Enjoying wines from one of oldest vine cultures in the world.
Lebanon is perhaps the oldest of the Old World countries, nestled at the eastern extremity of the Mediterranean, bordered by Syria to the north and east, and Israel to the south. Scholars are confident that the early Lebanese created the vine and viticulture around 7000BC in the region, though it was between 3000BC and 330BC that Phoenicia made the region’s wines notable through their export to Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and Rome as well as what is now Sardinia and Spain. The wine was so revered as to be immortalised in the hieroglyphs of Egyptian tombs.
Lebanon produces around 8 million bottles per year, the majority of which comes from the Western Bekaa Valley and the hills above Zahle, but some producers are now experimenting with new terroir – notably in Batroun and Jezzine, as well as areas in the Eastern Bekaa. There are nearly 40 wineries in Lebanon using over 25 different international and local grape varieties in just over 2,000 hectares.
In terms of grapes, Obeideh and Merwah (both white) are the two most common indigenous varietals, and are most famously used in the long-lived Chateau Musar whites as well as for arak. The first foreign varietals were imported by the Jesuit missionaries of Ksara, who planted the southern French varieties of Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache, Clairette and Ugni Blanc. In the 1990’s, producers with foresight such as Ksara began planting other international varieties, beginning with the mainstream Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot, which are now used in the majority of quality blends. Popular white varieties – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon – were planted around the same time. More recent arrivals include Tempranillo, Viognier and Verdelho. Many producers are now more or less organic (most are in the three-year process of certification), having been blessed with one of the most conducive climates in the world.
The largest winery – Chateau Ksara – accounts for approximately 70% of the country’s annual output of wines and uses the latest techniques in its modern winery in the Bekaa Valley. Founded in 1857 by Jesuit monks, it is considered the oldest commercial winery in the country. The next largest winery is Chateau Kefraya though their wines are harder to find. Chateau Musar is perhaps the most well known producer outside of the Lebanon and was founded in 1930. There are several other significant wineries including Massaya, Domaine Wardy, Chateau Marsyas, Karam Winery (notable for being the first winery in Lebanon’s southern region), Chateau Heritage, and more recently Chateau Khoury and IXSIR who inspired renowned French wine critic Jean-Marc Quarin to award it “the best grade I have ever given to a Lebanese wine” at Bordeaux’s infamous La Semaine des Primeurs 2009.
We stock a wide range of wines from several of the producers in Lebanon including Musar, Marsyas, Heritage, IXSIR and Ksara and we are always happy to guide you on your discovery of this diverse wine producing region.