A look at wine culture throughout the Arab world
Wine has an ancient and rich history in the Middle East and North Africa. Throughout the Levant region, wine culture has long been an integral part of society. It is believed wine was transported from ancient Lebanon to Egypt during the time of the Old Kingdom. Quickly, wine caught on as an important part of ceremonial life in the historic empire.
Today, the MENA wine industry gets little international attention compared to powerhouse countries like France and Italy, however, the wine tradition continues to thrive. Regional wines are served at Michelin star restaurants around the world and from Morocco to Syria, residents continue to enjoy opening a bottle of their local favorites.
Here’s a look at wine in the Middle East and North Africa.
Although several established wineries continued production throughout the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), the industry began to expand following the end of the conflict. Today, more than 30 wineries operate throughout the country, some large and some small. Lebanese wine producers generally prefer growing French grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Although Lebanon is home to many wineries, some small family business and others large scale international operations, Chateau Musar stands out with its high quality and international reputation. Established in 1930 by Gaston Hochar, the chateau maintained its winemaking throughout the country’s 15-year civil war leading to the nomination of Gaston Hochar’s son, Serge Hochar, as Man of the Year by Decanter magazine.
Wine production in Syria has remained very locally focused in recent decades. The area near Latakia is a particular hotspot for viticulture. With the ongoing civil war, production has suffered. Today, the recently established Chateau Bargylus has become the main commercial distributor of wine, especially internationally, using Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot grapes for its red wines, and Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc grapes for its white wines.
Building on the ancient wine tradition of the region, the Saadé family planted its vineyard in 2003. Quickly the chateau built an international reputation with bottles available in Michelin-starred restaurants by Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal and Joel Robuchon. Production has continued despite the country’s civil war.
Tunisia is noted for its rosé, which constitutes the majority of the country’s wine production. Since 2002, a large investment has been made to improve the overall wine industry in the country. Germany and France are the main markets for Tunisian wine, however the wine is exported to Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, the United States, Eastern Europe and Russia as well.
Les Vignerons de Carthage
Since 1948, Tunisian winemakers came together to form a union to consolidate wine production. This organization became Les Vignerons de Carthage, which produces and exports Tunisian wine. Winning numerous awards and medals, Les Vignerons de Carthage has worked to put Tunisian wine on the gastronomic map.
Jordan’s historic vineyards suffered over the centuries, forcing today’s winemakers to turn to growing imported Vitis vinifera grapes. Carmenère grapes of Chilean origin are also grown at some vineyards. A variety of whites and reds are produced by the country’s wineries.
In 1954, the Zumot family first embarked on a dream of putting Jordanian wine on the map. Although local wine production had continued since ancient times, the industry was subpar. Planting new vines in Madaba, the Saint George brand has grown to produce a range of quality wines.
Wine in Palestine was traditionally something that many families simply made at home. However, commercial wine production has been reinvigorated in recent years, seeing the launch of boutique winery Taybeh. International distribution has also begun and varieties of both reds and whites are in production. The blended wine Star of Bethlehem from Palestine’s historic Cremisan Cellars has received international accolades.
Since 1885, Cremisan Cellars has been producing quality wine for local and international consumption. Part of the Salesian Convent and Monastery, the production of the wine is managed by the monks. Although Cremisan does incorporate its own grapes in the production, the majority come from Beit Jala, Beit Shemesh, and the Hebron area.
Algeria’s vineyards are located in the Hauts Plateaux region. Nonetheless, the heritage and tradition remains through the nationalized management of viticulture. Varieties of whites have dominated production in recent years. The country’s wines are known to have low acidity and high levels of alcohol as well as for the use of overripe fruit.
L’ Office national de commercialisation des produits vitivinicoles
The production of wine has been nationalized in Algeria and is controlled by the l’ONCV . Several varieties are produced and exported to France as well as other countries. The organization has put forward the mission of establishing the brand internationally through focusing on quality.
Today, due to its topography and location, Moroccos is considered to have the best natural potential for producing high quality wine among its neighboring countries. Red wine makes up more than 75 percent of the country’s production. Rosé wines and vin gris fill out the rest of Morocco’s output, with white wine only constituting a very small percentage.
Celliers de Meknès
Situated inland from the capital of Rabat, Les Celliers de Meknès encompasses 2,000 hectares of vineyards. Throughout Morocco and the world, the wines are enjoyed for their quality flavor. Château Roslane, Morocco’s first viticultural chateau, was opened by the brand to cater to local and foreign connoisseurs.
In Egypt today, much of the wine production is owned by the Dutch Heinekin Group, however the grapes and wine continue to be produced in Egypt. The country produces about half a million gallons of wine annually with the most common being a very dry red and a dry white.
Since 1882, Gianaclis Vineyards have been continuing Egypt’s winemaking heritage. Today, visitors can discover the history of the Gianaclis Vineyards and the country’s wine when visiting the winery.