Good news from Lebanon

Four thoroughly decent wines from 1,000m+ altitude

Two whites, two reds (two young, two old)

Lebanon has been in the news quite a bit lately, sadly usually not with good news. These four wines were a breath of fresh air in that regard. While a little on the expensive side, priced around €50 (there seemed to be a lot of variation between retailers), they were some very drinkable wines that really surprised me. They also really demonstrated how there's more to Lebanon than just Musar or Ksara, and how, like Israeli wines, they're at a strange crossroads between Old World and New World styles.

The whites come from roughly 1,000m altitude in the Bekaa, and are aged for 12 months in French oak, while the reds are aged for 24 months and come from plots between 1,180 and 1,800m - pretty high up!

EL Ixsir Red

Ixsir El Red 2014

Surprisingly open, juicy bright red fruit, redcurrants. A little hint of yeasty yoghurt or cream, some very light leather, a hint of vegetal and leafiness, some sweet woodiness. Saline, peppery, hint of spice, very leather, more leather keeps up on palate. Super peppery, gentle powdery tannins, surprisingly good acidity. More curdiness, yoghurt, elderberry curd. A little harsh still on the palate - very very young still, great minerality coming through with the acidity and tannins. Should keep for a very long time but drinkable now. Wonderfully restrained, fresh, juicy, mineral. Very very nice, looking forward to trying it again in ten years.

Ixsir El Red 2019

Much bigger, bolder, jammier fruit. Again a hint of curdiness. Darker fruit, more blackcurrant than redcurrant. Not a subtle wine, but not unpleasant. Surprisingly saline, creamy. Tannins still quite fine and powdery in the background, but lots of ripe juicy grippy tannins at the front too. Lovely minerality, great acidity. Surprisingly white peppery and woody and a little leafy on the finish. Alcohol seemingly a little higher, finish again a little short but by no means unpleasantly so. Far too young to be drunk. Lots of umami, meatiness, a lot of grippy youthful fruit, juiciness. Much riper, new world. Should be drunk a little younger than previous vintages I suspect - has a lot more ripe new world joviality that I think will be lost without replacement before previous vintages.

Ixsir El White 2018

A little grapey, some floral, a hint of honeysuckle, some dried apricot. Dry, a little oily body, a little saline, reminds me of wensleydale with apricots. Oak blends very well in, just enough weight and structure. Some fruit, very delicate structure. I spent a lot of time complaining while tasting it that it's really not my favourite personal style but very well put together. At first couldn't see why anyone would have it, so tried it with some leftover grilled sardines - really worked well. Had the fattiness to cut through the oiliness of the fish, the acidity to pair well, just enough floral - very nice pairing. Very elegant wine - although I'm still not convinced it's my style, I would drink it every day if it came with sardines.

Ixsir El White 2019

A little more perfumed than the 2018. Much harsher, more structural, guttural. Definitely a much younger wine, has the depth and structure, but without the softness required I think for it be immediately drinkable. I think actually should age better than the previous vintage. Much more simple, much less elegant, more straightforward. Still technically flawless, should age well, but just a little bit less my style and not particularly appealing or exciting. Again, a grilled sardine or two revolutionises it and really brings out the best in it. As an apéritif wine, very underwhelming, however, as an apéritif wine with snacks - very very nice.

Overall I was in the end pleasantly surprised. The reds were perfectly balanced between New World excess and classic Old World restraint, and the whites were flawlessly executed Viogniers.