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Wine making by taxi

October 11, 2014

When the Farmers’ Market opens again at the end of November, I’ll buy all my veg for the week direct from the farmer who grows it (organically). Fresh (picked that morning), full of flavour and reasonably priced is what brings me there to buy, but I’ve learned so much about different vegetables and ways to cook them just through asking the stallholders and other shoppers. ‘Local’ in the U.A.E. usually refers to the indigenous Emiratis but as eighty per cent of our community is made up of other nationalities I’ve received advice from people from all sorts of cultures, traditions and backgrounds.

I would love to have a similar opportunity to get to know the people who grow and make the wine I drink. Having grown up in the UK and living in the Middle East for almost twenty years this has not ever been possible. That’s not to say this region is devoid of wine growing traditions or vineyards. Iran is just across the Persian Gulf and, while sales of alcohol have been banned since 1979, wine forms an integral part of Persian culture. Mey, the word for wine, and Saghi, the wine pourer, have been central motifs of Persian poetry for well over a thousand years; there is evidence that Shiraz, a city in South-West Iran, is one of the earliest wine-making sites.

Syria - My Custard Pie

Krak des Chevaliers – Syria

The nearest places to Dubai that are currently producing wine are India, Jordan and Syria. Yes, I did say Syria. One producer, Domaine de Bargylus, is still growing grapes, making wine and selling them to high-end restaurants across the world.  Being a wine maker in a war zone is not easy. Sandro and Karim Saade, the brothers who own the vineyard, and their wine consultant Stephane Derenoncourt make their harvesting and wine-making decisions remotely from Lebanon and haven’t been able to visit for two years.  They inspect the fruit by sending refrigerated grapes over the border in a taxi. Exporting the finished wine is also difficult as it has to be sent via Egypt and Lebanon. However, the wine has many high-profile supporters and is served in Michelin-starred restaurants including those headed up by Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing in the UK.

When I saw a bottle of Bargylus at Le Clos at Dubai airport when I was flying out to Istanbul, I had no idea of this incredible story. I just knew that if there was a bottle of fine wine from Syria I had to try some. When I opened it a couple of weeks ago, I still hadn’t done my research so just poured and sipped with a friend and no preconceptions. A gleaming, golden liquid with intense depth of flavour but with surprising acidity which just makes it super drinkable. Rich, creamy round and balanced with stone fruit and soft citrus aromas and palate with a trace of steely minerality. Beautiful texture. A real pleasure to drink. This is an opulent wine which I think would have pleased the Romans who also cultivated the same slopes 3000 years ago.

Syria - My Custard Pie

4th century monastery at Maaloula Syria

Where to buy Bargylus in the U.A.E.

If you want to take a bottle home with you it’s stocked at Al Hamra Cellar, Ras Al Khaimah. Currently Bargylus Blanc is  110 AED and Bargylus Rouge 154 AED. You can order through MMI Al Wasl branch or through Le Clos in the airport. More info about buying wine in the U.A.E. here.

When dining out, Bargylus is on the wine list at Qbara, La Serre, The Royal Mirage and Jumeirah Emirates Towers.

With terrible news from Syria on a daily basis, it’s hard to believe that pickers have been out in the vineyard harvesting the grapes by hand this week. With such a humanitarian tragedy still happening right on our doorstep, it’s amazing to be able to report this.

The pictures here are from a visit to Syria in 2008.

Syria - My Custard Pie

Palmyra

Damascus Syria - My Custard Pie

View over Damascus at night

Do you have the opportunity to drink locally produced wine where you live? Do you think it’s an advantage to visit the vineyard and meet the grower and winemaker of the wine you are drinking?

Bargylus

Bargylus Blanc 2008 – well worth seeking out

I’m joining the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #MWWC12 with this article – read all about it over on The Drunken Cyclist. Theme this month – Local.

19 Comments
  1. October 11, 2014 7:59 pm

    Looks gorgeous! I would never have thought of Syria as a wine-making country.

  2. October 11, 2014 9:34 pm

    Really interesting story (and wine)! I love meeting and talking with wine makers, as well as olive oil makers, farmers, and more. When living in Italy I enjoyed many visits to wine growers and producers in Italy but also in other European countries (France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Slovenia) and California. I hope to have this opportunity again.

  3. October 11, 2014 11:56 pm

    Fascinating! I had no idea that Syria grew wine. Crazy really because the temperature is so perfect. Just like India. I’ll have to seek some out at my local wine independant who I think is Syrian!!

  4. October 12, 2014 1:17 am

    A beautiful, inspirational light you shine on a region so torn to pieces. I do like wines from the Levant, although most familiar with Lebanese wines. Thank you for sharing this Sally!

  5. October 12, 2014 2:58 am

    Wonderful post Sally from a vinous point of view, but also a reminder that ordinary folk are endeavouring to carry on with their lives, earning a living to feed their families with some sense of normality despite the terrible conflict

  6. October 12, 2014 4:32 am

    Fascinating, Sally. And sad. Though god love the human spirit … out there trying to do what they do in the midst of all the horrors. I do not live in a wine-growing region (though people try, I wish they’d try something different).

  7. October 12, 2014 3:09 pm

    Fascinating, I would otherwise assumed that wine was not grown in either Syria or Iran. Your descriptions are fantastic – Jilly Goulden would be proud!

  8. October 12, 2014 3:22 pm

    Interesting post – so wish there will be an opportunity to visit Syria peacefully again and will look out for this wine next time I’m at any of the restaurants you listed 🙂

  9. October 12, 2014 7:42 pm

    Sally: FYI – the graphics html code is showing on your always elegant post….You don’t have to approve this comment, but thought you should know. Cheers, Lyn

  10. October 14, 2014 11:34 am

    Wow, what an amazing story! We are so fortunate to be able to meet the owners and wine makers where we live. They are all so interesting and have stories to tell, but nothing like this one 🙂

  11. October 14, 2014 11:25 pm

    It is always wonderful to read ‘good news’ – type articles like this about Syrians who are making and selling beautiful wine. It is possibly the case that there are other such ‘life goes on’ stories but they never make the news, sadly. Thanks for enlightening us. And no, Scottish wines are not a thing to drink. They exist but are pretty awful!

  12. October 16, 2014 5:00 am

    Sally, what an astonishing story! I’ve never heard anything like it…

  13. October 20, 2014 9:55 pm

    Nice job, Sally! I do like to visit the vineyard and talk with the winegrower whenever possible. My local or their local. Your local vineyard in Syria certainly has more than it’s fair share of challenges!

    • October 20, 2014 10:08 pm

      They tweeted an invite to the vineyard….when things settle down. Love their optimism, outlook and generosity.

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