Bloomberg Lebanon Wines


Lebanon Needs You to Buy Its Wines. And, Yes, They’re Really Good Making wine here has never been easy. But with every bottle exported, a bit of hope and resilience follows the disaster in Beirut. By Elin Mc Coy

September 24, 2020, 9:30 AM GMT+3 Source:Vendors

Massive explosions rocked Beirut’s huge port last month, killing more than 200 people. The owners of Château Marsyas winery were injured in their commercial office just 600 meters away and crawled through debris from fallen walls and ceilings to escape. Two weeks later, they were harvesting grapes at their vineyards in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.That’s the kind of resilience winemakers have in this tiny country on the eastern Mediterranean coast, squeezed between Israel and Syria.The blast was the latest catastrophe in a year of multiple disasters: social unrest, a political crisis, economic collapse, and aCovid-19 lockdown.
Because of currency devaluation, explains Marc Hochar, whose family owns the country’s most famous estate, Château Musar, wineries can’t increase local prices enough to cover the higher prices they mustnow pay to import bottles, labels, corks, tractors, and moreand they can’t take money out of banks.“Exports,” saysElie Maamari of Château Ksara, a big winery, duringa tasting over Zoom, “are our salvation.”Will these disasters, just the latest in this country’s 6,000-year winemaking history, grab the world’s attention and translate into sales of its reds, whites, and rosés?I hope so.After sampling nearly 50 of them, I’m ready to tell you why you should become a fan. Some are better than others, but all are worth drinking, and most are bargains. Sadly, even the bestare not always easy to find.Here’s what you need to know.
Lebanon Wine Basics
Ixsir vineyardin Lebanon.Source: Ixsir
Rich, spicy, sensual reds are the country’s mainstay. They’re blends of familiar French grapes such assyrah, cabernet sauvignon, mourvedre, carignan, and cinsault. Rising star winemaker Faouzi Issa, of Domaine des Tourelles, bottles cinsault solo and calls it“the pinot noir of Lebanon.”Luscious rosés boast heady floral aromas and savory flavors. Among the most exciting whites are lush-textured viognier and native varieties obeideh and merwah, which Musar pioneered long before people appreciated them.Since the mid-2000s, talented young winemakers and boutique wineries have spurred experimentation and a vibrant wine scene. From five a couple of decades ago, the number of brands has grown to more than 50.After a finance career in London, Naji Boutros returned home to found Château Belle-Vue, whose organic wines are on Michelin-starred lists.One of the newest, Sept winery, hosts lunches and tastings in a garden with fabulous views.

Historic Château Kefraya has started aging wines in amphoras, a technique that harks back to the country’s earliest winemaking history. (Last week,NationalGeographicreportedthat archeologists had recently discovered a 2,600-year-old wine factory in the southern part of the country.)You can see French influence in the choice of grape varieties, first planted by 19th century missionaries in the Bekaa Valley, the wide, high plateau 30 miles east of Beirut that’s still the country’s prime region. Many estates have French partners or winemaking consultants. Ixsir collaborates with Hubert de Bouard of Château Angelus to create wines in the hilly Batroun district by the coast. The latest goal is to create wines that are more distinctly Lebanese.Making wine in this conflict-ridden zone has never been easy. Everyone has frightening stories ofwar and survival, including harvesting asbombs were falling. (A feature-length documentary on Lebanon,WineandWar,will be released in the U.S.on Oct. 2.)Legendary wine figure Serge Hochar of Château Musar, who died in 2014, made wine throughout the country’s15-year civil war. (His extraordinary tales are in a recently released book,ChâteauMusar.) Today, theconflict in Syria looms: Close to 1million refugees live in camps on the road from Beirut to historic Domaine des Tourelles. But winemakers are anxious to move beyond all that. They wishto let their wines speak the language of hope and the future. Sami Ghosn of Massaya emailed that the future of Lebanese wines has never been brighter. “We are on a mission to keep producing them and spreading the message of civility, tolerance, and identity from our Mediterranean shores to the world.”


Lebanese Wines Bottle-Buying GuideSource: Vendors2018ChâteauKsaraBlancdeBlancs($14)With floral aromas and mineral and fruit flavors, this lively blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and semillon from an historic winery reminds me of northern Italian whites. (Alsolook for the winery’snew white from native grape merwah.)2016IxsirAltitudesRouge($16)Founded in 2008, Ixsir boasts a stunning stone winery that’s one of the greenest buildings in the world, along with vineyards at 5,900 feet. Thewineshave a sophisticated touch; this bargain entry-level red is soft-textured and bright.2019MassayaRosé($17)An appealing savory rosé made from cinsault grapes, this has more oomph and fruit than Provence examples. Massaya, a joint venture of wine families from Lebanon, the Rhône Valley, and Bordeaux, also makes very good value reds, such asLe Colombier ($15).2015ChâteauKefraya($22)This silky cabernet and syrah-based estate blend is a big, rich mouthful of spice, earth, and dark fruit flavors. (Right now, it’s more appealing than the winery’s flagship Comte de M, which needs additional time to age.)


Domaine de Baal Le Petit Baalred ($23)

This pure, fruity, entry-level organic syrah-merlot blend comes from a boutique winery on the slopes of MountLebanon thatalso makes a stellar estate white blend.Source: Vendors2017DomainedesTourellesVieillesVignesCinsault($24)This bright, food-friendly red from 70-year-old vines has aromas of rose petalswith orange blossoms and wild cherry flavors.2019CouventRougeLebNatGold($32)Peter Weltman of Borderless Wine Alliance created Lebanon’s first naturally fizzy “pét-nats” with Couvent Rouge winery. I tend toward this fresh, intense white version, a blend of viognier and grenache blanc, whichhas mineral zing and orange zest notes.2011ChateauBelle-VueLeChâteau($50)This plush cabernet franc-syrah blend from high altitude organic vineyards is sensual, powerful, and polished, with hints of cocoa and warm fruit. ...

Source: Bloomberg