14 Jan 2011

Wines of Lebanon 1

Lebanon is where I am right now. I have forgotten my camera-to-computer link, so no pictures yet, and just a very short story about the wines I am tasting and some of the places I have visited so far.

Lebanese wines go back a very long way in time. In fact one of the earliest wines whose origins were fairly precisely situated was Lebanese, since one of the wine amphoras found in a pharaoh's tomb in the Valley of Kings in Upper Egypt bears a mark saying something like this: "Black wine from the Mount Lebanon", adding a date and somebody's name. And this was about 1700 BC!

Since then wine has come and gone from this ancient region inhabited at the time by the Phoenicians, who were instrumental in spreading wine all around the Mediterranean. It was more or less wiped out by the muslims, but has hung on through the Christian minority and, since the end of the civil war, has gradually gained momentum again, to the point that there are currently about 35 wineries, of very variable sizes, operating in various parts of the country. About 90% of the production comes from the vast Bekaa Valley, which lies inland, behind a high mountain range, at around 900 meters above sea level. Here are the vineyards (and sometimes the cellars) all the main producers, whose wines are to be found on major export markets. These are Kefraya, Ksara and Musar. But there are many new wineries that have opened in the past ten years or so. Many are of very high quality.

I did an extensive tasting of Lebanese wines a couple of days ago and was very impressed with the reds (less so with the whites). I will be telling you in detail about these in a short while. For the moment, here are a few of my favourites from my tasting. The top wines for me are in bold type.

Château Musar 2001
Hochar Père et Fils 2004 (also from Musar)
Château Khoury, Symphonie 2004
Château Bellevue, La Renaissance 2005
Wardy Private Selection 2005
Château de Botrys, Château des Anges 2007
Domaine de Baal 2007
Domaine des Tourelles, Syrah du Liban 2007
Domaine de Tourelles, Marquis de Beys 2008
Massaya Gold Reserve 2008
Château Marsyas 2008

For the moment, I have been visiting wineries not in the Bekaa Valley, but in the coastal-influenced region north of Beirut, inland of Batroun. Tomorrow I head for the Bekaa for 2 days. More on this soon.

To read more about this and some conclusions from this tasting, you might look at my more recent posting, Wine of Lebanon 2


  1. David, can you explain why it is THE Lebanon (and also the Crimea and a few others) but just Japan, Switzerland, Argentina without an article? Manu Chao also sings about “ ... en EL Japon” and we have the same in Flemish, where one talks of DE Kongo (and incidently, also DE Limburg) whilst most other country names don’t take an article.
    Similarly, the French go “en Arles” or “en Avignon” but à Paris or à Brest. I’ve been told places that used to be the fief of an earl, a duke or a prince were treated that way, but it doesn’t hold true.

  2. This post to welcome you back from the Lebanon ... and a gentle allusion to your screw-cap issue as well.
    With a dish of free-range Guinea-fowl and pumpkin-stew, I opened my – last, I’m afraid – bottle of Château Musar 1979 at lunch-time. It was purchased from the “Savour Club” in Brussels, together with a few other vintages (a kind of “kit”), in the early ‘80ies and always stored in excellent conditions. It took me a good 5 minutes to extract the cork (rotten to the very edge) and the level was rather low (just above the shoulder). Strangely, the remnant of the cork had “sunk” into the lower part of the neck, as if “aspirated” by a vacuum in the bottle (???). Never seen that in my life. Therefore, there wasn’t so much free space between the liquid surface and the obturation.
    I decanted the wine for half an hour in a very wide bowl-shaped vessel. Originally, it was almost orange, but the colour darkened after 15 min (this is known to happen, as some dyes are very sensitive to the redox-status). Some volatile components (31 years !) just vanished (good boys) and the wine showed ... marvelously afterwards.
    All in all an excellent bottle, that took a while to recover. My guess (I cannot prove it) is it would have been even better with a screw-cap.
    At this stage, one must remind the readers that the late evolution of the tannins towards something softer and mellow, which I want to see happen, of course, is a process of polymerisation, not (or very little so) of oxidation! Time is of the essence, not the presence of air. On the contrary, the disappearance of “acetate-like” esthers (or otherwise), which will almost inevitably be formed during the process of aging, is encouraged by decanting the wine for a while after opening it. So, the message could be: a long lie to mature, a short “shake-up” to revitalize prior to drinking.

  3. Luc, thanks for the welcome but I am still in the Lebanon until Tuesday. No idea why this country has an article attached. Interesting point. I tasted several older vintages of Musar and am bringing back a 1975 white with me. Want to share it? Quite agree that the screwcap would do a better job on these amazing wines.

  4. I have never heard Lebanon prefaced with the word "the" and I am Lebanese... I believe "the Lebanon" sounds very colonial in nature.. Fortunately/unfortunately Lebanon was never a colony of any country...

  5. I have no rational explanation for the fact that I have always heard this country referred to as "the" Lebanon. I know that this is now unfashionable since most documents appear to leave out the definite article, but it is a fact. It certainly has nothing to do with any kind of "colonial" attitude. Possibly it has something to do with the fact that this country has not been united for a very long time, and the term was therefore used to describe a region hitherto under separate forms of government. To return to the colonial issue that you raise, if one looks at the cases of former British colonies for example, I can think of none which use an article in front of their names. The only cases that I can think of which may take an article on occasions are archipelagos such as Fidji, but even then this is reserved for geographical descriptions (as in "The Fidji Islands"). I would have taken the use of the definite article attached to Lebanon as a sign of distinction: the only country whose name includes an article! I find that saying just "Lebanon" sounds slightly naked, or shorthand. I hope you are not offended.

  6. Do read our post http://bit.ly/fOjSZE on the whole "family" of Chateau Musar wines

  7. I have read your post (on Sediment blog) and tend to agree with much of what you say about Musar and the Hochar range. I will be going into more detail of my recent experiences in Lebanon (I am trying to drop the article, having been taken to task by a correspondent who should know.)