Lebanese wine

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 6,000,000 cases of wine.


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. 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 temple in Baalbek outlines the instrumental role that the Phoenician played in the development of the Ancient World around the Mediterranean sea.[6] through 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."

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.

The first winemaker in Lebanon was Chateau Joseph Spath (Chateau Chbat) in 1847 at aaramoun kesrouan, later following of winemaker at Chateau Ksara 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.[9] Back then, the number of producers was around 5 and at present more than 50[10] 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.[11]

Grape varieties

Lebanese winemakers have favored French grapes, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Rhone varietals such as Cinsaut, Carignan and Grenache.

There are also grapes that are specific and indigenous to Lebanon such as Obaideh and Merwah [12] [13]


Most of 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.[14] 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 [15] 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.[15]

Among the wineries, one can mention Château Marsyas, the Johnny Saade family-owned estate, advised by international consultant Stephane Derenoncourt. The family produces another wine in Syria, Domaine de Bargylus.

IXSIR wine inspired renowned French wine critic Jean-Marc Quarin [16] 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.

List of Lebanese wines

Wine Name Date of Production Origin Founder
Château Faqra 1985 Fakra Carlos Guillermo Adem
Château Héritage 1888 Qabb Ilyas Touma Family (la Famille Touma)
Château Kefraya 1951 N/A
Château Khoury N/A N/A
Château Marsyas 2007 Beqaa Valley Johnny R.Saadé family
Château Musar 1930 Beqaa Valley Gaston Hochar
Château Nakad in Jdita N/A N/A
Château Qanafar 2010 Beqaa Valley Naim family
Couvent St. Sauveur N/A N/A
Domaine des Tourelles 1868 Beqaa Valley, Chtaura François-Eugène Brun
Château St Thomas N/A N/A
Cave du monastère st. Jean 1720 (Renovated 2006) Khenchara
Cave Kouroum N/A N/A
Clos de Cana N/A N/A
Domaine de Baal N/A N/A Sebastien Khoury
Domaine Wardy N/A N/A
IXSIR 2008 Batroun Carlos Ghosn
Château Ksara 1857 Beqaa Valley Zafer Chaoui
Massaya N/A N/A
Nabise Mont Liban N/A N/A


  • Karam, Michael (2005) "The Wines of Lebanon" Saqi Books - reference book on Lebanese wine
  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 13 March 2006
  8. Kassman, L Lebanon's Wine Industry: New Face for Country Once Known for War Archived 15 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Voice of America, 2 December 2004
  9. "Lebanese Wine - Prestige Magazine". Prestige Magazine. 2014-11-13. Retrieved 2016-12-22.
  10. {{https://www.209lebanesewine.com/pages/lebanese-wineries}}
  11. Adrian Blomfield and Ramsay Short Women rescue Lebanon's wine after fighting threatens to ruin harvest Daily Telegraph, 25 August 2006
  12. {{https://www.wine-searcher.com/grape-1489-obaideh}}
  13. {{http://rappwinter2018.blogspot.com/2018/01/lebanons-native-grapes-obaideh-and.html}}
  14. Speetjens, Peter Lebanese wine looks to make a comeback Communicate October 2005
  15. 1 2 A Reason interview with Lebanese wine writer Michael Karam Reason.com
  16. Jean-Marc Quarin Le guide indépendant de l'amateur de vins de Bordeaux

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