Although it lags behind other Mediterranean countries in terms of production, Lebanon still boasts a considerable wine culture and nearly a dozen wineries. And because the country was part of the French mandate as well as being a large tourist hub in the Levant, wine is featured heavily in many restaurants and stores here. Beirut even hosts a yearly wine festival to promote its own viniculture. Much of Lebanon’s wine is produced in the Bekaa Valley in the eastern part of the country, but there is a growing number of boutique wineries perched upon the beautiful mountains not far from Beirut. A spur-of-the-moment road trip took us to one such property: Chateau Belle-Vue in the Mount Lebanon village of Bhamdoun.
Bhamdoun has been a favorite summer destination for decades, and many Lebanese and wealthy Gulf Arabs keep summer homes here because of its high elevation and its proximity to Beirut. The town’s tourism is more family-oriented, and many restaurants and cafés can accommodate larger parties, so we were quite surprised that a boutique winery and delicious French restaurant had gone unnoticed for years. And to top that, they make one of the best white wines we’ve tasted in Lebanon.
Naji Boutros, the owner and a Bhamdoun native, started the winery after the civil war had ended, as a way to contribute to his hometown. Although the winery is relatively new, with its first barrels of wine produced in 2003, the property has a rich history. “The grounds of the winery are actually that of the French embassy to Mount Lebanon and also served as the French embassy for Jordan and Iraq,” Sandra Haddad, one of the winery’s partners, told us. “Naji had been living in the UK at the time and wanted to come back and do something for his hometown, so he started the winery. The lands where the grapes are grown are leased from local farmers so they can generate an income and not have to sell their land. We also try to buy a lot of the products for the restaurant from local producers.”
Asked how the delicious wine was produced, Haddad replied: “All the grape seeds were imported from Bordeaux, and this is why we serve mostly French-style food to pair with our wine.”
Belle-Vue produces four different wines: two reds, Le Chateau and La Renaissance, and two whites, Blanc de Telegraphe and Petit Geste. It was warm and sunny the day we visited, so we stuck with the white. The Blanc de Telegraphe was a great aperitif to go along with our charcuterie, but the standout was the Petit Geste, which was fruity and smooth and went well with the restaurant’s glazed pork rib steak. (Lunch at the restaurant runs about US$25 to $30 per person.)
“We opened the restaurant three years ago after people kept asking if there was any food to go with the wine,” Haddad said. The grounds now also host a wedding venue and seven-room boutique hotel.
The winery now produces 20,000 bottles a year, and the wines are sold in select stores and restaurants in Beirut and are also exported to the U.S. and UK. Given the chance, however, we think sipping their white wine in their beautiful garden is a must.