Wine: Where Madness and Charm Coexist, as in Lebanon, Wine Is Never Far Away

Article excerpt

We all know Chateau Musar, championed by the late Auberon Waugh as one of the great wines of the world, and sold from the London offices of Serge and Ronald Hochar to a loyal clientele of Bronists. But Musar comes from only one among a dozen established wineries in a country whose name ought to be more often on the lips of wine-lovers, since it was in Lebanon, they say, that it all began. Archaeologists dispute this: may be it was a little further to the north, in the as yet uninundated Black Sea basin. Maybe it was a little further east, in the Fertile Crescent, or a little further south in the hills of Palestine. But maybe it was as the Lebanese claim--that their Phoenician forebears were first to make wine, as they were certainly first to establish a wine-growing and wine-trading economy, exporting the famous "wine of Byblos" all over the Mediterranean, and helping the Egyptians to step down from their flat frescoes and dance for a while in 3D.

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For all that, Lebanon has been off the wine-lover's map for two millennia. Musar apart, its wines are hardly exported, and inside the country a mere three million bottles are drunk each year. The publication of a sumptuous book by Michael Karam, Wines of Lebanon (Saqi Books), is a first step towards rectifying this. The photographs are by Norbert Schiller, who is an acute observer, showing the details that reveal the genius loci: a pale-faced, busty girl in revealing T-shirt working side by side with a Bedouin whose face is hidden by a tightly wrapped keffiyeh; elegant gentlemen in suits and ties recalling Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, alongside wiry old peasants in woolly cardigans and absurd bowler hats--the madness and charm of Lebanon are both succinctly captured in images which show that, where madness and charm coexist, wine is never far away. …