Actually, there is no recognised area, or group of countries, classified as the “Eastern Mediterranean” from a Wine perspective. So before planning this tasting I have had to make a decision as to which areas to include. As the tasting theme was actually entitled “Lebanon and the Eastern Mediterranean” I have had the central focus defined… but what else to include?

First I decided to limit how far West, and North, the term “Eastern Mediterranean” might extend – and as we had a tasting from the neighbouring Balkans earlier I decided on this map:


This basically draws the Western boundary as the Aegean Islands of Greece, but not the mainland or anywhere further West. In wine terms this probably limits us to: Lebanon; Israel; Turkey; Cyprus plus the Aegean Islands (and Crete) from Greece.

Until recently Turkey produced more wine than all the rest of these area put together – nearly 80 million bottles a year… However recent events have halved the amount produced and export has become less significant. I decided to leave aside Turkey and concentrate on Lebanon, backed up by Cyprus, Israel and Santorini.

The Lebanon has become a very fashionable country for wine in recent years. This growth in appreciation largely driven by the massive acclaim for the legendary Chateau Musar, made by the equally famous Gaston Hochar. When I started formally studying wine in the early 1990s there were only 7 wineries in the country, and Musar was the only Lebanese wine one encountered, gaining attention for it’s quality as well as its unique origin. I attended a vertical Musar tasting in 2000, the variation and interest was captivating, although the wines were then around the £10 mark… they are reaching close to £30 now!


Although the Lebanon is steeped in history (records show wine growing there in the Phoenician period and for 2,000 years before), production dwindled to nothing for over 1,200 years until modern wine-making was revived under French, English and Jesuit influence in the 19th Century. Modern Lebanon now has around 50 wineries and produces about 9m bottles. Over 80% is red and the main grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Syrah which alone count for 50% of all the wine, Most other grapes are also French with Carignan leading the also-rans. There are a few indigenous white varieties like Obaideh and Merwah: the ingredients of Chateau Musar’s white! Over half the wines are from grapes grown in the Bekaa Valley where altitude is over 1,000 metres – although the wineries are rather more widespread.

Israel has a similar history of newly revived wine production, and again most of the planting is what we might call French/International – with emphasis on Bordeaux grapes and Syrah. These account for about two thirds of Israeli wine which now amount to about 30m-40m bottles. There is a wider spread of grapes than in the Lebanon and more whites: as you might expect Chardonnay leads the way with Sauvignon Blanc prominent – although Viognier, Semillon and even Gewurztraminer can be found!


While both Israel and Lebanon look to altitude to temper the excessive heat of the general climate our other two sources use maritime influence in addition. While the mainland countries are reviving long dormant old viniculture with French grapes, Cyprus and Santorini are continuing old styles with indigenous grapes.

Cyprus produces about 17 m bottles – so in between Israel and Lebanon. There are many grapes planted, but only 5 take up more than 5% of vines: Xynisteri  (33.3%); Mavro (13.6%); Carignan (7.5%); Shiraz (6.6%) & Cabernet Sauvignon (5.1%). These first two indigenous grapes therefore make up half the planting and the white Xynisteri is the most typical grape to taste!

Santorini is tiny, although its over 4m bottles is a tad more than the whole UK. The island is most famously known for its indigenous white grape varieties Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani. Whites bearing the Island name must be 75% Assyrtiko, and unsurprisingly it accounts for about 80% of plantings. Only fair – therefore – we taste one of those wines…

So is there a distinctive Eastern Mediterranean style? – we shall see, although I’d be surprised. Distinctive Island wines based on old white grapes to suit a fish cuisine on one hand and International red grapes grown at altitude on the other. And are even the two mainland countries – with similar grapes – producing similar styles?

Notes should be with you within the week.

À Bientôt

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