Lebanese wine

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Map of Lebanon

Lebanon is among the oldest sites of wine production in the world.[1] The Israelite prophet Hosea (780–725 BC) is said to have urged his followers to return to Yahweh so that "they will blossom as the vine, [and] their fragrance will be like the wine of Lebanon".[2] The Phoenicians of its coastal strip were instrumental in spreading wine and viticulture throughout the Mediterranean in ancient times. Despite the many conflicts of the region, the country has an annual production of about 600,000 cases of wine. Recently the sector has been witnessing an unprecedented growth. The number of wineries went from 5 in 1998 to over 30 nowadays.

History[edit]

Vitis vinifera evidence from ancient Rome shows wine was cultivated and then domesticated in Lebanon, at least two thousand years before Alexander the Great. While some people believe it arrived from the South Caucasus via Mesopotamia or the Black Sea trade routes there is no record to support such a claim.[dubious ] Vines grew readily in the land of Canaan, the coastal strip of today's Lebanon, and the wines of Byblos (Gubla, Gebal, Jubail, Jbeil) were exported to Egypt during the Old Kingdom (2686 BC–2134 BC). The wines of Tyre and Sidon were famous throughout the ancient Mediterranean, although not all the cargoes reached their destination; Robert Ballard of Titanic fame found the wrecks of two Phoenician ships from 750 BC, whose cargo of wine was still intact.[3] As the first great traders of wine ('Cherem'), the Phoenicians seem to have protected it from oxidation with a layer of olive oil, followed by a seal of pinewood and resin - this may well be the origin of the Greek taste for retsina. The philosophers Zeno of Citium and Chrysippus of Soli are both said to have enjoyed their wine, in fact the latter died from overindulgence.

Wine played an important part in Phoenician religion, and the Greek/Roman god Dionysus/Bacchus may have originated in the wine rituals of Canaan. Certainly the great temple at Heliopolis (Baalbek) has many depictions of vines and winedrinking, most famously captured by David Roberts in pictures such as 'Baalbec - Ruins of the Temple of Bacchus'.[4][5] Such rituals may also have influenced the Greek Bacchae, the Jewish Passover Seder feast and the Christian Eucharist. The Bacchus tempe in Baalbek outlines the instrumental role that the Phoenician played in the development of the Ancient World around the Mediterranean sea.[6] thru the widespread peaceful settlements that reached Spain. Genesis 14:18 mentions that the Phoenician King Melchizedek gave bread and wine (yayin) to Abraham, and Hosea 14:8 suggests "his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon". Wine also featured heavily in Ugaritic poetry such as the Rapiuma :

"Day long they pour the wine, ... must-wine, fit for rulers. Wine, sweet and abundant, Select wine... The choice wine of Lebanon, Most nurtured by El."[citation needed]

Once Lebanon became part of the Caliphate, wine production declined, although under the millet system it was tolerated among the Christian population for religious purposes. The Christians also developed Arak, an ouzo-like spirit flavored with aniseed.

Winemaking was revived in 1857, when Jesuits planted Cinsaut vines from Algeria at Chateau Ksara near Zahlé in the central Beqaa Valley.[7] In 1868 a French engineer, Eugène François Brun, set up Domaine des Tourelles, and others followed, notably Gaston Hochar's Chateau Musar in 1930.

The French influence between the World Wars promoted a culture of wine drinking, as did the sophisticated Mediterranean culture of Beirut at that time.

Frenchman Yves Morard of Chateau Kefraya was arrested as a spy during the Israeli invasion, and was only released when he proved to the Israelis that he knew how to make wine.[8]

The end of the conflict in the 1990s brought a new momentum to the viticulture and we could track the renaissance of the Lebanese wines to the set up of Domaine Wardy in 1997 and Massaya in 1998 that marked the active involvement of French wine dynasties in the Bekaa Valley. Back then, the number of producers was around 5 and at present more than 35 wineries are active in Lebanon.

The 2006 conflict, did not really change the trend even if some wineries were on the edge of missing the harvest (Ksara) and got collateral damages (Massaya). However, the media coverage translated into surge in demand during the fighting as British buyers in particular bought Lebanese wine as a mark of solidarity.[9]

Grape Varieties[edit]

Wine producing areas in Lebanon (red)

Lebanese winemakers have favored French grapes, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Rhone varietals such as Cinsaut, Carignan and Grenache. However, Lebanon has a rich heritage of indigenous grapes which are attracting more attention: Musar White is made from a blend of Obeideh and Merwah; Domaine Wardy's Clos Blanc is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Muscat, and the iconic indigenous Obeideh.

Wineries[edit]

All the major wineries have their vineyards in the southern Beqaa Valley. Chateau Ksara remains much the biggest, with 70% of all the country's production.[10] It is no longer connected with the Jesuit house of Tanail, it was sold in 1972 and suffered considerably during the civil war, but has now bounced back with reds and rosés made from Rhone varietals such as Carignan and Cinsaut.

Next biggest is Château Kefraya, whose majority of shares were bought by Druze politician Walid Jumblat from the De Bustros family in the late 1980s. The former winemaker, Yves Morard, has now set up Cave Kouroum nearby.

Chateau Musar is perhaps the best known in the West, it was a particular favourite of Auberon Waugh. Musar achieved international recognition at the Bristol Wine Fair of 1979 [11] and for a long time was the only Lebanese wine widely available in the United Kingdom. The second wine, 'Hochar', is made in a lighter style for earlier drinking. Chateau Musar is known for transporting the grapes across the Front line during the civil war.

Run by Ramzi and Sami Ghosn, Massaya is a boutique winery that marked a turning point because of the financial involvement of French wine dynasties (Vieux Telegraphe and Cheval Blanc) and quick international market success. Indeed the features on CNN, BBC, Travel Channel, TV5... and in the New York Times, Decanter... are bolstering Lebanon's leading position in the Ancient World Wine category. Beside the Gold Reserve, Massaya is reputed for its Vineyard restaurant and the hospitality of its tasting room.[11]

Domaine Wardy has roots that date back to 1891.[12] Domaine Wardy is the first winemaker to cultivate vines at an altitude of 1,100 and 1,400 meters and the first in Lebanon to produce single variety wine. Domaine Wardy is renowned for its high-quality wine, including its aromatic whites and strong bodied reds, earning it prestigious international awards and mentions.

Among the wineries, one can mention Chateau Marsyas, the Johnny Saade's family-owned estate, who is being advised by international consultant Stephane Derenoncourt.

There are several other significant wineries, including Karam Winery [13] the first wine to be produced in Lebanon's southern region, specifically in Jezzine. Domaine de Baal, Château Héritage, Château Faqra, Château Nakad in Jdita, Domaine des Tourelles (who make Brun arak), Clos Saint Thomas, Cave Kouroum, Clos de Cana, Nabise Mont Liban, Château Qanafar, Château Khoury and Couvent St. Sauveur.

IXSIR wine inspired renowned French wine critic Jean-Marc Quarin [14] to award it “the best grade I have ever given to a Lebanese wine” at Bordeaux’s infamous La Semaine des Primeurs 09.

Currently the sector exports over 50% of the production mainly to the United Kingdom, France and the United States.

References[edit]

  1. ^ McGovern, Patrick E. 2003. Ancient wine: the search for the origins of viniculture. Princeton University Press
  2. ^ quoted from McGovern, Patrick E. 2003. op. cit., p. 202
  3. ^ MIT technology helps map ancient Phoenician shipwrecks MIT press release
  4. ^ Baalbec - Ruins of the Temple of Bacchus Liverpool Museums
  5. ^ Roberts prints of Baalbek Medina Arts
  6. ^ The origins of wine and wine making
  7. ^ Scruton, Roger Roger Scruton falls for Lebanese wine New Statesman 13th March 2006
  8. ^ Kassman, L Lebanon's Wine Industry: New Face for Country Once Known for War Voice of America, 2 December 2004
  9. ^ Adrian Blomfield and Ramsay Short Women rescue Lebanon's wine after fighting threatens to ruin harvest Daily Telegraph, 25 August 2006
  10. ^ Speetjens, Peter Lebanese wine looks to make a comeback Communicate October 2005
  11. ^ a b A Reason interview with Lebanese wine writer Michael Karam www.reason.com
  12. ^ Domaine Wardy Website, http://www.domainewardy.com
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ Jean-Marc Quarin Le guide independant de l'amateur de vins de Bordeaux [2]

External links[edit]