Yes, THAT Lebanon

Some countries are on the fringes of wine production, and Lebanon is certainly one of them. Most wine drinkers I speak to aren’t aware this country even makes wine, but they’ve been doing it for 9000 years. Solidly in the ‘Old World’ camp, then; but many of the wines are defiantly modern in style.

Lebanon is a small country (200 miles long and 50 miles across) situated at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, with Syria to the east and north, and Israel to the south. It’s home to 4 million people, and they make just 7 million bottles a year from a tiny smattering of 40 wineries. But production is increasing all the time.

And yes, they’ve had to endure a lot of conflict. The Lebanese Civil War (1975 – 1990) in particular set the country back in countless ways, its wine industry being just one casualty. During the rapid success of New World wines in the 70s and 80s, in some vintages it was difficult for Lebanese winemakers to even harvest their grapes safely, let alone embark on global marketing campaigns. This would have been the perfect time to get the message out about their wines, but it wasn’t to be; and so Lebanon remains relatively unknown in the world of wine.

With their incredibly long tradition of making wine, I was hoping there would be a wealth of crazy old winemaking practices still in use, unidentified local grape varieties and bizarre styles to get my teeth into. Sadly most of these have been forgotten; the majority of the wines I tasted are made from those famous ‘international’ varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache (plus some Carignan and Cinsault) for the reds; Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Muscat for the whites. They do have a couple of indigenous white grapes – Obaideh and Merwah – but they are not that widely planted.

The reds seem to fall into two camps; the lighter, fresher styles made for early drinking; and the more powerful, intense, deep reds with lots of oak influence. There are enjoyable examples on both sides, but heavy-handed use of oak in the latter style often smothers the more subtle aromatics. The lighter, fresher, cheaper reds, frequently made from the Cinsault grape, are often more instantly appealing. I spoke to Michael Karam, the authority on Lebanese wines, who suggested that Cinsault could be the grape for which Lebanon becomes best known. It does seem to do very well in this part of the world, perhaps even better than in its homeland of Southern France.

The whites again broadly fall into two styles; most of them are highly aromatic wines, making the most of Viognier and Muscat, often in unison, to create weighty but perfumed wines. Again, some of the top-end bottles are too heavily oaked. Having heard some bad things in the past I didn’t expect to be particularly taken with the whites at a recent tasting, but many are fresh and attractive, and well worth trying.

Three wineries stood out for me: Château Kefraya, Château Ksara and Domaine de Tourelles. These were the most consistent producers; I did taste individual wines from other producers that were very good, but they tended to offer more of a mixed bag, with some less successful efforts mixed in with the better ones. If you are familiar with Lebanese wines, the one name you’ll certainly have heard of is Château Musar. This producer has hogged the limelight for nearly 100 years, so that’s why I’m not covering them here. They are a bit of a law unto themselves anyway, so I’ll do a separate post on them in due course.

Tasting through 32 wines from seven different wineries, I was left with the impression that for all its history, this is a wine region still in the process of cementing its own identity. I’m looking forward to watching it develop.


Some highlights:



Château Ka ‘Source Blanche’ 2010
A blend of Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes from Chtaura, Lebanon
£11.95 available at Imbibros

Pale lemon in colour, with a zesty lemon and grapefruit nose. Creamy on the palate with a touch of oak. Good intensity of flavour and freshness. Alcohol might be on the high side, but not problematically so. 88 points, good value.

Ixsir ‘Altitude’ 2010
A blend of 40% Muscat, 20% Viognier, 20% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc from Kab Elias, Lebanon
Price and stockist not yet finalised, but should be available soon in the UK

Perfumed but spicy nose. Medium to full-bodied with fresh apricot flavours shot through with good acidity. Fresh and balanced with good length and a creamy fresh apricot finish. 90 points.




Château Kefraya ‘Les Bretèches’ 2008
A blend of 79% Cinsault, 7% Grenache, 7% Carignan and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
£10.25 available at Great Western Wine

Lots of cranberry fruit, with some floral and spicy (cinnamon) hints. Medium-bodied, fresh, with good concentration of cranberry fruit and crunchy tannins. Nicely balanced. 89 points, good value.

Karam Winery ‘Maison’ 2010
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot grapes from Jezzine, Lebanon
£13.44 available at

More cranberries, but this time with a spicy, peppery kick. Good acidity and crunchy young tannins. Medium-bodied and well balanced, overall very drinkable. 88 points, fair value.

Domaine des Tourelles Red 2008
A blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Chtaura, Lebanon
£14.00 available at Borough Wines

Slightly rough and ready nose with cherries and some dark fruits. Medium-bodied, with expressive and open ripe fruit flavours on the palate. Nicely concentrated, with good length. Tastes not unlike a slightly riper, spicier Côtes-du-Rhône. 89 points, fair value.

Château Ksara 2007
A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot grapes from Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
£17.99 available at Wimbledon Wine Cellars

Brambly fruit, liquorice and vanilla with a little hint of cola. Medium to full-bodied, with soft tannins, firm acidity and medium length. Modern in style but elegant and well-balanced, this should develop nicely for many years to come. 90 points, fair value.

Château St Thomas 2006
A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Syrah grapes from Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
£21.00 available at

Well developed, slightly gamey nose with hints of cola. Medium-bodied with firm ripe tannins and bright acidity. Medium length, slightly rustic flavours on the palate, but appetising and enjoyable. 89 points, fair value (just).