Grapes grown in Lebanon Part I: Reds

Cinsault: The grape that started it all.The following red grapes, most of which have been introduced in the last 15 to 20 years, are all grown to make wine in Lebanon. They all thrive at altitudes of 600 metres and above (500 metres in North Lebanon) and have contributed to the improved quality of Lebanese wines in the last two decades.

Apart from a few areas in Batroun in the North and Jezzine in the South, almost all are grown in the Bekaa Valley, which, at an average altitude of 1,000 meters, enjoys dry summers and has the bonus of having its own natural water table, courtesy of the melting snow running off the slopes of the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges.

Cabernet Sauvignon: The grape that has replaced the Cinsault as the backbone of the modern Lebanese wine industry, it has, in the past 25 years, become Lebanon’s most widely planted grape (500 hectares – a quarter of the total area under wine grape vine – were planted between 2000 and 2005) and comprises roughly 40% of the country’s wine grapes under vine. It is used by all the major Lebanese wineries in blends and can be found as varietal in its own right. Try Château Kefraya Comte de M

Cabernet Franc: A new grape to Lebanon, it is planted both in the Bekaa and in Bhamdoun, and mainly used in the making of rosé wines. Try Château Ksara Reserve du Couvent Symphonie

Carignan: A red grape often used to give colour and structure to a blend. In Lebanon, Carignan has been used for decades. Local producers say that it performs better in Lebanon than in France. This may explain why they are still planting this grape. Try Chateau Musar 2003

Cinsault: A workmanlike red grape, that in Lebanon has been used to make wine for 150 years and today makes up over 30% of Lebanon’s total wine grapes. The Cinsault was one of the first imported grape varieties planted in Lebanon, probably bought by the Jesuits of Ksara from Algeria. Today, Cinsault is used for entry-level wines and rosés. Arguably its most famous role is as one of the main varietals used in the famous Château Musar. Try Massaya Classic

Gamay: Used with great success in Beaujolais, where its versatility has seen it in both nouveau and higher quality wines. In Lebanon it is planted in extremely limited quantities for nouveau style wines. Try Château Ksara Cuvee de Printemps

Grenache: A solid, if unspectacular, red grape of Spanish origin that is widely used by Lebanese producers, who will admit that if harvested at low yields and planted in good terroir, it can give good results. Try Cave Kouroum 7 Cepages

Merlot: An important red grape in Lebanon, where, while not performing as well as the Cabernet Sauvignon it is still a popular and important component in the majority of upper and mid-range wines. Try Château St Thomas 2006

Mourvèdre: A grape variety grown extensively in southern France and popular with a few Lebanese producers, who value its ability to contribute to well-structured wines. Try Coteaux de Botrys Cuvee de l’Ange

Petit Verdot: A popular component in Lebanese blends, which, in good years, can contribute significantly to a wine’s ageing potential because of its high tannin content. Try Château Marsyas 2007

Syrah (Shiraz in Australia): In recent years Syrah has become a firm favorite with Lebanese producers, who value its longevity as well as its aromas and flavours of prunes, spices and berry fruits. Try Domaine Wardy Syrah

Tempranillo: Popular with a few Lebanese producers in entry level, easy drinking wines. Try Ixsir Altitudes

Next week: Part II: White grapes

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