East Med, Lebanon, Review

Back from the Edge: Cinsault in Lebanon

It’s been nearly three years since I’ve been to Lebanon. While social media has become heavier and more political, the new wine from Domaine des Tourelles is fresher and even more joyous. Tasting on a grey London day in January, it is clear that a lot has happened with Cinsault in Lebanon since my last visit to the Bekaa Valley. 

Last month, the new 2014 Domaine des Tourelles Cinsault Vielles Vignes was launched in London after a sell-out season in New York. Cinsault, you say? Not long ago, Cinsault in Lebanon would have been pulled out in favour of more popular French varieties. Not noble enough; a workhorse grape; not enough money in it. Yet much like Carignan in the Languedoc, the old vines of Cinsault that had been spared the vine pull, we are now so pleased they have been.

Cinsault in Lebanon Domaine des Tourelles Cinsault Vielles Vignes

Cinsault in Lebanon – release of 2014 Domaine des Tourelles Cinsault Vielles Vignes

Cinsault in Lebanon was originally brought to the country by the Jesuits of Ksara from Algeria. Despite its history and widespread planting (around 40% of grapes planted in Lebanon are Cinsault), it is the recent success of South African wineries and their old Cinsault vines that have helped Cinsault reach new audiences. When you are expecting a big, bold South African red, it’s easy to be bowled over by the pretty aromatics and drinkability of South African Cinsault, such as ones from Flotsam & Jetsom and Waterkloof.

The same old expectations of South African reds can afflict Lebanese wines – where over-oaked prestige wines could settle with a drag of Marlboro Red rather than a food match. Yet, old-vine Cinsault in Lebanon, staring in the face of local winemakers, was not only abundant and easy-drinking, but also, importantly for this part of the world, drought-resistant.

The 2014 Domaine des Tourelles Cinsault Vielles Vignes has a mouth-watering umami character, liquorice and deep red fruit. It has freshness from grapes grown at 1000m altitude (the Cinsault grape has relatively low acidity), but it also has great intensity and richness from the 70-year-old vines and plenty of sunlight.

Cinsault in Lebanon is back from the edge and centre stage. For those who like wines to pour and drink and enjoy, this entry-level Cinsault from Lebanon is another reason why we need boozy long lunches more than ever. 

Faouzi Issa, winemaker at Domaine des Tourelles