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Great Wines of Middle East

695896_11775318Even before the Gulf War, it was hard to get a bottle of wine in the Middle East. The heavy, teetotaling hand of Islam has long stifled wine production in most nations in that region, which was the heartland of fine wines. Only in the Christian parts of Lebanon and in Israel is wine still a staple of everyday life.

One of the most courageous wine-making families in the world is the Hochar family of Lebanon. Their winery called Chateau Musar, is located in the beautiful, war-torn Beka Valley, scene of the bloodiest battles of the endless Lebanese civil war. Some how the Hochars have managed to continue producing and exporting to the United States their great wines, which for character and quality rival the best reds of California and France’s Rhone Valley.

Just to the north of Iraq, Turkey produces a fair amount of wine. Some of it comes from the northern part of the country near Armenia where Noah suposedly had his vineyard, close to Mt. Ararat. Turkey in fact is now the largest wine producer of the east Mediterranen. The most common Turkish brand now available in the in the United States is Kavaklidere, which is generally not bad, and its colorful labels are outstanding for collectors.  A Turkish white called Trakya, made from the semillon grape, is also pretty palatable.

From ancient times

The Egyptians once made some of the greatest wines in the world. Even the wine-loving Romans enjoyed them. Egypt still produces some wine most of it pretty ordinary stuff. The labels nostalgically recall former glories with names like “Cleopatra white” and Ptolemy red.”

A great little paperback called King Tut’s Wine Cellar by Egyptologist Leonard Lesko tells the story of ancient Egyptian whites interpreted from murals in unearthed tombs of several pharaohs. They depict vintages and even describe preferred growths much as in modern Bordeaux.

Israelis now make better wine than anything from Babylonia or Egypt. Largely with winerie and vines donated by the Rothschilds of Bordeaux, the Israelis  now make some very pleasant  wines from classic vinifera varieties like cabernet and savignon blanc.  It seems firvolous to talk of wine with a war going on, but most great generals, from Alexander the Great to George Washington, were ardent wine lovers. The Crusaders brought to Europe a taste for Persian wines. German troops “liberated” many French wines, and vice versa, and many Gis began the wine revolution in the United States after World War II, discovering wine and bringing it here a full decade before tourists.

Choice of Generals 

One of the most surprising of wine lovers among generals was a former Kansas farm boy who was also a secret ladies’ man: General Dwight David Eisenhower. Long before he was president, Eisenhower loved wine from his European campaigns.

Once, when visiting the White House, I asked a longtime employee who was the greatest wine lover of the presidents from Roosevelt to Reagan. “Eisenhower, by far,” was the answer. “He loved Sauternes from Bordeaux, and even knew the chateaux and vintages, not to mentions lots of Mosels from Germany.” Those must have tasted especially sweet, even knew not late-picked, after taking them away from the Nazis.

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

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