When I think of wine, particularly fine wine, my first thought is of sipping a cold glass of Cote du Rhone on the Champs-Elysees, or an elegant Chianti in Tuscany, mulling its fruity taste and enjoying its robust bitter finish while I gaze at sprawling vineyards and contemplate life’s bigger questions. But therein lies the problem: I am not a wine drinker, nor have I earned the experience and knowledge to deem myself worthy of understanding or analyzing the sophisticated spirit. My immediate thoughts of wine are spawns of preconceived notions conditioned by the mainstream culture of what wine is. What online survey or cultural magazine does not include places such as Central Italy, Paris, Spain, and Argentina on the top of their lists? And rightfully so, these places have earned their legitimacy as the top growers and sellers, and their vineyards and products speak for themselves; however, I cannot deny that I, like many others who sip their wine rather than chug only because etiquette demands it and not because of an educated sense, have fallen victim to the favorable consensus and forgotten the small finesses that other, lesser-known wineries may possess.
The same can be true about wine culture in Lebanon. Local giants such as Ksara, Kefraya, and Musar have transcended anonymity and have become some of the country’s biggest exports to the Gulf and even the West, forsaking the people’s need to dig deeper and explore and instead settling us down with the popular and familiar.
This is not to discredit these brands. Their fame and reputation are more than justified, and we are proud to have them. But like in any competitive business, the underdog must be sought out and acknowledged.
And so, in seeking out these answers, my girlfriend and I decided to take a trip to wine country, both for romantic and educational purposes.
We ventured northeast off the coast, to the small towns of Edde and Smar Jbeil in Batroun District and cruised along the beautiful road that leads up to the churches of Saint Rafka and Saint Hardini. We stopped at all the local wineries, all of which were closed, including the popular IXSIR, which was busy prepping a wedding ceremony. Feeling defeated, we made one last attempt and stopped at Clos du Phoenix, a small winery situated by the main road.
Oblivious to the inconveniencies of others and driven by youthful resilience, we knocked on the door of a house near the winery and were luckily and undeservedly greeted by a friendly old woman who introduced us to her daughter Ayda, the winery’s official guide. Ayda explained to us, the ignorants that we were, that wineries must be contacted beforehand to ensure a guide is available and that we were lucky to have found her on such a short notice. We nodded agreeably, feeling foolish at our unannounced visit and grateful for her patience and hospitality. She directed us to their humble cellar, wrought with the deep and intoxicating fragrance of fermented grapes, and gave us a step-by-step guide of the process from harvest and picking to sorting, crushing and fermentation; the white and rose grapes heaped together while the red given its own distinct process. We mounted up the ladders to the containers and stared down, mindful not to ruin the precious batch with our drool.
For the tasting, we went up a spiral of stairs to a rooftop with a lovely view and were treated to samples concocted from Marsanne, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Grenache among other varietals expertly supervised by Burgundian winemaker Yvan Jobard. Ayda recounted a story of a sommelier who was dining at a Lebanese restaurant and who ordered a glass of Syrah only to be given a glass of Ksara instead. The somm, expert that he is, tasted the difference and made a point of exposing it. Ayda, a promising somm herself, expressed the same disappointment in the mainstream but was hopeful of the expansion of the culture.
Finally, with the sun setting over the water, we were escorted out of the winery, a little tipsier and a little prouder. We thanked Ayda for her generosity as you would a family member, and that’s what the Clos du Phoenix is: a family rather than a corporation.
We left with a bottle of white Emiresse and made a vow to drink it only on occasion. The next day, it was gone.
Check out the Clos Du Phoenix website for more information.
Photo credit: Clos Du Phoenix Facebook page