There is a well-worn media narrative on Lebanese wine – let’s call it the ‘plucky little Lebanon’ story – that goes something like this: despite the devastating civil war of 1975-1990, one of the world’s worst economic crises, state capture by a corrupt, self-serving political elite, a massive explosion in the port of Beirut in 2020 and the influx of 1.5 million Syrian refugees, the country’s wine industry has somehow survived, and we should buy Lebanese wine out of solidarity.
This is a narrative that may once again find expression amid the latest outbreak of instability in the wider region. As this issue of Decanter was going to press, the eruption of a new and serious conflict to Lebanon’s south, in Israel and Gaza, was raising the potential of the country again being drawn into regional hostilities.
While there is no denying the challenges of making wine in such a difficult context, this narrative tends to obscure a reality that is much more complex and surprising. Lebanese wine is thriving and no longer overshadowed by the iconic reputation of Château Musar (chateaumusar.com). Good though it is, Musar is just one of a growing range of distinctive, world-class, ageworthy wines, made by a new generation of passionate, resourceful producers.
Lebanon, a country half the size of Wales, has a proud ancient history stretching back to the Phoenicians, but came into being as a state just a century ago. Sandwiched between Israel and Syria, with a multi-confessional population of Maronite and Greek Orthodox Christians, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Druze and a dozen other faith communities, it is a fragile victim of geopolitics and its history as an independent nation has often been turbulent.