If you are a wine enthusiast eager to explore exotic flavours, Lebanese wines should be on your radar. In the heart of the Middle East, Lebanon is a country rich in history, culture, and, of course, wine. In this simple guide, we will take you on a journey through Lebanon’s wine regions, its terroir, grape varieties, evolving wine styles, and some fascinating facts about Lebanese wine.
So where exactly are Lebanon’s Wine Regions?
Image credit to WSET
Lebanon, a small but captivating country located on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, boasts several distinct wine regions. They include Mount Lebanon in the west (Metn and Aley), Jezzine in the south, Batroun in the north, and the renowned Bekaa Valley in the east. The vineyards here benefit from the Mediterranean climates and high altitudes, making Lebanon an excellent place for grape cultivation.
What is so special about Lebanon’s Terroir?
The region benefits from a Mediterranean climate, with long and hot summers featuring about 3200 hours of sunshine per year, followed by cool and rainy winters, which can bring snow to some areas.
Crucial factor for viticulture in this warm climate region is altitude. Vineyards situated at altitudes between 1,000 and 1,800 meters experience a distinctive diurnal temperature variation, creating the ideal conditions for grape growth and yield.
The rich in limestone and clay soil offer excellent drainage and contribute mineral qualities that make Lebanese wines stand out. This perfect combination of factors gives Lebanese wines their distinct flavour profile and potential for ageing.
French Influence on Lebanese Grape Varieties
The Lebanese wine industry’s history and development have been heavily influenced by the French since WWI. Back in the French colony period during the 19th and 20th centuries, they produced wines to satisfy both locals, the 30,000 French soldiers and officials stationed there.
The French influence extended to grape varieties and winemaking methods used, with over 25 different grape varieties thriving in the country’s 2,000 hectares of vineyards. These include commonly planted varietals such as Cinsault, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Mourvedre. They also contribute to the French-inspired style of Lebanese wines and grow well in Lebanon’s terroir.
So next time, perhaps swap your Cotes du Rhone or Bordeaux wines with Chateau Musar Red Blend from Bekaa Valley?
Indigenous Varietal: Obeideh and Merweh
In terms of whites, Obaideh and Merweh are the primary local varieties. These indigenous grapes lend a unique character to Lebanese wines, known for their complexity and capability to age gracefully in the cellar.
This varietal has a fascinating dual purpose. It is also used to make an aniseed-flavored liquor called Arak. When used in winemaking, Obaideh adds creamy and waxy textures with honeyed lemon notes.
A grape closely related to Semillon, is often blended with Obaideh. This aromatic varietal often adds honey and floral to the wine.
A Glimpse into Lebanon’s Wine History
Lebanon’s wine history is a tale that spans millennia. Ancient records indicate that wine production dates back to 5000 BC, making Lebanon one of the world’s oldest wine-producing regions. Despite enduring internal conflicts and civil wars until 1990, the Lebanese winemakers showed remarkable resilience. After the civil war ended in 1990, there were only five wineries namely Chateaux Musar, Ksara, Kefraya and Naked and Domaine des Tourelles. To date, this number has surged to nearly 80 wineries, signifying a renaissance in Lebanese winemaking.
Evolving Styles of Lebanese Wine
Initially famous for its red wines, Lebanon now offers whites and even skin-contact wines! Winemakers have adopted contemporary techniques and farming methods, leading to more refined and sustainable wines.
Sept Winery, in Batroun, is a shining example of this transformation. They are the first biodynamic producers in Lebanon bottling single varietal wines! They have embraced minimum intervention and spontaneous fermentation in their winemaking process. It allows the fruit and terroir to showcase their optimal and authentic flavours and aromas. Their dedication to sustainability and quality is reflected in their small production of quality wines.
5 Fascinating Facts about Lebanese Wine
- Production and Exports: Lebanon produces approximately 10.5 million bottles of wine annually, with around 50% exported to international markets.
- Global Appeal: The UK, France, and the US are the major markets for these Middle Eastern gems.
- Unique Terroir: 80% of Lebanese wines are grown and produced at 1000m+ above sea level.
- French Significance: Chateau Ksara in the Bekaa Valley was founded by a group of Jesuit monks when they brought in and planted Cinsault in 1857.
- Resilient winemakers: During the 1980s Lebanese Civil War, Gaston Hochar transported his grapes across the front lines that separated his vineyards and winery.
Lebanese wine offers a delightful journey through history, culture, and flavours. With its rich terroir, diverse grape varieties, and a newfound commitment to sustainable practices, Lebanon continues to emerge as a compelling wine region.
This Blog post is written by Sharon Wong
Consumer Sales and Marketing Manager of Wanderlust Wine
Sharon is the the driving force behind our website, wine club, marketing activities, and Wanderlust Wine events.