One of the interesting facets of the world of wine is the choice grape varieties have had to be travellers or homelovers – a mirror of the recent, nonsensical, socio-political ‘somewhere’ versus ‘anywhere’ argument that apparently underpinned brexit in the UK. The former are happy being in many, exciting parts of the world, the latter are rooted in a specific, secure place. So it is with grapes.
Semillon and chenin blanc were probably in South Africa before 1700 and in Australia soon after 1800; merlot arrived in Italy probably 200 years ago and in Chile 150 years ago. These vines come from the west coast of France – so of course they were shipped around the world, but German riesling also travelled far, to Australia and even to eastern Europe and Russia and zinfandel got to California by 1849. And, of course, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay now bestride the world like a pair of colossi. Yet on the other hand, even within Italy the great nebbiolo has remained limited to the north west (essentially Piemonte) and corvina to the area around Verona.
Slowly, of course, this is changing. Nebbiolo is in the Adelaide Hills, gruner veltliner in New Zealand and albarino near Lodi in California. I have to say, however, that when I’m exploring a traditional wine producing country, I’m not that interested in what they do with international grapes. Chardonnay in Hungary, Merlot in Greece and Cabernet in Georgia don’t really do it for me. So being presented with a touriga nacional from Jezzine in Lebanon was another of those ‘really?’ moments – they have great ‘adopted’ varieties from the 19th century and indigenous ones from way back in the medieval past which are much more interesting and fun. Touriga, from the Douro Valley in Portugal, and traditionally used to make port, is another of the grapes that has only just begun to venture out of its homeland – and I was surprised to find it wash up in the hills south of Beirut.
It’s a dense purple wine; and a very intense nose with black fruit: blueberry and plum. The palate has a very aromatic attack, rose petals and almost Turkish delight – also very spicy. The alcohol is quite high, but the weight of fruit sustains that easily. It has great length. Probably not easy to find – it’s not even listed on their website yet. But when you are next in Jezzine…