few guidelines.

Actually, it’s more like one guideline, I want to only get US wines this time around, probably go heavy on Napa and Sonoma Cabernets and Merlots (it is winter after all). This will enable me to beef up to of my weakest areas of knowledge, California wines and the two main red grapes from Bordeaux. Of course I will document this study. I need wines to keep me warm for the rest of winter.

Also, I just got tickets to the Boston Wine Expo in a week. That should be a good occasion to try out new wines and write a few more blog posts. I have my work cut out for me, and once the jetlag lets up, I should even be able to start updating as often as I want!

Talking about the blog, I passed 1000 views last week. It still seems crazy that people would want to read what are, essentially, the ramblings of an amateur. I mean that’s even the title of the blog, Wine-Ramblings. Anyway, I appreciate everyone who’s read and commented on my posts and I hope I can continue to produce content you like!