My itinerary for my recent trip to Lebanon included wineries, at the top of the list. I had lots of reasons for wanting to visit Lebanon’s wine country: the beauty of the vineyards that I hoped would be akin to those I’d seen in California, France, and Italy; the chance to learn more about the art of wine-making; the appeal of experiencing an aspect of Lebanon that is busting at the seams, as Lebanese wines are making the grade all over the place.
Oddly enough, actually tasting the wine was not something I had thought that much about. I had tried Lebanese wines on occasion, notably in a tipsy Lebanese wine-tasting orchestrated by my sister on the front porch up north years ago. Since then my wine knowledge has grown, with a nod to Tante Marie’s, where every Friday we had a wine tasting and lesson with a big map on the wall during lunch (our food tasted especially good on Fridays…).
It was here that I learned about biodynamics and that there is such a thing as good wine drinking days, or “fruit and flower days,” based on the lunar calendar. There’s a whole school of thought that says that on these days, wine tastes better, more open and flavorful, than on other days, “root and leaf days.”
There were many good things to eat in Lebanon, but it was the Lebanese wine with our meal every evening that spoke to me. I’ve looked it up and discovered that most of those days were, in fact, fruit and flower days. As I sipped, I thought, here I am, drinking Lebanon. I was tasting the terroir (the soil, the water, the air) of my fruitful family tree; the same elements that made this wine also in effect made my grandparents and their parents and theirs. What I tasted was the flavor of history, my history.
It’s a history of great joy, but also of suffering. It strikes me that the suffering of the family is not so different than the suffering of the vine (to produce great wine, the vine must suffer…), which must take place over generations in order for distinct, complex flavor to occur. One can’t help but understand, when meeting branches of the family as we did that are close but never before known to us, that with diaspora does come suffering. Opportunity and other good things came of it, yes. But also the breaking apart of family, the drama of who left and who stayed and why, the permanency of distance at a time when travel and communication were limited. Lebanon itself is a suffering vine, one whose resilience is palpable at every turn, and whose ability to withstand upheaval and still come out strong is a source of deep national pride. I think of resilience and courage and strength, among so many other things, when I say, I am Lebanese.
The wines I’ve tasted in California, in France, in Italy—these have their voices and with those they have told me stories. But these were always other people’s stories, and I was just a good listener. I love northern California—I lived there after all—but I know, and I always knew, it was not mine.
Lebanese wine tells me a story, and it’s one of vibrant fruit and flower, but also of root and leaf. In it I taste the flavor of the land, the sea, the people, the beauty, my family. Myself.
Today is a fruit and flower day…Lebanese wines to try
Lebanese wine is the oldest in the world, traded by the Phoenicians 5,000 years ago (take that France!). There are 30 vintners in Lebanon today. The fertile, gorgeous Bekaa Valley is where many of the wineries are located; the Temple of Bacchus at Baalbek is here, a structure dedicated to the Roman god of wine which is truly awesome (how nice to finally use that word as it was intended).
We visited Chateau Ksara, the oldest winery in Lebanon with its caves discovered by the Jesuits more than 150 years ago. What better to do with an ancient Roman cave than make and store wine? Here is a listing of the most prominent Lebanese wineries, many of which have French-inspired names because Lebanon was a protectorate of France for a good part of the last century, and the French influence there is distinct.
For specific wine recommendations from Lebanese vintners, read this.
Search for and purchase Lebanese wine here. Then ask your local wine shop to carry Lebanese wine!
Massaya (Gold Reserve red is special, worth finding)
Chateau Musar (Musar Jeune white is a great everyday wine)