Lebanon is among the oldest sites of wine production in the world. The Phoenicians of the coastal strip were instrumental in spreading wine and viticulture throughout the Mediterranean in ancient times. For this reason, Lebanon is included as an ‘old world’ wine producer along with the wine nations of Europe.
Despite the many conflicts in the region, Lebanon manages to produce about 8,500,000 bottles of wine each year. The majority of this wine comes from the Bekaa Valley, which produces some wonderful red wines.
One of the best known labels internationally is Chateau Musar, which is renowned for its bordeaux-like structure. This winery has been creating international attention since the 1970s. For a long time, Musar was a lone success; but since the mid-2000s new winemakers have started to emerge. These new producers are creating a style they feel is more “Lebanese”, with less European influence. Using different grape varieties and techniques they are creating wines with a definitive sense of place.
Chateau Kefraya’s oaked Bordeaux-blended red and Ksara’s dry rosé are great examples of the new producers as well as Massaya, a serious red wine enterprise backed by top quality St-Émilion and Châteauneuf expertise. Other up and coming ventures include Chateaux Belle-Vue, Khoury, St Thomas and Domaines de Baal, des Tourelles and Wardy.
One member of the new breed of vintner is the head of Domaine des Tourelles, Faouzi Issa. He is a Château Margaux–trained winemaker who believes the future of Lebanese wine lies not with Cabernet, but with the Lebanese Cinsaut grape. The floral, slightly spicy Cinsaut tastes like Pinot Noir.
Other producers are championing native varietals such as Merwah and Obaideh. Château Ksara launched its first 100 percent Merwah in 2017; a single-vineyard white with notes of citrus and melon. Château Kefraya has gone further, testing a dozen native grapes including Assali el Arous, Inab el Mir and Assouad Karech, as well as aging the wines in amphorae, which is a tall ancient Greek or Roman jar with two handles and a narrow neck, in recognition of the grapes’ Phoenician heritage.
Naji and Jill Boutros returned home from work careers in London to begin producing wine in Bhamdoun, the small mountain village where Naji was raised. Today their winery, Chateau Belle-Vue, supplies its reds to Michelin-starred restaurants in London and Chicago. And it has breathed new life into a community that has been decimated by war.
In Canada we are fortunate enough to have Lebanese wines occasionally available in the Vintages Section of the local liquor stores. I’d suggest they’re worth giving a try.