I am a wine ignoramus; it just so happened that I had lunch with Kamal and his guests at Tawlet recently; a man with a British accent sitting on my left was introduced to me as Michael Karam, author of a book on Lebanese wines.
In the course of the following months, both my English cousin in London and my dad in Beirut received this book as a birthday present.
Yesterday, I picked up this coffee table book, thinking I would spend a few minutes looking at the photos. I could not put it down.
Here is what I liked about this book:
- This is not a pedantic book for wine experts who are looking for detailed and technical exposés on Lebanese wines. This book is for people like myself, who are interested in stories. Frankly, the winemakers of Lebanon have quite a story to tell. Michael Karam knows how to draw them out and his tales are captivating.
- The book is divided into three main sections: a historical background on Lebanese wines, dating back to Phoenician times and beyond. A section on the established winemakers in Lebanon, such as Ksara and Kefraya. Lastly, a series of small chapters focusing on the new arrivals on the Lebanese winemaking scene such as Massaya, Clos de Cana or Domaine Wardy.
- The photos in this book, taken by famed photographer Norbert Schiller are as compelling as the stories. I especially liked the portraits of Bedouin women, who, as it turns out, play an essential role in the harvesting of grapes (and have for thousands of years).
- This book informs, but in a leisurely and enjoyable fashion. I am now aware, for instance, that Lebanese winemaking goes back at least 7000 years. That the vast majority of the labor hired to pick grapes are Bedouin women (who get paid on the average $4 a day for their efforts). That winemaking in Lebanon, while ancient in tradition, has been strongly influenced and coached by Bordeaux winemakers. That Lebanon has indigenous varieties of grape that have not been touched by disease yet, unlike their European counterparts.
- I felt through this book as if I knew the winemakers intimately. Their childhood, their struggles (narrowly escaping bombing, looting, kidnapping), their challenges (trying to sell wine in a country that traditionally drinks arak), their triumphs. Château Musar, for instance, being singled out by a leading wine expert as one of the best wines in the world.
- This book managed to spark my interest in wine, interest that had been dormant up until now. I immediately took my daughter out for dinner and ordered a Kefraya Rosé blanc (sweet and delicious) and a Cabernet.
What I did not like about the book:
- This book is not very technical; since this would have discouraged me from reading it, I don’t consider it a drawback, but I guess some people might.