Wine Gal Abroad: Lebanese Winemakers

I have an exciting announcement that I can’t wait any longer to tell you… or maybe I should say “KuWAIT any longer to tell you!”  I have left the United States for an indefinite period of time in order to pursue my culinary dreams in the Middle East!  I have accepted the position of Guest Relations Manager at Figs, a restaurant by Todd English, in Kuwait.  The restaurant originated in Massachusetts, but English is bringing branches to new locations.  This will be Kuwait’s second Figs and I have the exciting chance to be involved with it from its inception.

In one of my favorite movies of all times, Sleepless in Seattle, Tom Hank’s friend turns to him and asks, “What do you call it when everything just intersects?”  Tom Hanks shrugs and replies, “The Bermuda Triangle.”  This brief back-and-forth pretty much embodies the past month of my life when a series of improbable events seemed to come together to.  A chance meeting with Chef Todd English at the Mohegan Sun WineFest set the chain of events in motion.  By February I had submitted my resume and one short month later I was signing the contract.  My car is sold, my apartment is for rent, and my clothes are packed.

I will experience a multitude of changes, but one looms especially large: Kuwait is a “dry” country.  Alcohol is banned for religious regions, a disappointment to a wine enthusiast like me.  However, other countries in the region are beginning to gain attention for their vino offerings.  I recently told you about the Vinkara wines from Turkey, which are now available by the glass at Fat Cat Pie Company.  Those exceptional wines only scratch the surface.  I thought I would use my move as an opportunity to explore other noteworthy wines coming out of the region and share them with you.

To help me, I turned to Veronica Lipinski of Fine Terroir wines in Connecticut.  She introduced me to the Vinkara wines from Turkey and knows about other producers in the region.  She informed me of two Lebanese wines: Chateau Ksara and Ixsir.

Over a year ago, I stumbled upon the wines from Chateau Ksara in a wine tasting.  They herald from the oldest winery in Lebanon, which is located in the Bekaa Valley.  Lebanese winemaking dates back 5,000 years, but the chateau has truly had a renaissance in recent years.  They have placed a new premium on exploring new grapes and producing notable bottles.

“Over the past decade, Ksara has seen the introduction of new grape varieties that have grown into vines the Bekaa valley has blissfully nurtured,” they explain.

The Blanc de Blancs is one of my personal favorites.  The white wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Chardonnay that ages in oak for 4 months.  It has a wonderful minerality along with floral components.  For a red selection, I enjoy their blend that bears their name: the Chateau Ksara.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot comprise it.  It derives additional character from 18 months in oak.  The deep, ruby color looks beautiful in the glass.  The winery describes it as “medium-bodied with generous length” and “discreet yet heady notes of fruit, especially blackcurrants with hints of spice.”

The Fez, a restaurant and bar in Stamford, currently serves wine from Chateau Ksara by the glass.  They specialize in fare like kabobs, hummus, baba, and other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods.

"It has always been my goal in this industry to entertain people with foods and wines that are not common to this part of the world,” notes owner Eric Monte. “At The Fez, we feature many wines from… Lebanon which compliment the flavors of the dishes we feature from this part of the world.”

Lipinksi also introduced me to another Lebanese offering: Ixisr.  This is a newer winery in the region.  The name might sound vaguely familiar; in addition to creating outstanding wine, CNN selected the winery as one of the greenest buildings in the world.  They put a premium on environmentally friendliness.

“The vision behind IXSIR is unique: reveal the best terroirs of Lebanon, some forgotten long since, while respecting sustainable development and integrated viticulture,” they explicate.

The Grande Reserve bottles prove popular.  The 2009 Red is comprised of 61% Syrah and 39% Cabernet Sauvignon.  They promise a “concentrated taste” with “exuberant aromas of mature fruits and spices.”  The White is a blend of 60% Viognier, 25% Sauvignon, and 15% Chardonnay.  It entrances the drinker with a beautiful golden hue and a rich bouquet of flowers and fruit.  What truly sets it apart though is a slight “wooden taste” at the end that leaves a subtle earthiness on the palate.

For more information about Ixisr and where to purchase it, please visit or .

In addition to Lipinski’s picks, I have a recommendation of my own.  A few months ago I encountered a bottle known as Syrocco.  The name is a hybrid of Morocco, its country of origin, and Syrah, the varietal.  Although fruit-forward, it still feels reminiscent of Old World style wine.  The grapes come from young vines which are maintained by hand.

I am incredibly grateful to for giving me the opportunity to explore the world of wine as their Wine Correspondent.  I will certainly miss writing my weekly Winesday column.  Perhaps when I return (whenever that may be) I can resume.  In the meantime, I will keep you updated on my adventures in Kuwait via my personal food and wine blog:

Thank you to the CTBites team and you, the readers, for an incredible run!