Friday, November 26, 2010

Domaine des Tourelles

Following on from my last post on Musar the other Lebanese winery that falls within the remit of this blog is Domaine des Tourelles which is based in the town of Chtaura in the Bekaa Valley. Although not quite as cobweb-ridden as Musar it has similarly atmospheric features such as ancient concrete tanks, a basket press and some pretty dodgy wiring.

It dates back to 1868 when it was founded by a French engineer Francois-Eugene Brun who had come to the Lebanon to work on the construction of the road from Beirut to Damascus and is currently run by descendants of Brun’s Lebanese wife, Nayla Kanaan Issa-el-Khoury and Elie F. Issa. Elie’s son Faouzi E. Issa who trained in Montpelier and has worked at Chateaux Margaux is the winemaker (seen above (left) with his sister Christiane (middle) and Emile Issa-el-Khoury (right).

The trio have cannily decided to preserve the heritage of their wines, making it in the traditional way with the minimum of additions and no fining or filtering. “We don’t use any external yeast just the indigenous yeasts on the walls, ceilings and in the vineyards. And only a small amount of sulphur” said Faouzi.

We tasted the wines in the semi-dark sitting on low seating in the garden - hopeless for any considered appraisal but wonderfully romantic.

Domaine des Tourelles Blanc 2009
15% Muscat, 85% semillon, Unfiltered. Unfined. Fresh, aromatic, lots of semillon character, texture and character. Attractive but sadly not available in the UK

Domaine des Tourelles Rosé 2009
One of the best rosés I tasted on the trip. A characterful blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault: strong, dark, fruity and dry - “Rosé should be a wine not a watery beverage” said Faouzi. (The 2009 is available from importers Lebanese Fine Wines at an RRP of £11.60)

Domaine des Tourelles Rouge 2007
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, aged in concrete vats for 12 months. Very slightly rubbery on the nose but with vivid, vibrant fruit - not unlike a Costières de Nimes. Again nothing is added except sulphur. The following vintage in 2008 apparently has 10% of Carignan added to the blend though we didn’t get to taste that. £11.99 Thos. Peatling. Borough Wines has the 2005 for £12.

Marquis des Beys 2006
A blend of Syrah and Cabernet from 20-25 year old vines yielding about 45 hl per ha. Spends 18 months in French oak, a third new, a third first use and a third second year and a further year in bottle. Good smooth, ripe, well-integrated fruit, well-structured but needs more time in bottle (as many Lebanese reds seem to do).

Marquis des Beys 2004
Although a couple of years older this was much richer and more intensely coloured with ripe plum and berry fruit and a far more typical Syrah pepperiness. Almost meaty. More elegant, substantial than the ’04. Quite expensive at £24.50 (hangingditch) £25 (Borough Wines)though Thos. Peatling is stocking it for £18.04

Syrah du Liban 2006
A powerful concentrated red made from low yielding 35 year old vines. Aged for 24 months in new American oak (to which some ‘naturalists’ might object). Won a Silver medal at the Syrah du Monde 2009. Rich, sweet and spicy but not over-extracted. Very ambitiously priced though at £45 £49.95 Hennings Wine. I must say I preferred the Marquis de Beys.

If I have a criticism of the range, which I generally liked, it’s that the wines are expensive - with the basic red coming in at £12 and the Syrah at up to £49.95. Availability of recent vintages is also patchy.

Like most other Lebanese wineries Domaine des Tourelles also make arak.

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