Date: 19 January 2016
Location: Manhattan, New York
Wine: IXSIR 2012 EL Blanc
Cuisine: Modern Lebanese

Wine List: Ilili offers the most expansive list of Lebanese wines in the US. The owners’ ambition is to soon offer the largest list of Lebanese wines in the world. The selections are rounded out by a number of wines from the US, France, Italy and Spain, as well as a few other key regions. Perhaps the best news is that the wines are very kindly priced.

Pick: It’s hard to pair wines with dishes here – even using Ilili’s fairly large by-the-glass selections – thanks to the Lebanese tradition of family-style dining. Happily, this works just fine as each dish has lift and vibrance. It’s hard to find one that doesn’t work with most wines, especially unoaked ones.

We left the food choices to the house (a smart choice given the extensive menu and abundance of cool dishes to try). One pal is a winemaker in Austria’s Kamptal. He wanted to try something Lebanese, preferably a white. I quickly spotted the IXSIR EL Blanc, one of the most complex whites Lebanon offers. It’s a blend of 70% Viognier with 30% Chardonnay from seaside Batroun aged in oak, about one-third of it new. Its fresh herb top notes matched the parsley scattered through many dishes and its full body accommodated everything from Mouhamara (a walnut and sundried pepper mash eaten with pita) to succulent lamb entrées.