Chateau Qanafar Boutique Winery: Big, Rich, Well-Crafted Lebanese Wines

Nelida Nassar  11.05.2014

Driving to Chateau Qanafar through the magnificent Bekaa Valley, where several of the more established Lebanese wineries make their home, is glorious. Leaving the Damascus Road behind, you pass village after village dotting the wide and luscious plain on both sides. The road is marked by blooming red poppies. Elegant wineries grow fewer, the sky seems to stretch and you feel closer to it: the place feels forgotten until you reach the end of the plain where the land tightens and funnels into view of the Qaraoun’s lake and dam.

Having reached the village of Khirbat Qanafar and the Johann Ludwig Schneller German School, the road continues to serpent through rolling hills of vineyards until it reaches the winery of Qanafar at the height of 1,250 meters. Nestled on the eastern flank of the Barouk Cedars mountain chain, the winery has a sprawling 360-degree view of the entire western side of the valley and the mountains beyond as far back as Jabal El Sheikh. The vineyards’ unique site, encompassing more than 17 hectares of farmland, is home to soft curves of Cabernet Sauvignon vines, red berry and redcurrant leaf which fragrance the Cabernet Franc, joyful Syrah, balanced and crisp Tempranillo, as well as fresh Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. The valley floor welcomes the Merlot’s plum and prune flavors which tend towards truffle.

Our hosts, Colette and George Naim and their winemaker son Eddy generously impart their love and infectious enthusiasm for their ancestral land. Eddy joined the enterprise in 2009 after a successful career in management consulting. George’s grandfather had settled in this village and planted vines for table consumption. Though Chateau Qanafar only made its first wine in 2005 – a new retirement hobby for George on one hectare of land – the western Bekaa region has some of the best grapes and oldest vineyards on the plateau – great, gnarled vines thought to have been planted in the 1850s.

Chateau Qanafar produces three wines: Chateau, Paradis and Blanc and is about to introduce a fourth one. Eddy explains, “The soil, primarily clayey and limestone is a highly desirable combination which helps water retention in dry weather and provides high porosity in heavy rain periods. It also delays berry maturation (ideal for Lebanon’s climate!). The domain produces a natural wine without modifying the grapes’ attributes (no adjustments in acidity, sugar, tannin, etc. with oenological products), while using a minimal amount of sulfites. It doesn’t try to replicate the same organoleptic profile of its wines year after year, only its quality. The blend, if necessary, is changed to maintain the same quality level.”

There is definitely a particular flavor to the wines up here. They are broader and less edgy than reds from further east. Black coal-dust and black (as opposed to red) berries, but with a more open feel, come to mind. If I were looking for a Lebanese wine to unite both left (Comte de M of Kefraya) and right bank fans (Chateau Khoury and Marsyas), it is to Chateau Qanafar I’d look.

I had the opportunity to taste six vintages (directly from the oak barrels), along with some of the domain’s white wine, during the visit. Chateau Qanafar could be described as a balance between finesse and structure. Though it can be austere in its youth, it is the epitome of perfume and great intensity when it matures. In great years it has a seamless quality where the flavors and intensity build to a kaleidoscopic finish. For the most part, this tasting of the unfined and unfiltered Chateau – 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 – showed these traits, with the character of the vintage superimposed.

My favorite was the year 2009, with its mouth-filling black cherry, black currant, earthy and alkaline flavors coming after a complex bouquet of black cherry, rose and clay. Classy and long, with a texture of raw silk, it was the darkest in color of the group, as well as the most dense and tannic. I was torn between the 2010 and 2011. The former, which was awarded a gold medal by Gilbert et Gaillard in France, revealed floral top notes, dried fruit and spice bouquet with a chalk underpinning, silky texture and seamless profile. The 2011, received 93/100 from Gilbert et Gaillard, 92/100 from the Ultimate Wine Challenge in New York and also 90-94 from Decanter in Hong Kong was beginning to hit its stride, offering mint, decaying sweet berry and cherry, with a slight vegetal note.

Paradis of Qanafar, the winery’s second wine, is primarily aged in stainless steel tanks. It doesn’t benefit from barrel-aging, which naturally stabilizes the wine through micro-oxygenation and the ellagic tannins coming from the oak. It’s a wine that is meant to be enjoyed sooner, thus filtration becomes necessary. Each year, several varieties of grape are combined in small batches to complete the assemblage. They help discover new wines that require 3 to 4 years’ time and patience to mature.

The common thread among these wines is breeding, refinement and length on the palate. I tasted from youngest to oldest, then back again several minutes later. The wines were so silky and supple it wasn’t until this second pass in reverse order that the tannins emerged.

Over lunch, at the delicious Seven Springs (Sabeah Ouyoune) restaurant, we re-sampled the 2009, 2011 Chateau and the Blanc de Qanafar. The latter wine exuded captivating aromas of cassis and acacia, leaning towards notes of peony in a rich yet elegant frame. It was long and showed intensity, an innate sense of power and mettle. In fact, all three wines enhanced the savory Lebanese mezze dishes as well as grilled birds, meat and fried frog legs.

As a whole, the wines have a sumptuous quality often found in great vintages, but at far more affordable prices. Chateau Qanafar is a potentially elite wine from a great terroir that is very well-priced. What is reassuring to see is that the Naim family and their team are upholding their patrimony, planning a state-of-the-art tasting room and gourmet restaurant. But foremost they are graciously sharing their elixir with amateurs and aficionados alike.

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20 thoughts on “Chateau Qanafar Boutique Winery: Big, Rich, Well-Crafted Lebanese Wines

  1. Eloquent article, Qanafar wines offer exceptional value and their Blanc is amazing. It can take on a number of personalities, from dry and mineral to tropical and vibrant. While there are several good producers, It is at the top of my list for the right balance of quality and value.

  2. For red, I open plenty of Chateau Qabafar. When I find something I love, I buy six bottles or a case, and Qanafar Chateau and Qanafar Blanc invite me to do so. One more thing: I’d open their wine every night. Why wait for the weekend or special occasions? Nice article.

  3. Qanafar winery is special with its local wines. It has probably unlike any sauvignon blanc you’ve had. A great winery with thoughtful owners, an absolute joy to discover.

  4. Qanafar Blanc is citrusy — think lemon and grapefruit — with crunchy green apple acidity and flavors that are accented by notes of apple blossom, it’s a juicy, crowd-pleasing wine. Though dry, it crackles with freshness — both taming spicy foods and standing up to all of the lemon, lime and vinegar we cook with. Love the article.

  5. For those who enjoy Sauvignon Blanc and Bordeaux-style blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Qanafar wines provides this well-known source of phenomenal values. With Qanafar wines, the world is your oyster. Cheers !!!

  6. Two from Qanafar winery are my favorites wines (Chateau for red and Blanc for white). Doesn’t get better — rich, round, iron-edged, sunny wines. The domain is beautiful as well, thank you for this lovely, inspiring article.

  7. Qanafar is a gem hiding in at the edge of the Bekaa region, although it brings something special to the table at a sensible price. With Qanafar reds, you will never go wrong with rich, ripe cabarnet and syrah which make elegant, structured wines. The bottom line is to be adventurous and why not try Qanafar Paradis to find if it is your next favorite.

  8. For my money, Qanafar Chateau 2011 is the best taste and value wines recently discovered at Vinifest. This winery is not trying to be something that it’s not, the owners are just being authentic. I want to drink the wines at the dinner table and on special occasions. I thank Vinifest for introducing me to this superior vineyard. A beautiful article that inspires me to visit the domain.

  9. Beautiful description fo Qanafar domain and wines. Whether the wines spend time in oak like the Qanafar Chateau or just stainless steel like the Paradis of Qanafar, these wines offer the complexity to easily compete with bottles more than two or three times their price. What are you waiting for to stock up your cellar.

  10. Qanafar reds are perennial bright, gulpable with alluring notes on the finish. Thank you Vinifest for letting me discover these fine wines that have become our home stapple. The Blanc is crisp and one of the best Lebanon’s offer.

  11. I’m so glad I read/heard about your winery. What a wonderful and rewarding project! This article make your wines inspiring. I’m planning to order some of them and any other products you have so please keep me posted. Namaste.

  12. Thank you for this awesome article. I am very impressed with Qanafar wines and has been since I discovered them two years ago. I have to say that it is an expression of the Naim family personal effort, emotion and thoughts. Very effective points about humanity, love, earth, environmental protection and… wine. Another point is that when I read the article it conveyed a very positive feeling and a sense of energetic atmosphere. So, keep going George, Colette and Eddy, it seems perfect!!! Thanks very much for passing over and sharing this positive signs of your both creative and spiritual efforts!

  13. I absolutely love Qanafar three wines. I drink them all year round. My favorite is the Chateau 2010. The added bonus of those is that they’re lower in tannin and almost no sulfite than most of the other Lebanese wines.

  14. So true – I completely agree with you on drinking Qanafar wines throughout the year! I like to buy a case or two of my favorites, so I always have them. Glad I discovered them few years back at Vinifest.

  15. Vinifest est le rendez-vous vinicole de l’annee a ne pas manquer pour decouvrir les vins du Liban et tout ce qui a autour, nous ne manquons jamais cette date. Grace au magnifique Vivifest nous avons eu l’occasion de decouvrir les delicieux vins de Qanafar. Effectivement ce sont des elixirs exceptionnels…

  16. Suis absolument d’accord, Vinifest nous a fait decouvrir les vins du Liban. Cet evenement devenu incontournable enrichit nos horizons avec toutes ses differentes activites et creativite. Les vins de Qanafar surtout le blanc sont delicieux et complexes que nous avons eu la chance de decouvrir grace a Vinifest. Prochaine etape visite du domaine a Khirbet Qanafar.

  17. well, i can not say nothing about this article except that i am proud to be from QANAFAR, this lovely village, and was not a surprise to read what was written about its wine… it is simply UNIQUE…

  18. The team of Chateau Qanafar. Colette, Eddy and I are enormously flattered and highly motivated with the comments we read above. We appreciate your appreciation of our wine, our area, West Beqaa and particularly our efforts in trying to carve perfection. Sometimes I ask myself why did I volunteer to enter into this challenging hobby which turned into a big project, but when I read feedback of this level of encouragement and motivation, I feel I did the right thing and venture to push into more dedication, determination and enthusiasm to go forward. Chateau Qanafar team are indebted to you all our supporters and friends for our achievements and are strongly committed to offer you more… You deserve the best!! .

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