Rarely has a wine book captivated me as much as the truly fascinating “Divine Vintage – following the wine trail from Genesis to the modern age”. I met the authors Randall Heskett, a biblical scholar, and Joel Butler MW, last year in Greece, where they visited as part of their ongoing research. At the time, I merely thought that the subject of the book was quite interesting.
The book was released in November last year. After reading it for the first time, I was left not only richer in knowledge, but more importantly, the richness of the added context has profoundly impacted my relationship with wine. Terroir is a notion most of us are familiar with, but I am intrigued by the re-emergence of wine industries in places where the roots of vines can be traced back for several millennia.
I count myself extremely privileged being able to taste so many Greek wines that are not easy to find, especially abroad. Yet after I finished reading Divine Vintages, I was yearning for an opportunity to try some of the wines from other countries that form part of the “biblical wine trail”.
Last Friday, my dream became reality: Joel Butler MW, led a master class based on the book he co-authored. Eighteen wines from Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, Israel, Georgia, and Jordan were presented in conjunction with Konstantinos Lazarakis MW, at the Athens based WSPC. This was the first time that such a presentation took place in Europe.
All wines were extremely well made, the first eleven dominated by finesse and elegance, the following five being less refined, favouring weight instead. This might not be surprising, given that the latter wines were all made from classic French varieties. The last two sweet wines were a special treat indeed, and Joel Butler believes that the Romans might have well been making wines in a similar, oxidized style.
It is hard to pick a single favourite wine from the line-up; stylistically I very much enjoyed the wines from the Turkish variety Kalecik Karasi. They were earthy, spicy, vibrant, elegant and delicate, with a lovely, slightly bitter, finish.
I opted to introduce short descriptions of the wineries, rather than reproducing my tasting notes below. The name of each winery is followed by the name of the wine with vintage, the alcohol level, the grape variety, and lastly, area and country. You can click through the image gallery above to see the labels.
Vinkara Doruk 2012, 14% alcohol, Narince, Ankara Province/Turkey
Vinkara’s venture into viticulture began in 2003, with the cultivation of their vineyards. The first experimental vintage took place three years later. Their main focus lies on the native grapes of Anatolia.
Doluca DLC 2011, 12.5% alcohol, Narince, Tokat Province/Turkey
Doluce is one of the two largest and oldest wineries in Turkey. Founded in 1926, annual production now totals almost 700000 cases.
Gaia Estate Thalassitis 2007, 13.5% alcohol, Assyrtiko, Santorini/Greece
Gaia Estate was established in 1994. They have succeeded in becoming one of the true icons in two of the most important wine regions in Greece: Nemea in the Peloponnese is home to the Agiorgitiko grape, while the island of Santorini is famous for its Assyrtiko wines.
Vinkara Doruk 2011, 13.5% alcohol, Kalecik Karasi, Ankara Province/Turkey
Vinkara Mahzen 2010, 14% alcohol, Kalecik Karasi, Ankara Province/Turkey
Clos St Thomas Les Gourmets Rouge 2010, 13.5% alcohol, Carignan/Cinsault/Syrah, Beka’a Valley/Lebanon
Although the Touma family has been making wine since 1952, they became serious about it after the Lebanese civil war ended in 1990. The winery is located in the Bekaa valley, where the Romans chose to build one of the greatest jewels of Lebanon – the temple of Bacchus.
Vitkin Carignan 2009, 13.5% alcohol, Carignan, Shomron Region/Israel
The family run boutique winery Vitkin was established in 2001. They decided early on to focus on Mediterranean varieties, as well as on old Israeli standards. Current annual production is around 5000 cases of kosher wine.
Kayra Buzbag Reserve 2008, 14.5% alcohol, Öküzgozü, Elazig/Turkey
This old winery remained under state control until 2005, when it was sold to private investors and christened Kayra. It is one of the largest wine producers in Turkey, and is led by the American winemaker Dan O’Donnell.
Kavaklidere Pendore 2010, 14% alcohol, Öküzgozü, Western Anatolia Manissa/Turkey
Founded in 1929, Kavaklidere is not only Turkeys first private sector wine producer, it also the country’s largest one. They are credited for introducing Turkey’s indigenous wines to the world; the company’s principle is “Anatolian wine from Anatolian grapes”.
Kayra Vintage 2009, 15% alcohol, Bogazkere, Diyarbakir/Turkey
Vinoterra Saperavi Selection 2009, 13% alcohol, Saperavi, Kakheti/Georgia
Georgi Dakishvili was the third generation in his family to become a winemaker. His father taught him the skills of traditional Georgian winemaking. This particular wine was fermented in Qvevri (Amphorae that are buried up to the rim), an ancient tradition that the Georgians have maintained for thousands of years.
Binyamina The Chosen Diamond 2009, 14% alcohol, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon from Golan Heights and Upper Galilee, 20% Merlot from Upper Galilee, 10% Syrah from Upper Galilee, 10% Petit Verdot from Judean Hills, Binyamina/Israel
Binyamana Winery was established in 1952. Although always privately owned, the winery passed through several hands over the years. In 1996 a group of movie production executives gained full control. They transformed Binyamina into the fourth largest winery in Israel; the annual production now amounts to 2.8 million bottles. In 2008, ownership changed hands once again, this time to a group of private investors.
The high-end series “The Chosen” includes six wines, each named for one of the Hoshen Stones (the biblical term for the carefully chosen stones set in the breastplate of the High Priest).
Zumot Winery Saint George Shiraz Winemaker’s Selection 2009, 15.2% alcohol, Shiraz, Sama/Jordan
Jordan can certainly claim biblical origins for wine, but until recently, it was nowhere on the modern world wine map. Although the Zumot family started to make and sell their own wines in 1954, it was not until 1996 that the Zumot winery was established. They now work organically in three viticulture areas.
Chateau Belle-Vue La Renaissance 2006, 14% alcohol, Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon, Bhamdoun/Lebanon
Lebanon has an ancient history of wine. Sadly, the modern wine industry was nearly ruined by the civil war. Bhamdoun, in the mountains east of Beirut, is a famous wine growing region. The population was decimated by the Israel-Lebanon conflict in the early 1980s. Naji Boutros grew up in Bhamdoun, but left at age seventeen. He returned in 1999 and started to replant vineyards the following year. The first harvest at Chateau Belle-Vue took place in 2003.
Clos St Thomas Chateau St Thomas 2006, 14% alcohol, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Syrah, Beka’a Valley/Lebanon
Chateau Kefraya Comte de M 2006, 14% alcohol, Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah/Carignan/Mourvedre, Beka’a Valley/Lebanon
The Beka’a Valley is the cradle of wine making; its history goes back thousands of years. The original castle for Chateau Kefraya was built in 1946; the first vineyards were planted in 1951. In the early 1980s the Chateau got caught up in the turmoil of the civil war. The Israel army occupied the region, and shortly thereafter the Chateau. Despite the extreme difficulties, Chateau Kefraya never stopped their activities. Today, the winery is the second largest in Lebanon, 40% of the production is exported.
Domaine Economou Sitia Late Harvest 2000, 15% alcohol, Liatiko, Sitia/Greece
Yiannis Economou is one of the most talented winemakers in Greece. He has an oenology degree from Alba, years of cellar work experience in Germany, Bordeaux (at Chateau Margaux) and Piedmont (under the guidance of Ceretto and Scavini). In 1994, he returned to Crete and resurrected the family wine business.
Cooperative of Samos Samos Grand Cru 1980, alcohol info n/a, Muscat, Samos/Greece
This important Cooperative was founded in 1934 and is one of the oldest Cooperatives in Greece. It boasts around 4000 members who contribute fruit, representing twenty six vine growing villages.