Long recognized for their instrumental role in the spread of wine across the ancient Mediterranean world through trade and transport, recent archeological findings have verified that the Phoenicians produced their own wine in what’s now Lebanon as early as 7th century B.C.
“There was a history of wine [in Lebanon] before the French came,” says Farrah Berrou, a Lebanese wine expert and host of B is for Bacchus, an educational wine podcast. “They revived it, but it was the Phoenicians who introduced wine to Europe, not the other way around.”
Romans would eventually bring wine back to the Levant and build a towering temple to Bacchus, their god of agriculture, wine and fertility, in Baalbek, Lebanon, sometime between 150–250 A.D. Winemaking then faded until the 1850s, when French Jesuit monks planted vines in the Bekaa Valley. A handful of French-influenced wineries made most of the country’s commercial bottlings for decades, but that’s beginning to change.
Wineries in Lebanon have doubled in the last 25 or so years, and a younger generation of winemakers now looks to boost Lebanon’s vinous identity in the wine world. While French varieties like Cinsault and Syrah make up the majority of wine production, these winemakers say the future is in native grapes. Here are three to know, and a few producers to watch.
This white grape is low in acid and high in sugar. Historically used mostly to produce arak, an aniseed liqueur, it’s now becoming a popular choice for wine production. Sept Winery and Coteaux du Liban make creamy, sweet wines that taste like honey and lemons, and they also experiment with skin-contact styles.
Related to Sémillon, Merwah grows in Lebanon’s mountains. Like its cousin, it produces rich, nutty and floral wines. The country’s oldest winery, Chateau Ksara, makes a version from 60-year-old vines, while Mersel Wine produces an interesting pét-nat from a blend of Merwah and Viognier.
With a name derived from sabgha, meaning “dye” or “stain,” this red grape’s skin is dark crimson due to high levels of anthocyanin pigments. Characterized by red fruit flavors and vegetal aromas, it’s often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.