Otherworldly From Lebanon - A Merlot/Cab Blend

Sunday, February 17, 2019 4:52 PM

Otherworldly From Lebanon - A Merlot/Cab Blend

So glad I said "yes"...

I am an open-minded taster. My motto is to try all types of wine. However, I am also mindful of wasting time, mine and other people's, so if I get a request for an appointment to taste wine that I know won't fit in at The Wine House, I'll decline the offer. A vendor who I like to do business with because he is a one-man operation who has the same enthusiasm for wine as I do, sent me an appointment request for a winery from Lebanon. I was intrigued, but it was a busy time, and for what ever reason, I forgot to respond. This vendor did not take "no", or more like a non-response, as an answer and called me on the phone to persuade me to taste the wine. I said "yes" as I had time in the day to do so. 

That is how I met Naji Boutros of Chateau Belle-Vue and was introduced to his wines. The tasting portion of our meeting was short, as he only had two wines to present, but the conversation quickly went from wine to deeper, more philosophical musings. I was impressed by the wines at first taste. I have had wine from Lebanon before, I even had the privilege of tasting through several flights of wine from Chateau Musar with the legendary Serge Hochar. The wines of Chateau Belle-Vue are very different from Musar, as they should be, for the varietals they use are different as is the terroir. Chateau Belle-Vue is located less than 20 miles east of Beirut on Mount Lebanon at elevations ranging from 3,000 to nearly 4,000 feet. 

Naji Boutros left his ancestral home of Bhamdoun as a young man during the onset of the Lebanese Civil War. His town was destroyed. Naji studied and lived abroad, first in California and then moved to London where he worked in finance. In my conversation with Naji, it was clear he was financially successful, so I asked why return home? His demeanor changed from someone promoting his wine to someone who had a life-changing story to tell. He told me of an epiphany he had at a church in Italy while vacationing. It moved me. This was deeply personal. He explained that it became clear to him that he needed to return home to Bhamdoun and start a winery. The village once had thriving, terraced vineyards and his maternal grandparents ran a palatial hotel called Belle-Vue that was build in 1860 by his great-grandfather, hence the name. We laughed when I said, couldn't the hotel have been named anything but Belle-Vue? The point of my question being that in France there are multiple wineries with names containing Belle-Vue. This could obviously cause some confusion. He understood the gist of my question. Naji, with his wife and young children in tow, moved to Lebanon and planted his first vines in 2000 in the very spot that the hotel once stood.

The 2010 La Renaissance is a blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon. Naji explained the process of choosing the right places to plant. He shared a story about how one of the local farmers that he consulted told Naji and the French wine consultant that he hired, that they shouldn't plant in a particular spot. This was a perplexing comment to Naji and the French consultant as what they saw with their eyes did not support his position. They planted in this spot anyway. I followed up with a "what happened?". Naji said the grapes never really took in that spot. It reminded me of a conversation I had with Bob Varner who explained to me that over time the site takes over. 
The 2010 La Renaissance is big, bold and sultry. The mountainous, dry-farmed, organic vineyards produce small, thick-skinned berries that make concentrated wine. Lots of dark cherry fruit with undertones of warm spice and cedar. Enthusiasts of Bordeaux and Napa Valley reds will find much to enjoy and appreciate. With time in the bottle, the 2010 La Renaissance has settled into a smooth-edged, robust, approachable red.

As you can see from our selfie, after a short, first time meeting, there was clearly simpatico going on. We made a quick connection and I hope to visit the winery some day.  In the meantime, I am honored to present to our valued customers a wonderful, new tasting experience from a part of the world where it takes great effort to produce a single bottle of wine.

- Anya Balistreri
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Les Arroucats Cuvée Virginie: Bordeaux's Other Sweet Wine


is a small appellation along the Garonne River opposite from Barsac. In Sainte-Croix-du-Mont they grow Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and a tiny bit of Muscadelle, making dessert wine not entirely unlike Sauternes, but then again quite different. Sainte-Croix-du-Monts are lighter, less botrytised and unctous sweet wines. To compare them solely to Sauternes is a mistake and can lead one to overlook a very good opportunity to enjoy another style of sweet wine. The Chateau Les Arroucats Cuveé Virginie is a favorite one here at The Wine House. And as anyone who walks through our doors discovers - we love sweet wines! Context is everything when it comes to appreciating non-dry whites and keeping an open mouth and palate will derive oodles of tasting pleasure. Over the last two weeks, I've opened several bottles of the Arroucats to serve with, and instead of, dessert. Because it is lighter in body and less heady, it's perfect to open up on a whim and not fuss whether or not your guests are giving it the proper attention. I can attest that is goes well with Sicilian Cannolis, panettone and quality cheeses. Last night I poured a glass with a couple of shards of peanut brittle. A great combination. The nutty, buttery candy was uplifted by the sweet cream and citrus notes of the Arroucats.

Chateau Les Arroucats was established by Christian Labat after WWII. The estate was taken over by his daughter, Annie Lapouge, who was credited for modernizing the winery. Today the winery is managed by Mme. Lapouge's daughter, Virginie. They hand-harvest the grapes over several passages then ferment them in concrete and stainless steel vats. The wine ages for one to two years in vats before bottling. The wine is not aged in any wood, hence the fresh, fruity flavors. The grapes at the estate average over forty years and grow on clay-calcareous soils that sit above on a plateau of an ancient seabed as evidenced by the thick layer of oyster shells (see picture above). It is no secret that demand for these lighter-styled dessert wines has waned, so it's no small miracle that such a terrific one like Les Arroucats is still being produced AND at such an affordable price! At $14.99 it is a steal and it gets better...it discounts 15% by the case! Happy New Year! 
I have stumbled over the finish line into 2019, only to realize that on the Twelfth Day of Christmas my darling daughter turns 15! Impossible you say? Impossible I say! Early in December, a customer came to pick up a large order for his annual work Christmas Party. After some chit chat, he asked me how old my daughter was. I told him she was soon to be 15. He looked at me and said, "Does she hate you yet?". I laughed, answering "only some of the time". She is a good person with a big kind heart and curious mind. What a blessing. Her birthday dinner will be a traditional Russian Christmas Eve lenten meal. Luckily she inherited her mother's love for all types of foods and cuisine. We'll have cake, but there will also be Kutya and Zvar, so the simple, honeyed flavors of the Les Arroucats Cuvée Virginie should pair beautifully. Wishing all of you a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year! - Anya Balistreri
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2005 Grenache/Mourvedre

Monday, December 3, 2007 3:55 PM

 I just realized that I haven’t written about Grenache since the 2004 Les Cailloux Châteauneuf. And I’ve never done an affordable Grenache based wine at all. This is interesting (semi-ridiculous) because the southern French, Rhone-Style wines are one of our specialties, and we work hard to offer great value in this category. I think maybe I’ve ignored them because I drink them so regularly, and I assume everyone already knows about them. Or maybe it’s because many of them are similar, and I needed one that stood out from the pack for it to warrant an email. Well this is that wine. I believe David fell in love with it first, but it wasn’t long before all of us were fawning over the bin that held the 2005 Les Palombieres. I’m not selling our other country French wines short, but this is special. I think it’s the Mourvedre, no I know it’s the Mourvedre. It gives the wine that extra detail layer and spice that makes it about more than soft, sumptuous fruit, though that is nice, too. For those of you who enjoy southern Rhone wine, those of you who love finding extra complexity in their everyday wine, and especially for those of you who fit into both these groups. $11.38 with the case discount makes this a serious contender for the best value Rhone style wine I’ve drunk this year.

My wife and I drank this with homemade burritos. Some of you are saying to yourselves, “There are three things wrong with that statement.” One: “Why does he keep writing about burritos in his emails. This is like the 3rd time. What’s wrong with him?” I don’t know. Two: “Who makes burritos at home in San Francisco?” It’s true there are plenty of good burritos to be had for cheaper than it costs to assemble all those ingredients, but there’s something to be said for the ritual of home-burrito-assemblage. Plus they started out as tacos, and my wife switched the wrappings at the last minute. Three: “Who drinks wine with burritos? Aren’t you supposed to drink beer?” No. You are not. We default to beer and think that beer is good until 20 minutes after we reach the end of the burrito. We talk of burrito comas, but I don’t mind a little drowsiness. I fear burrito bloat. San Francisco burritos are big, especially if there is rice involved, and the last thing you need it the expansive property of beer in the equation. Food/beverage matching extends beyond your nose and palate; you have to think about the pairing in the confines of your stomach. Wine is much kinder to your system, and can even protect against burrito bloat. Note: The Wine House does not endorse any claims that wine protects against burrito bloat. This advice is meant only for entertainment purposes, and is not meant to substitute for the advice of a real doctor. If burrito bloat persists, please stop eating burritos.

The Palombieres went well with the burrito. The fruitiness of the Grenache allowed the wine to hold its own against the heat, and the Mourvedre brought spice to the spice. My real point in bringing up burritos (and opening myself up for criticism as San Franciscans can be very out-spoken/opinionated re: their burrito habits) is to point out the wine is very versatile. I like to call it a mini-Châteauneuf du Pape though it is not from the Rhone Valley, and it’s definitely not as boozy/extracted as some examples produced from this famous appellation these days, so it’s actually friendly with a lot more food. This is one of those bottles that acts special for those occasions (oversized dinner/holiday parties) that need more than just “house” from your wine, and that is priced low so you can open more than one bottle. You can pour it all night long at this price. – Ben Jordan


I really like that soft, silky strawberry, cherry fruit that emerges from a good Grenache, and I’ve always found these wines function across a wide range of palates. I know Mourvedre is a very late to ripen, but I think this wine is a good argument for including it in as many Rhone blends as possible. It really adds depth to the wine bringing a dark, earthier flavor as well as structure and spice. It certainly makes the wine more serious and complex. The vines are around 30 years and older, and the maturity shows in the depth of flavor here. I recommend it as a wine to drink if you like high quality wine at a great price, but I’d also recommend it if you have an occasion where you know you have a diversity of tastes. There’s plenty of fruit for those folks that subsist on California and Aussie wines, and the earth and garrigue in the wine are classic details that will delight your Euro-phile guests. It’s a wine that everyone can enjoy, and that is important this time of year. Who wants to hear, “Do you have anything else that’s a little more … and a little less …?” It’s hard enough keeping glasses full without having to worry about putting all sorts of different wines on the table.

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