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From terroir to tourism: a guide to Lebanese wine

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Many wines in Lebanon are classified as new world.

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BEIRUT: Lebanon’s wine industry has hit booms and busts since its ancient, Phoenician origins but is rapidly expanding again today as many wineries increase production and new, boutique producers pop up in rural areas from Batroun to Mount Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley. For consumers of Lebanese wine abroad and in the country, keeping track of the oenological scene in Lebanon can be a challenge – even more so for tourists seeking out some of Lebanon’s specialty wineries off the beaten Ksara/Kefraya wine-tour track.

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THE DAILY STAR :: Culture :: Lifestyle :: From terroir to tourism: a guide to Lebanese wine

Economic magazine Commerce du Levant, in partnership with Tamyras publishers, launched the “Zawaq Guide to Lebanese Wine” this week covering 40 Lebanese wineries, maps and travel recommendations, as well as the results from the first blind tasting conducted by international wine experts of 150 different Lebanese wines. The Lebanese wine industry is “booming,” says Muriel Rozelier, author of the bilingual guide published in French and English.

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“In 2000 we were at something like 5 million bottles a year, and now we’re at 8 million bottles. In 2000 there were about 20 wineries or estates and now there are almost 40,” she continues. While other extensive guides to Lebanese wine exist, such as Michael Karam’s 2005 “Wines of Lebanon,” Rozelier notes, the Zawaq guide is the first to incorporate the blind tasting selections, as well as what Rozelier calls “oenotourisme” – the French word for all things terroir and tourism combined. “[The book] is divided by region: the Bekaa, Mount Lebanon, and the North or Batroun. For each one you have a bit of history of wine from that region, information about what to see, where to eat and where to stay – and then, of course, the wineries. For each winery we provide everything [you need] to know, such as the total area of cultivation, the production numbers, the history and their wine list with our selections,” Rozelier says. The selections in the guide are the results of a three-day taste test held in November at Le Gray Hotel in Beirut. The jury of five experts – from Lebanon, England and France – sampled 150 bottles, choosing 100 for the Zawaq guide’s selection. The selection is broken down by robe (reds, whites and rosés) and by price range within those categories: less than $7, between $7 and $12, $13-18, $19-25 and more than $25. “The experts would sit for about an hour and share their notes, sometimes tasting multiple times without knowing which wine they are tasting. This was very important because it was the only way to be objective,” Rozelier says of the blind test. Wines listed in the book are marked with a stamp if they were included in the jury selection – a badge of quality meant to guide amateur wine drinkers. The jury also awarded, among its selection, 14 wines as “best deals” and 21 wines as the “Coup de Cœur” – their choice for the best wines in Lebanon.

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While not ready to reveal all the selections and top wines listed in the guide, Rozelier described some of the choices as “unexpected.” For instance, the relatively new vineyard Chateau Heritage did very well in the reds category. For rosés, the jury chose the 2010 Massaya rosé for their selection, and two notable bottles in the selection for white wines are the Wardy Private Selection and Chateau Marsyas. Rozelier believes that growing competition and pressure to match standards for export have both contributed to improvements in the Lebanese wine industry. TODAY'S PAPER

“At the end of the Civil War there [were] only three brands on the market – Ksara, Kefraya and Musar – and at the time the production was not very good. But because of the increasing number of wineries, people started to realize they have to move to high-quality wines.” While Musar, Ksara and Kefraya are still Lebanon’s heavyweight wine producers, they have been joined by growing production from Wardy, Ixsir and Massaya – all together accounting for at least half of Lebanon’s wine production, according to Rozelier.

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THE DAILY STAR :: Culture :: Lifestyle :: From terroir to tourism: a guide to Lebanese wine

5/3/12 9:01 AM

The rest are often small, boutique wineries that sometimes produce 10,000 bottles a year or even less. To compete, the small winemakers have had to develop “very specific wines” Rozelier says. Generally though, Lebanese wines fall into the “new world” category, such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, many of a similar style to wines produced in California’s Napa Valley. Advertisement

“Here wineries follow two big trends in winemaking: new world wines which are very strong and tasty with wood flavors, or the Bordeaux style, something lighter and more subtle,” Rozelier adds. While there is no specific Lebanese wine, Rozelier quotes a technician from the Massaya estate, disputing the new world classification: “Lebanon doesn’t belong to the category of new world wine, it’s ancient world wine.” Even though many quality wines are emerging in Lebanon, there is still a significant gap in quality between the pricey and more affordable bottles. “It’s still difficult to make good, cheap wine here. You can find some – Wardy has a few and Ixsir. But there’s still a really big gap [in quality] between the expensive wines and the cheaper versions. And they need to improve, especially in the white wines,” Rozelier notes.

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She recalls an occasion not long after arriving in Lebanon of shopping for a bottle of wine with a Lebanese friend who warned her to only drink wines from abroad: “I picked up a bottle and my friend said, ‘No, you’re crazy. Don’t buy Lebanese wine! Get some Bordeaux but of course not Lebanese wine. It’s not good.’ So later I wanted to set out to do something about Lebanese wine to show that it is actually very good.” Rozelier hopes that Lebanese themselves will start to take pride in their wine heritage. We're on

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Rozelier believes that as Lebanese wine production continues its boom, its popularity in Lebanon will grow as will its presence in export markets – Lebanese wine is already present in the U.K. and French markets, and, recently, in the U.S.

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“[Lebanon] is still a small country for wine production. We need to double the production to be part of the world wine producers. But it’s starting.” A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 19, 2012, on page 2. Tweet

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