Let us take you back.
The smell of cedar. The dust in your lungs. The heat, the noise, the humidity; all inescapable.
And then there’s the sweet taste of wine passing your lips as a respite to the hustle and bustle of an ancient civilization.
This is Lebanon, around 750 BC. But this isn’t where we start.
Wine, Sweet and Abundant
Today, not many people in the UK are aware of Lebanon’s long and proud history as a wine producing country. In fact, it is one of the oldest sites of wine production on the planet, stretching back almost 5,000 years.
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".
In Ugaritic poetry, the wine of Lebanon was described as “sweet and abundant”. And the biblical land of Canaan, part of which is modern Lebanon, played host to the wedding where Jesus was said to have turned water into wine.
However, the region’s reputation for viniculture truly came to prominence thanks to the Phoenicians.
Beginning around 1550 BC (over 3,500 years ago), they developed a number of nautical trade routes, expanding their already growing cultural influence from the Levant to North Africa, Sicily, the Greek Isles, and the Iberian Peninsula.
As they shared their alphabet, they also passed on their unrivalled knowledge of viticulture and winemaking. This included the domestication and harvesting of an ancestral variety of Vitis vinifera, or the common grape vine as it’s known today. Although the grape has evolved over the years, the wine elicits a vivid salute of a bygone era.
Take the Comte de M, for instance. This full, fresh and juicy wine transports you to the lush lands of Lebanon from the first sip.
Big Business, Gods, and Kings
Sampling the complex and texturedComte de M should also call to mind the fact that the Phoenicians were among the first to perfect the craft of winemaking. And when they did, they soon realised the potential to use it as a means of generating revenue. It became a valuable and much sought after trade commodity for personal consumption, while also taking on a cultural and religious significance.
Considered a very acceptable offering to gods and kings alike, the wine’s value soared in the ancient world. And by 1,000 BC, the wine trade in the Mediterranean exploded. The Phoenicians reaped the rewards for their extensive trade network, further cementing their position as the region’s industry leaders by developing markets for wines produced in colonies and port cities around the Mediterranean Sea.
With demand at an all-time high, the Phoenicians recognised a need to better store their wine in order to protect it from oxidation. They did so by using an amphorae, a tall ceramic jug with two handles and a narrow neck, which included a layer of olive oil before being sealed with pine and resin.
The wine was then transported to civilizations who were unable to produce their own. A repeat customer of the time was the ancient Egyptians, a demanding and fastidious people who had a reputation for being hard to please. Further proof that the Phoenicians knew what they were doing.
Change and Decline
As we approach the halfway point in our journey through the history of Lebanese wine, we come to the rise of the Roman Empire, and their subsequent removal of the Phoenicians from power.
Upon conquering Lebanon, the Romans built an impressive complex in Baalbek, including the Temple of Bacchus which stands to this day (albeit, as a very well-preserved ruin).
It’s little wonder they chose this part of the empire to honour their god of wine. Boosted by over 300 days of sunshine each and every single year, the vines are left to grow naturally with no irrigation and minimal intervention, ensuring a rich biodiversity. It was and still is an incredibly fertile valley in the eastern part of Lebanon, and one of its most important farming regions.
In modern Lebanon, this part of the country is called the Bekaa Valley. And you can sample the spoils of this land by tasting the Chateau Kefraya Les Breteches; Golden in colour, the fruity taste mingles with a touch of honey to underpin a quality of wine several thousand years in the making.
From the Romans, Lebanon was briefly ruled by the Sasanians, before 880 years of Arab rule. The country then entered a period of around 400 years under the Ottoman Empire from 1516–1917. And it was during this time that wine production sadly declined. It was, however, tolerated for religious purposes by the Christian population, who also developed an ouzo-like spirit flavoured with aniseed called Arak.
Modern Lebanese Wine Production
Against the backdrop of turmoil, conflict, and political unrest, Lebanon has continued to hone its winemaking skills.
Despite the difficult circumstances, the Lebanese winemakers have been able to produce around 600,000 cases of wine per year, and the country has been featured as a leading producer of ancient world wines by leading journalistic outlets such as the BBC, CNN, and the New York Times.
Tasting is Believing
There’s only one way to discover why Lebanon has such a rich and important history of producing beautiful wines: sample them for yourself.
We regularly host wine tasting events across the UK. Follow our Facebook Page to find one near you.
We know you will fall head over heels in love with the ancient aromas and full flavours that can only accompany Lebanese wine.
And if you’re ready to take our word for it, you can shop now.