Time for some Levantine wine
Aldi Specially Selected Lebanese Red 2019 (£7.99, Aldi) The mainstreaming of Levantine, and Levantine-ish, food has been a feature of the past decade or so. Waitrose even has a line of snack foods and ready meals branded the Levantine Table these days. Launched in April it has dishes from the Eastern Mediterranean, and specifically Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Turkey and Cyprus. So far, the wines of this region are slightly behind the likes of shawarma or sumac, let alone hummus and falafel, when it comes to finding a place in British repertoires. Wines from Lebanon, home to what is still the region’s most globally successful (and to my mind, most consistently interesting) wine scene, are the most widely distributed in the UK. There’s a very strong French influence, both in the grape varieties used and the style of wine produced. The chunky but succulent, bramble bush fruit of Aldi’s brilliant and brilliant value new Lebanese addition, for example, is strongly reminiscent of a quality Côtes du Rhône.
Zorah Karasi Areni Noir, Vayotz Dzor, Armenia 2018 (£26.99, Waitrose; slurp.co.uk) Wines from other parts of the Levant require a little more digging, although bottles such as Turkish producer Kayra’s Kalecik Karasi 2018, with its intense deep dark plummy fruitiness, bright redcurranty acidity and polished feel (qualities that would make it pair very well with spiced lamb) are well worth seeking out (it’s currently out of stock at the excellent, adventurous retailer, novelwines.co.uk, although they should have more in stock soon for £14.99). A touch to the north of the classic Levant, Armenia, too, has some distinctive red wines that also match very well with Levantine-style (and of course Armenian) food. Easily the standout producer of so far is Zorah, a small enterprise started by Armenian expat Zorik Gharibian with help from the star Italian winemaker, Alberto Antonini. Vines planted at almost 1,400m above sea level, right by Mount Ararat, to the local areni variety produce, a wine of spice and incense and dark fruit with a lilting streak of freshness.
Orgo Saperavi, Kakheti, Georgia 2019 (from £20, nywines.co.uk; vinoteca.co.uk; swig.co.uk) Armenia vies with its neighbour, Georgia, for the title of the birthplace (or, as PR videos tend to prefer, “cradle”) of wine, with evidence dating back more than 6,000 years. Both, too, have been instrumental in the modern-day renaissance of the clay amphora – qvevri in Georgian – as a winemaking tool. Georgia has the biggest and most visible collection of amphora/qvevri (depictions of the vessel are a tourist-stall staple in the country’s beautiful, buzzy capital, Tbilisi). And even if these producers are vastly outnumbered by a vast industrial production (the legacy of Georgia’s days as the vineyard for the USSR), they have had an outsized influence on perceptions of Georgian wine in Western Europe and the States, where Georgia has become a favourite of the natural wine scene. For an immaculate, finely drawn sample of what the combination of clay fermentation and the darkly fascinating, juicy-raspy local saperavi grape can bring, few are better than Gogi Dashkivili’s Orgo, with its pure blackberry and pomegranate, peppery spice and lipsmacking tartness.