|Wasfi Skaff Monica Bhide Kababji Grill COO Philippe Chamoun Kate Michael.|
by contributor Donna Shor
Those Phoenicians got it right, and in many cases got it first.
They were early winemakers as long ago as 3000 B.C, the inventors of money and the originators of written language. We owe a lot to the Phoenicians, those sea-going merchants on the Mediterranean trade routes they created, settling colonies and teaching viticulture as they went. Above all, we owe them the good wines in our glass.
Due tribute was paid Monday night at a gathering of wine-mavens at Dupont Circle’s Khababji Grill with featured Chateau Ksara wines from Lebanon, as the Phoenicians’ ancient land is now known.
The most burdensome problems the area has struggled with have been man-made―war, invading hordes since ancient times and frequent regional wars today. Chateau Ksara lost most of its 2006 vintage when workers chose not to be picking grapes under the Israeli rocket attacks. (Although, paradoxically, the two Big Wars, WWI and II, brought welcome income to the region because of the volume of wine bought for the thirsty various national armies who were camped in Lebanon.)
In 1973 a group of Lebanese businessmen acquired the property. Chateau Ksara took its name from a nearby ksar, or fort, dating from Crusader times. Going even further back, wine cellars under the property were discovered in 1999 to be caves from Roman times. (And Bob Ballard, the discoverer of the Titanic, also found two wrecked Phoenician ships which dated back to 750 BC with vessels of Phoenician wine aboard that were still intact, even though the ships’ frames had rotted away.)
The Kababji Grill specialties served at the wine event featured classic Middle East dishes with a Lebanese touch. The mezze included Hummus, creamy eggplant Baba Ghannoush, Stuffed Grape Leaves, and lamb or beef versions of Orgali Kabab and little brown footballs of deep-fried Kebbeh. All delectable.
The wines were excellent, true to their grapes, and very drinkable. One favorite was the Chateau Ksara Chardonnay, straw-pale, with a delicate, flowery bouquet, free of the “buttery” or oaky style that has been popular too long elsewhere; but with a crisp, steely quality closer to the chardonnay grape when it renders the white wine of Burgundy.
The full-bodied Reserve du Couvent was a treat, with a deep red robe, a desirable touch of wood from the French oak cask it was stored in, and a fine finish, with lightly spicy overtones.
“No wonder you like it so much,” said Waski Skaff, “remember it is the reserved wine of the monastery (the convent) and we imagine that the good monks reserved it for themselves.”