When it comes to wine Lebanon has a history that extends back almost six thousand years. The land and climate was friendly to viticulture and it was peopled by Phoenicians who were renown principally for their wide travel and trading. They were shipping wine to Egypt two thousand years before Christ. Modern vineyards and winemaking received fresh stimulus when the French arrived in the country during the last half of the 19th century. First by Jesuit monks and then by French vintners. When we decided to explore wines from Lebanon we visited Phoenicia Restaurant in Glendale where Ara Kalfayan shows award winning Lebanese cuisine. It also features a huge wine list that prominently features wines from all over the world and some from Lebanon that are exclusive to Phoenicia. Ara gave us free reign to explore his wine cellar and seek out some of the classic vintages from that country. Chateau Kefraya is produced in the Bakaa Valley just 18 miles from Cana where the Bible tells us Jesus turned water into wine. Chateau Ksara makes French styled blends and the winery dates back to 1857. Chateau Fakra offers red wines from the Kfardebvian Valley north of Beirut. Another Bakaa Valley winery is Domaine Wardy. Most of the red wines are blends of classic French varietals like Cinsault, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cabernet Sauviginon. Cave Kouroum features wine blends of Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Syrah. Chateau Ksara also offers a white wine blanc de blanc of Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Semillon In the last two decades the number of wineries in Lebanon have expanded dramatically. Most vintners are using French varietals but still to be found are some of the original varietals like Obaideh and Merwah.
Our explorations of Ara's wine cellar complete we settled down to eat with a throng of other diners. We opened with appetizers that included Hommos; Labni, Lebanese cream cheese served with garlic; Warak Enab, grape leaves stuffed with rice, oil and vegetables, cooked in lemon juice and olive oil, and Tabbouleh, chopped parsley, crushed wheat, tomatoes and onions. Some hot appetizers we tasted included Kibbeh Makli, beef dumpling stuffed with ground beef; Bourghoul , onions and pine nuts as well as San Bousek, freshly prepared dough with ground beef and pine nuts and Rekakat, a selection of Lebanese cheese baked in a pastry dough. With the cold appetizers we had the Chateau Kefraya Comte de M, a French chateau style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre and Syrah aged 16 months in French Oak. It was a very good wine, hearty yet smooth and with a long finish. With the hot appetizers a Chateau Ksara 2004 Reserve Du Couvert which was a blend ofSyrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This winery dates back to 1857. Our samplers of grill selections included Beef Kafta, ground beef, onions, parsley and spices, grilled on skewers. This is one of our favorites and arrived with lamb chops marinated with spices and grilled. Also chicken breast kabob, perfectly prepared rice and the best french fries we have had in a long time. Here we had a most unusual wine, Massaga 2003, a Rhone styled blend, also from the Bahaa Valley, a blend of Censaulis, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre. Mellow and with a hint of sweetness it was a welcome companion to the meats. This is a restaurant where everything is done well and most professionally. Phoenicia is located at 343 North Central Avenue in Glendale with off street parking. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. except on weekends there is live entertainment with a 2 a.m. closing time. For more information or reservations call 818 956-7800.
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