The wines of Lebanon are an interesting mix, reflecting their own unique roots as well as a strong French influence. The country was part of the French colonial empire. French is still widely spoken, and you’ll sometimes find English and French on wine labels side by side.

The wine industry in Lebanon has thrived and grown, despite considerable challenges. There hasn’t been an all-out war in Lebanon for some years (though in recent days Israel and Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon have traded artillery and rocket fire as Israel engages in a wide-scale new war with Hamas in Gaza).

As Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson observe about Lebanon’s wineries in the “World Atlas of Wine,” “The miracle is not that they have flourished but that they exist at all in the chronic state of uncertainty in which they have to operate.” (More on that below.)

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Fortunately, you don’t have to go far to find excellent wines from Lebanon. Many of them are exported to the United States, and they offer some unique expressions worth trying.

They are warm-climate, Mediterranean wines but are balanced by the elevation and cooling influences of the mountains, especially the Bekaa Valley. That’s where most of the vineyards lie and where grapes have been grown in clay, limestone, and gravel soils for more than 6,000 years, going back to the Phoenicians.

Many of the wines, both red and white, are blends. Among the reds, you’ll find Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon and others, with Cab often blended with the Rhône varieties.

The white grapes include the familiar Viognier, Vermentino, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc as well as the native Merwah and Obaideh (or Obeidi) varieties. Merwah and Obaideh are combined with Sauvignon Blanc in a couple of fascinating blends I mention below.

Any discussion of Lebanon’s wines must include Chateau Musar, the region’s top winery and among the most celebrated in the world. The reason for its stature is simple: The wines of Chateau Musar (pronounced muse-ARE) are superb.

The winery was started in 1930 by Gaston Hochar and was run by his son Serge from 1959 until his death in 2014. Both father and son had strong ties to Bordeaux, with Serge having studied oenology there, and the wines have the polish of high-end Bordeaux, especially the flagship Chateau Musar red and white.

I had met Serge at a tasting of his wines in New York organized by Broadbent Selections, his longtime U.S. importer. Not long after, in 2006, I thought about him again during a months-long war between Israel and Hezbollah. When we spoke on the phone he was pragmatic and undeterred. “Because I’ve been living in Lebanon for so many years, I have become used to such situations,” he told me, adding that his office was 500 meters from where there had been shelling and that the Bedouins who picked his grapes were afraid of coming to work.

No doubt, Chateau Musar and other wineries in Lebanon are watching the current situation closely.

Here are nine wines from Lebanon worth trying.

Chateau Musar Red 2017

Chateau Musar Red 2017 is one of the best wines from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

Though just released — Musar holds its signature wine for six or seven years — this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Carignan is already drinking well. It’s wonderfully complex with cedar and balsamic notes and fruit in the background. Flavors of dried red and dark fruits and fig are accented by earth and garrigue notes, especially thyme. The wood influence — a year in French oak barrels — is seamlessly woven into the wine. It reminded me of an aged Bordeaux or even a Barolo, though Serge Hochar would call it a baby with years of development ahead of it.

Price: $59
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Massaya Blanc 2020

Massaya Blanc 2020 is one of the best wines from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

From another leading winery in the region, this is a blend of 70 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 30 percent Obeidi. The latter takes the racy edge off the Sauvignon, resulting in a nuanced wine with notes of honeydew melon and almond with gentle citrus overtones and a hint of honeysuckle. It’s framed by a stony mineral texture. Matured on the lees for eight months in larger oak barrels, the wood influence is minimal. The grapes are grown in the foothills of the Mount Lebanon mountains at 4,000 to 5,000 feet.

Price: $20
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Mersel Wine Lebnani Abyad (White) 2021

Mersel Wine Lebnani Abyad (White) 2021 is one of the best wines from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

This is an orange wine, made from 70 percent Merwah grown in the Qannoubine Valley in North Lebanon, and 30 percent Sauvignon Blanc from the Bekaa Valley. The Merwah grapes are from 150-year-old vines, according to Mersel’s website, and are fermented on their skins for three weeks. The Merwah is then blended with the Sauvignon Blanc. The skin contact gives this fruity wine a nice chewy texture, which frames notes of white peach, orange, red delicious apple, and grapefruit. There’s a hint of vanilla on the finish. It comes in a liter-size bottle, making it a great value. The winery says of itself: “You won’t find any ‘Chateau Mersel’ or ‘Le Mersel’ here. We are just ‘Mersel Wine.’ We are everyday people that support local farmers to make good Lebanese wine for everyone to enjoy!”

Price: $23
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Mersel Wine Lebnani Ahmar (Red) 2022

Mersel Wine Lebnani Ahmar (Red) 2022 is one of the best wines from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

This young, refreshing wine, also in a liter bottle, is Lebanon’s answer to Beajuolais. It’s made from Cinsault grapes that undergo whole-berry semi-carbonic maceration, a technique that produces fruity wines without much tannin. And that’s exactly what this one is: easy-drinking with red and black cherry and pomegranate flavors, along with some hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. Serving it chilled will bring out the freshness even more.

Price: $23
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Massaya Cap Est 2017

Massaya Cap Est 2017 is one of the best wines from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

This 50-50 blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre is aged for 22 months in oak barrels. It’s a structured wine with moderate tannins supporting dark fruit flavors and hints of black olive and dark chocolate. It practically screams out for grilled beef or lamb. Massaya has a strong French connection, with advisers and partners from Bordeaux and the Rhône serving as part of the team for many years.

Price: $35
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Château Ksara Reserve du Couvent 2019

Château Ksara Reserve du Couvent 2019 is one of the best wines from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

This excellent under-$20 wine was the bargain of my tastings, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cab Franc really comes through, giving the wine a leafiness that’s typical of the variety and that punctuates the dark fruit notes. Hints of roasted meat and black olive brine also emerge on the palate. A well-balanced wine with complexity that belies the price tag.

Price: $15
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Domaine du Tourelles Cinsault Vieilles Vignes 2020

Domaine du Tourelles Cinsault Vieilles Vignes 2020 is one of the best wines from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

This charming wine, made from old-vine Cinsault grapes, is Pinot Noir-like in character — earthy with sweet cherry and other red fruit notes. The fruit is accented by touches of black pepper, green tea, and menthol. Soft tannins make it effortless to drink, and it will pair with all kinds of foods, including fish. Try it with a slight chill. Cinsault has been grown in the Bekaa Valley since the mid-19th century, and Domaine du Tourelles says it revived the variety a decade ago “by searching out very old Cinsault vines, over 50 years of age, and fermenting the wines in concrete tanks using wild yeasts and nothing else to offer the purest expression of that grape.”

Price: $27
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Musar Jeune Red 2021

Musar Jeune Red 2021 is one of the best wines from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

Chateau Musar launched the Musar Jeune line in 2007 and, as the name suggests, the wines are meant for drinking while young and are made from younger vines. The red is a blend of Cinsault, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon fermented in cement-lined vats, bottled a year after harvest, and released a year after that. Made without oak, the 2021 presents a delicious blackberry core with notes of tobacco and cocoa. The fruit is ripe, the tannins are not overly aggressive, and the wine is quite Bordeaux-like but relatively more drinkable when young.

Price: $23
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Musar Jeune White 2021

Musar Jeune White 2021 is one of the best wines from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

The white Musar Jeune is a blend of Viognier, Vermentino, and Chardonnay. Like the red, it’s fermented in cement-lined tanks with no exposure to oak. And it, too, over-delivers on complexity with notes of pear, orange, and guava with touches of green olive and ginger. It has a nice mineral texture that lasts through the long finish.

Price: $26
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