New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Culture
26 August 2020

Lebanese wine is superb. After the Beirut explosion, we should all be buying it

In Lebanon more than elsewhere, wine and politics are always intertwined.  

By Nina Caplan

I visited Beirut in 2010, a guest of Wines of Lebanon. The city was fascinating, although it’s still my only experience of a hotel room with a view of a neighbouring building pocked with bullet holes. This sinister welcome was drowned out by hospitality almost overwhelming in its generosity.

I’m used to morning tastings – but only in Lebanon have I had to gently discourage a winemaker from offering glasses of wine with breakfast. The arak, a grape spirit flavoured with fresh aniseed, was delicious, but I didn’t understand its purpose until it was served with what I took to be a capacious lunch of dips, salads and meatballs. When this turned out to be the starter, only that arak, a fine, stomach-relaxing digestif, enabled me to force down the bare minimum of grilled meats that manners required.

And the wines were superb. Most English drinkers associate Lebanese wine with Château Musar – testament to the Hochar brothers’ sheer determination, trudging around the UK with a suitcase of samples, despite the 15-year Lebanese Civil War, which began in 1975. Their rich, spicy reds linger in our collective memory, along with the story of wine made under impossible conditions (in 15 years, they missed just one vintage).

But Lebanon has over 40 other wineries, some equally good. Ixsir, which was just starting out when I was there, blends the Spanish grape Tempranillo with the Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon that are a reminder of France’s long-standing influence in the region. Château Ksara, the country’s oldest winery, combines Grenache Gris and Carignan into a perfumed, apricot-coloured rosé called Gris de Gris. Domaine des Tourelles makes a Syrah so delicious that I’m salivating writing this. And while the two indigenous grapes, Obaideh and Merweh, are used mainly for arak, they also appear in some interesting oxidative white wines.

There has been winemaking in Lebanon since biblical times, and the Bekaa Valley, where the vineyards cluster, still has a magnificent second-century temple to Bacchus, Roman god of wine, its upright pillars more of a miracle than the water Jesus supposedly upgraded at Cana – which may also be located in Lebanon. And wine and politics, here more than elsewhere, are intertwined. I heard stories of Israeli planes strafing vineyards, and met a winemaker’s wife who ensured her baby was born in Canada, for the second passport. Over lunch in a beautiful restaurant overlooking a calm Mediterranean, Serge Hochar (who died in 2014) and his brother Ronald told me of their agreement, during the war, never to be in the country at the same time, so that the survivor could look after their families.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Now Lebanon has endured a terrible explosion that has killed more than 170 people, injured thousands and destroyed Beirut’s port; and wine has a role to play once again. Good wine is a conversation in which the language is land and water, sunshine and grapes, and  hope, one way or another, is the subject. Wine is also Lebanon’s principal export – and to buy it now is to continue that conversation, celebrating the resilience of these winemakers, their strength of character and their kindness. It’s a way to drown out the noise of explosions and let generosity, that signature attribute of the Lebanese people and of their wines, have the last word.

Content from our partners
An innovative approach to regional equity
ADHD in the criminal justice system: a case for change – with Takeda
The power of place in tackling climate change