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 Capri Ristorante – McLean, VA

Bekaa Valley – Lebanon

PRESENTER: Peter Scherer

TYPE :  Blind


Cecilio Augusto Berndsen, Juan Luis Colaiacovo, Orlando Mason, Orlando Reos, Jorge Requena, Ricardo Santiago, Alfonso Sanchez, Peter Scherer, Miguel Segovia


This presentation aims at exploring wines form the middle east and east Europe and contrast them with a new world  wine from Chile.

These are Peter’s notes on the subject: “The wines to be presented are largely outside our customary range of selections. My interest in Near Eastern wines was raised recently when a guest brought a wine from Georgia, reportedly the birthplace of wine making. Wow – ​the thought ​why not explore this avenue a bit more with friends from the VN. As it became evident, Georgia is not the only country to lay claim to be first. Archaeological evidence suggests that wine originated in the Caucasus and which boast  the highest peaks of Europe, and identifies sites in Georgia, Iran (c. 5000 BC) and Greece (c. 4500 BC). Not to be missed, there is also research suggesting that wine made from fermented grapes among other fruits was enjoyed even earlier in China  (c. 7000 BC). The oldest evidence of wine production has been found in Armenia (c. 4100 BC).

With this newly found historic diversity of wine making, I became motivated to broaden the sample beyond Georgia. This ​turned out to be a foray of the blind. I do not know much about the wines of the region other than a lose acquaintance with Greece. While some would have liked to include Greece, I shied away because of the limit on the size of the tasting and familiarity of most ​participants ​with Greek wines. ​In the end, ​I chose Georgia, Bulgaria, Lebanon​ and​ Turkey plus Chile for the ‘Challenge’ wine​ largely on advice​ ​of ​selected experts, who are supposed to know and my own intuition. Missing are Armenia, Romania, Macedonia,​ ​Croatia, Iran etc. Candidates ​for ​ another tasting?”

These are the wines:

    1. 2009 Sami, Kondoli Vineyards, Marani, Georgia
    2. 20​15 Gamza, Bulgariana, ​Danube Plain, Bulgaria
    3. 2009 Chateau Musar​, Gaston Hochar, Beeka Valley, Lebanon
    4. 2013 Oekuegoezue – Bogazkere, Kayra Buzbag Rezerv, Anatolia, Turkey
    5. 2011 Carmenere, Primus, Colchagua Valley, Chile


  1. Cheese Plate
  2. Green Salad
  3. Rack of Lamb and Coscous
  4. Dessert and/or coffee


(All information obtained and condensed from several Internet articles.)

2009 Sami, Kondoli Vineyards, Marani, Georgia 

The Wine: Tasting Notes; Blend of three Sami grapes all grown in Kondoli vineyards. Samis are characterized by deep red color, intense black fruit juice aromas and big body. A balanced and versatile wine that pairs with a wide variety of dishes. Kondoli’s web site features the Saperavi grape more prominently than the Sami grape offered in the tasting. I was told that the latter is more difficult to grow than the former but that it would yield a subtler wine Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. The fertile valleys and protective slopes of the Transcaucasia were home to grapevine cultivation and Neolithic wine production for at least 8000 years. The country has more than 500 indigenous grape varieties. Nowadays 25 are used in the industry. For almost 3 centuries, Kondoli vineyards have been a benchmark of quality, reflecting the best of the Kakheti region. The Qvevri wine making method used originally in Georgia, listed as part of the UNESCO Intangible Heritage, reportedly is still practiced today , including for exports. During the fermentation process, cap management is performed only by hand punching, thus the overall mechanical impact on grape skins has been minimized thus ensuring soft extraction of tannin and coloring elements

20​15 Gamza, Bulgariana, ​Danube Plain, Bulgaria 

The Wine: Tasting Notes: an indigenous varietal characterized by softness on the palate and delicate tannins. A full-bodied wine with aromas of red fruits, freshness and ruby red color.Bulgaria in the opinion of some counts on the most accomplished wine makers among Near East countries.  Its accession to the EU in 2007 has engendered the creation of a modern and complex quality wine production and supply chain.  Bulgaria has five viticultural areas exhibiting markedly contrasting growing conditions. The wine chosen is from the Danubian plains.  The climate of the area is temperate continental with a hot summer and many sunny days a year. Bulgariana is one of the better known Bulgarian vineyards. I had bought initially a higher priced Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah blend from the same producer but originating in the Thracian Valley.  I downgraded price wise to get the native Gamza. Let’s see what we got for $12.


2009 Chateau Musar​, Gaston Hochar, Beeka Valley, Lebanon

The WineTasting Notes:  Medium youthful ruby; aromatic, slight sweet pepper, savory with soy; palate is medium bodied, medium length; more savory on the palate than the nose; nice medium-long finish. The style is said to be emphatically Lebanese: enticingly aromatic with persistent fruit flavors. Wonderful wine, still early in its development. The varietal components are brought together two years after the harvest; the resulting blend is then placed back in cement tanks before being bottled 12 months later. Each wine is blended to reflect the character of the vintage. After 4 years’ bottle maturation in the stone cellars of Chateau Musar, the finished wines are released a full seven years after the harvest. All the grapes are hand-harvested by local Bedouins between August and October. The CM 2009 has been rated consistently at 91 plus. One rater claimed that it would still grow further over time, I wonder. This is an expensive wine, let’s see whether it passes muster.  The Chateau Musar vineyards are in the Bekaa Valley, cradled between two snow-capped mountain ranges running parallel to Lebanon’s Mediterranean coastline. The valley is nestled at 3,000 feet, sports 300 days of sunshine a year, fresh mountain breezes and an average temperature of 25°C.


2013 Oekuegoezue – Bogazkere, Kayra Buzbag Rezerv, Anatolia, Turkey 

The Wine: Tasting Notes.  Kayra wines are being exported internationally, where they have been acclaimed for their quality, value and use of indigenous grape varieties.  As to terroir, Turkey has vast and differentiated soil structures and climatic attitudes, some more suited than others for the growing of grapes that make quality wines. It is said that Eastern Turkey is good for only three things: grape growing, goats and rock farming. Well, good use has been made of growing grapes. While there are thousands of acres under cultivation, only five percent of the grape harvest is used for wine production. Most of the yield is sold fresh or dried. After California, Turkey is the world’s largest producer of raisins.

The Bogazkere region, origin of one of the grapes used in the Turkish wine presented, is known for poor soils and a hot climate with high day‐night temperatures and cold nights. Yet, ingenious and dedicated growers have coaxed out a variety that deserves attention. Öküzgözü, the other blend, is also found only in Turkey.  While Bogazkere makes dark, strong and tannic wines, Öküzgözü gives fruit and floral aromas.  Today’s wine making in Turkey, together with other facets of Turkish life, owes much to Kema Atatürk. He launched a research program into Turkish wine, giving two French viticulturists the task of studying Turkey’s indigenous grapes and wine regions and establishing the regional suitability of grapes. Turkish wines moved up in quality and won a series of gold medals in international competition.

Now, the Turkish government has moved the momentum in reverse by banning advertising and curtailing tightly the consumption of wine.  The industry is suffering with exports essentially the only way out.


2011 Carmenere, Primus, Colchagua Valley, Chile

The Wine: Tasting Notes:  Begins with deep carmine red color in the glass. On the nose, the notes of plum and blackberry mingle invitingly with hints of exotic spice. Fresh and delicate flavors of cherry and plum are complemented by a touch of spice and so notes of dried figs. This is wine is well balanced with mouthwatering acidity and rounded tannins.





  1. The scores on the identification of the wines tasted mirrored a random distribution, i.e. it did not show tasters’ ability to actually match their perception with the actual wines.  This extended to the Chilean Primus ‘challenger’, which was presumed to stand apart from the endogenous varietals.
  2. The distribution of scores was more disperse than those of VN’s tasting of ‘traditional’ wines and the average, except for the Kayra Buzbag but including the Primus, significantly lower.
  3. While none of the wines in the tasting would qualify as a first rate selection to accompany a meal or to be enjoyed as a stand alone, it was felt that the Kayra Buzbag and the Kondoli would offer an interesting  option to taste with friends ‘exotic’ wines from the birth place of wine making.
  4. The relative ratings came as a surprise. The Turkish Kayra  Buzbag Reserve scored highest by far. Following secondary opinions, the presenter had expected a low score. The selection from the generally well regarded Bulgarian wines came in last and the  highly acclaimed Lebanon Chateau Muscar (blend one third each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Carignan) came in second lowest, making for the highest priced lowest quality wine.
  5. The Chilean Primus was not a real challenger. It came in a clear second to the Kayra Buzbag and merely a notch ahead of the  Georgia Kondoli.
  6. Participants generally felt that the Kayra Buzbag was the best, and all things considered, a generally good buy. Using a simple linear metric of dividing the price of the wine by scoring points (from mediocre = 1 to exceptional=6) gave top rating to the Georgia Kondoli with a 6.7 score followed by the Kayra Buzbag and the Primus with 6.3 each.

View full evaluation here: Summary of Tasting Scores 62

Best Rated: 2013 Oekuegoezue – Bogazkere, Kayra Buzbag Rezerv, Anatolia, Turkey

Best Buy: 2011 Carmenere, Primus, Colchagua Valley, Chile


By Peter Scherer

We are creatures of customs and habits of acquired tastes.  We know how to navigate among Old and New World wines.  Our palate has been trained on the Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Pinot Noirs, Shyras and the likes. These are the varietals that have gotten traction over native grapes in the Near Eastin recent years. Countries want to do business, they need to export. This implies adjustment to the tastes of the client. It means transplanting commercial varietals and adopting Western production methods. Virtually all viticulturalists and enologists of leading wine exporters in the Near East hail from premier Western wine academies. ​

While progress has been made in all countries, at different speeds with Bulgaria possibly leading the pack, they still lag far behind the established Old and New World producers.  Prices are very competitive, but the quality is not, yet. This is changing with the inflow of foreign ownership, capital and expertise, and the rigorous international training of domestic wine makers.

I had a basic choice between indigenous and popular Western varietals. The latter would have allowed to benchmark Near East producers against their export market competition — and to confirm that they are not yet there. Therefore, I chose the former with the exception of the Lebanese ​Chateau Musar, generally acclaimed as the standard setter for fine Near East wine making. The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan.

Modern production methods, quality controls, sanitary requirements and research have been focused initially on Western varietals but are now increasingly applied also to indigenous grapes. In a way, tasting them is a journey into the past, an attitude to open the palate to different tastes. It reminds me of the experience listening to the recent festival at the Warner of the Qawwli Masters from Pakistan. In the beginning, I did not like the music and singing at all. My Wagner vibes revolted. Yet, I warmed up as I started to differentiate nuances and even found rhythmic similarities with rock music. Certainly not every day but once in a blue moon I would look forward to listening again.

In a way I hope something similar would happen to you during the event. First of course, you would enrich the gamut of your tasting experience with genuine Near East varietals prompted to add some sprinkle of not only a Bulgarian Cabernet but also its native Gamza, which you will have tried during the tasting. The real delight is discovering the individuality a country’s wines offer. But be prepared, some will have a rustic taste to them.

The sample of wines includes an outlier – a “challenger”. I chose a Chilean Carmenere to test whether the Near Eastern wines indeed taste differently from the Old and New World wines and whether we can, well, differentiate nuances.