Bekaa Valley wine region
Until recently the Bekaa was Lebanon’s only wine region, but it has now been joined by Batroun, in the north. Still, it remains the epicentre of the industry. Wine has a very long history here: in northeast Bekaa lies ancient Baalbek, whose ruins include the Roman Temple of Bacchus, larger and better preserved than the Parthenon in Athens. But the Romans were latecomers: the Phoenicians built Baalbek, and traded Bekaa wine across the eastern Mediterranean from their port at Byblos. Hieroglyphs in Old Kingdom tombs reveal that Lebanese wine was so valued by the Egyptians that they were buried with it to sustain them in the afterlife.
Lebanese wine continued to be famed into the Middle Ages, and the Bekaa must have had a wealth of indigenous grape varieties but these largely disappeared during centuries of Ottoman rule. Only the white Obaideh and Merweh remain. When French missionaries restarted wine production in the mid-19th Century they had to import varieties from French-governed Algeria: Cinsault and Carignan were particularly favoured.
Bekaa summers are hot and dry, with more than 300 days of sunshine each year. But the valley (actually more of a plateau) is around a kilometre up, and the consequent cold nights preserve aromas and acidity, while the snowy winters allow the vines to go dormant. Snowmelt from the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains sustains the water table, allowing the vines to survive the summer.
Most of the vineyards and wineries are in the western Bekaa, around the regional capital Zahlé. Grape varieties here are predominently red, as is the majority of the production. Farther to the north-east and considerably higher still, the area around Baalbek is, fittingly, a stronghold of the native Obaideh grape.
Since the Civil War ended in 1990 there has been much planting of international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and the industry is resurgent. But there is a growing realisation that the older southern French varieties, along with the local Obaideh, may yet prove better suited to the hot, dry climate.
Decanting Club wines from: Bekaa Valley
Château Ksara, Blanc de l'Observatoire
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