Nectars of Lebanon

An ancient tradition of wine production (and consumption)

30 MAY 2015,
Sirah grapes, vineyard in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon
Sirah grapes, vineyard in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon

A warm sunset on the beach in northern Lebanon, a glass of chilled rosè wine in hand and a jazzy tune reminiscent of the golden age… (yes I am smiling too).

Yes, we are a wine consuming country; most of us crave a day at the beach with a bottle of local rosè wine or just a night by the fireplace with a spicy, belly-warming bottle of red. Forget the relatively conservative façade that our geographical location has imposed and just scratch the surface. Here we are, overlooking the Mediterranean sea, glasses raised as some band’s live jams in the corner.

10,452 square kilometers might seem too small for some, especially with the two parallel mountain ranges coupled with a mere 210-km coastline and inner fertile lands. But trust me, there is more going on in this little piece of heaven than you could ever imagine.

I, a typical Lebanese, have been brought up and taught the same old sentence about my country:

Lebanon has four distinct seasons. Its mountains are close to the coastline, thus allowing one to enjoy a snow day and then soak-up some sunshine on the beach.

There is certainly more to say about Lebanon than just a shallow observation on the geological rock formations, but such a statement is proof enough that I am living in a perfectly balanced environment that allowed for the establishment of one of the world’s oldest industries: wine production. Lebanon has long been a source of numerous wines, from Byblos – a magnificent ancient city north of Lebanon that is still well preserved – to Tyr in the south. The Phoenicians were expert traders. They brought and domesticated wine production, hence allowing viticulture to blossom along the coast, despite the numerous atrocities that had befallen the Phoenician civilization: innumerable invasions and wars that left cities writhing with pain and sobs.

Wine played a crucial role in the Roman, Greek, Phoenician and Christian religions among others: the Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek, with its massive columns, depicts scenes of wine drinking and spiraling vines. The alcoholic beverage was crucial to every performed ritual; prophets lauded the Phoenician wine’s unparalleled aroma and kings sought a sip from that river of red.

Wine production has witnessed an exceptional growth during the past decade with wineries spreading along the fertile Bekaa valley (around 30 kilometers away from Beirut, the capital), an optimum viticulture terroir with innumerable fields stretching over various altitudes. Such production was, at first, undertaken by Lebanese monasteries that founded a few wine production establishments in the Bekaa valley, such as Chateau Ksara, the most prominent wine company in Lebanon, once belonging to the Jesuits.

I, for one, am a self-proclaimed wine addict, and hooked on the fruity Massaya rosè that once left me jubilant at a wine tasting event in the old souks of Jounieh. I also do feel a certain fondness towards Ksara’s Gris de Gris, or the Sunset rosé from that same winery. The fruity aftertaste that Cabernet Franc and Sirah leave is exquisite and transports me to the beaches of Batroun, in the north, where the rippling sea still dances blue and pure. The Gris de Gris with its elegant subtle summer taste is sheer pleasure and fits any occasion. Ixsir’s El red is another favorite of mine, with its fleshy red fruit/spice-infused elegant rich body.