Syria: A peek into Wine Regions

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Probably the World’s Most Dangerous Wines

In 63 BC, the Romans defeated King Mithridates VI, putting an end to the Seleucid dynasty. Syria was occupied, and the Romans took possession of a fertile land. Towns such as Palmyra, Antioch, Damascus and Emesa served as centres for trade between Rome and the Middle East, their caravans heading for Arabia and the Silk Road.

The vine meanwhile was already established, and no centurion set forth without a bit of salt and several vine seedlings in his bag. The Romans had planted vines right across the Empire, and they would do the same in Syria at the foot of Mount Bargylus, known today by the name of Jebel Al-Ansariyé.

The Roman winegrowers had vision, and they established a fabulous terroir. But when they left, followed by the Byzantines, the vine lost its patron and only several monasteries from the time of the Crusades still produced wine.

History

In 1928, a peasant discovered a tombstone close to Lattaquie, which in turn revealed the site of Ougarit, known today as Ras Chamra. This ancient Levantine city had given its name to a kingdom that was the link between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, the Hittite empire and Egypt. Cultivated and open to the world, this society produced an uncommonlyrich civilisation, confirmed by the discovery here of one of the world’s first cuneiform alphabets.

Ougarit’s economy was essentially agricultural, centred on cereal crops, olives and vines. In his book “Ougarit and the great powers”, historian Michael Astour tells that “the slopes of Mount Bargylus were covered with vineyards and olive groves.

In this fertile maritime Syria with its temperate climate, Phoenicians and Romans found what they needed to create a cradle for the civilisation of wine. From Ougarit in the north and further south from Laodicea (today Lattaquie) wines were exported to Egypt, Greece and Rome. As the ancient Greek geographer Strabo wrote: “Laodicea supplied Alexandria with the larger part of the wine it consumed.” (Geography, Vol V, Book XVI).

On the tree-lined Bargylus peaks, there remains one visible vestige of this ancient vine-growing enterprise. At the foot of a levelled mound are fermentation tanks dug out of the limestone rock by the Romans.

Domaine de Bargylus is the Johnny R. Saadé family’s project to revive this vineyard that was planted by the Romans 2000 years ago – to honour this ancient terroir and create a great wine.

Respect for nature, ambition and passion are all plainly evident here. The project commenced in 2004.

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