Challenging misconceptions about Lebanese wine

A different perspective

Photo by Greg Demarque | Executive
Reading Time: 5 minutes

There is a negative perception of Lebanese wine that views it as overpriced and headache-inducing. This perception may even be shared by some readers of this piece. Luckily, those in the retail and hospitality industries who sell local wine say that this misconception is changing over time. There is a vast range of Lebanese wines out there for consumers to try, and more and more, it seems, are doing just that. 

Executive opened the floor to four players in the industry to weigh in on their experience with local consumers’ perceptions of Lebanese wines. 

Farrah Berrou

At Wesley’s, because we specialize in imported products that aren’t found anywhere else, customers are already in this “discovery mindset” when they walk through the door. They want to find things they’ve never seen or tried before. When it came to our wine section, we wanted to leverage that by giving customers a chance to discover Lebanese wines they don’t usually see on supermarket shelves or in shop cellars. We have one of the most diverse ranges of local wines, and it’s still growing month by month as we procure new additions gradually. 

There’s no need to fear what’s in your own backyard.

However, even with that extensive selection there is resistance when it comes to going for something new. There is fear of what they don’t know, especially when it may be more than what they wanted to spend on a bottle that’s just for Tuesday’s mac n’ cheese dinner. Sometimes, because it’s cheaper, customers tend to go for a foreign bottle. But it’s also because of this assumption that Lebanese isn’t “good enough.” It’s an unfair blanket statement to make about an industry that’s come a long way and is currently booming. 

Through the Lebanese wine classes we host, it’s been much more effective to not only prove that our local wine scene is worth exploring, but also to tackle the common misconceptions when it comes to our wines—like pricing and the production process. Attendees have been pleasantly surprised by the variety and experimentation that’s happening across Lebanese regions. The experiential approach of our classes shows them that we’ve got something magical happening right here, and that there’s no need to fear what’s in your own backyard. We’re proud of everything else we produce, from olive oil, to cheese, to honey—why not wine?

Selim Yasmine

As a rather small country, Lebanon can only produce a small amount of wine, and therefore cannot compete in volume or quantity. The only edge for Lebanese wine is quality, and we are very confident that the quality of Lebanese wine is high. Moreover, if one were to compare the price of Lebanese wine, they must benchmark it to similar quality bottles. We need to compare apples to apples, and this is where we can see that the price of Lebanese wine is competitive when compared to bottles of a similar high quality.

Having said that, I believe it is impossible to put all Lebanese wines in the same basket. The wide diversity of Lebanese wineries—especially with the notable increase of winemakers of late—makes it very difficult to give a quality statement that applies across the board to the 60+ Lebanese wineries across the country. I am certain that we could find both Lebanese wines that are overpriced and bottles that are high-quality for their price. Ultimately, it is all about perception, taste, and education.

The only edge for Lebanese wine is quality, and we are very confident that the quality of Lebanese wine is high.

When it comes to that rather shallow yet popular belief that Lebanese wine causes headaches, this perception is inaccurate. We must bear in mind the sheer variety and diversity of wine that exists in Lebanon and not stereotype it by labelling it all as the same. Until now, there is no definitive evidence as to what causes some people to have headaches from drinking wine while others do not. A common misconception is to blame the sulphur dioxide (sulphites) within the wine, but the reason this is listed on the bottle is that for a small percentage of people sulphites are an allergen. There are more sulphites in dried fruit than there are in wine. Other reasons being explored as possible headache-inducers include the tannins in red wine, an antioxidant that comes mainly from the skin of the grape when it ferments, which is also found in black tea and dark chocolate. For those without an allergy, headaches will more likely be down to an overindulgence. 

In the almost three years that I have been exclusively selling and promoting Lebanese wines, I personally have never faced any complaints about price or quality, mostly because consumers are becoming more educated and are being exposed to more accurate information. We are proud that our wine is being appreciated both locally and globally.

Makram Rabbath

Over the last two decades, local wine consumers’ habits have totally evolved and matured. The number of winemakers in the past decade has more than doubled. Traditionally, the perception of local wine had always been negative, with consumers tending to say they got headaches when drinking Lebanese wines, or that they were overpriced, or even that the wine is not up to international standards.

Over the years, three major parameters have radically changed, and in turn have led to a change in this perception. Technique has evolved, and today winemakers have a totally different approach to the wine making process. Some of the wineries have access to the latest equipment and technology, and make good use of it. 

The number of winemakers in the past decade has more than doubled.

The second thing that changed is that local consumers are more and more attracted by wine. They often visit wineries, attend wine courses and seminars, and even travel to discover and taste new wines. Lebanese people in general, and Lebanese winemakers specifically, have today become the best ambassadors for our local wines. They are now proud to share and taste Lebanese wines with their friends from all over the world, and in some of the most renowned restaurants in the biggest cities across the globe.

Finally, the development of specialized wine shops selling a wide collection of local wines have helped people discover the richness of our terroir. Many activities and festivals themed around wine are also supporting this.

At Le Petit Gris, we have seen this big change with an increase of more than 50 percent in the sales of our local wines over these past two years.

Jean Kissonergis

In Lebanon, we are blessed with great landscape and weather—ideal conditions for wine production. Therefore winemaking is becoming an even bigger trend nowadays, and we find new emerging labels every few years.

I perceive Lebanese wines as being artisanal products and not mass produced items.

We offer a big selection of Lebanese wines at PepperTree and always encourage our customers to opt for local when pairing their wine or having a drink. However, our clients tend to request foreign wines more often, especially European bottles. This isn’t representative of the quality local wines have, but instead it is a product of minimal taxation over European wines—they end up having very similar price tags on our menu. I also believe that another reason customers order foreign wines is because they can try something new at the restaurant, a bottle they aren’t familiar with, and experience new tastes. Whereas most of our foreign customers go for the local selection for the same reason.

Personally, I perceive Lebanese wines as being artisanal products and not mass produced items. This explains the high production costs and thus, the somewhat high price tag. But in any case, we are proud of our Lebanese wines as they are getting more and more noticed abroad for their great quality and the care that goes into their production.

Farrah Berrou is the creative strategist and wine buyer at Wesley’s Wholesale, a chain of grocery stores that sell mainly imported American brands.

Selim Yasmine is the founder of 209 Lebanese wines, an online platform that sells Lebanese spirits and wines.

Makram Rabbath is the owner of Le Petit Gris restaurant.

Jean Kissonergis is partner and operations manager at PepperTree, a French cuisine restaurant in Ashrafieh.

Nabila Rahhal

Nabila is Executive's hospitality, tourism and retail editor. She also covers other topics she's interested in such as education and mental health. Prior to joining Executive, she worked as a teacher for eight years in Beirut. Nabila holds a Masters in Educational Psychology from the American University of Beirut.

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