As much as I hate to kiss the last few days of summer goodbye, I have to admit, I love the feeling of ‘newness’ that comes with September’s arrival. For this month’s edition of The Grand Tour, I wanted to reflect that in the wines we sent your way. This month, we’re heading to Lebanon, one of the most underrated wine growing regions in all of global viticulture. Despite being one of the oldest grape growing areas in the entire world, their modern-day story is relatively new. Sunny days, high elevations, and a slew of international grape varieties collide in this rather interesting wine producing zone. I can’t wait to tell you more.
Most consumers don’t even realize that wine is being produced in modern-day Lebanon, and until about 30 years ago, that was pretty much the case. Sure, the region is one of the oldest wine-producing areas in the world, but due to modern day circumstances (including a brutal civil war), wine hasn’t really been produced in the area until recently. I find this to be such a shame, because a handful of growing sites in Lebanon actually provide some of the most optimal conditions for viticulture. Due to the overall lack of regional producers, especially those vinifying juice in a way that we at Verve Wine support, I’ve decided to use this month’s edition to highlight one groundbreaking producer that’s completely changing the game in the Middle East.
The story goes a little like this. During the late 20th century, brothers Sami and Ramzi Ghosn were forced to leave their native Beqaa Valley because of a violent civil war. In the early 1990s, Sami finally returned to Tanaïl and was shocked by what he saw. Squatters occupied the land, his former home was completely destroyed, and the regional vines that grew in his area had been left unattended. Immediately, Sami felt a desire to reinvigorate the land where he was raised. Alongside his brother Ramzi, the duo decided to dedicate their lives to high-quality wine and arak production. In 1994, their first distilled spirit was released to the market.
The brothers went on to replace their vines with international varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Mourvèdre. In 1998, the brothers brought Dominique Hebrard (Bordeaux) and Frédéric and Daniel Brunier (Châteauneuf- du-Pape) on board to consult with terroir assessment and blending techniques. Immediately, the quality of Massaya wines skyrocketed and gained worldwide recognition. After a successful decade, Sami and Ramzi decided to look beyond their estate in Tanaïl and pioneer viticulture elsewhere. They settled on vineyards in Mount Lebanon, which allowed them to both better the quality of their white wine grapes and vinify red wines in cooler temperatures.
Massaya’s vineyards are dominated by chalky clay soils, and are situated at soaring altitudes. Although Lebanon is dominated by scorchingly hot sunny days, it’s these high elevations that help keep grapes balanced and fresh. Vines are relatively young, not much older than 25 years or so, as many vineyards were replanted during the 1980s and 1990s. Red wine production is much more common in Lebanon. Vineyards are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cinsault, and Rhône varieties, though small amounts of white wine are produced, too.
Massaya says it best: Although Lebanon often receives a lot of negative commentary in the media, the country actually has an extremely joyful side. Visitors are welcome with open arms at the winery and are encouraged to experience the region’s spirit of tolerance and coexistence – all with a glass of delicious wine in hand, of course. I truly hope you enjoy discovering this amazingly talented duo’s wines as much as I did!
Dustin Wilson, Master Sommelier
Massaya Blanc 2017
Fruit for Massaya Blanc grows on the foothills of the Mount Lebanon mountain range at soaring altitudes of 1,200 - 1,600 meters (4,000 - 5,000 feet) above sea level. The blend is comprised of equal parts Obeidi, Rolle (Vermentino), Clairette, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay, all coming from an average of 20-year-old vines. Grapes are hand-picked and brought back to the Faqra winery in small crates, where they are direct pressed and fermented in a combination of foudres and demi-muids. The cuvée is bottled after eight months of aging on the lees, which creates a balanced and textured wine full of white flower and citrus notes.
PAIRING IDEAS: Massaya Blanc’s naturally high acidity and fruit-forwardness make it the ideal companion for fresh salads, seafood, and chilled hors d’oeuvres. No need to age, drink now!
Massaya Cap Est 2015
Like Massaya’s Cinsault, fruit for Cap Est grows on the hillsides of the Beqaa Valley, mostly at altitudes of around 1,200 meters above sea level. Dry and continental climate conditions coupled with chalky clay soils create the perfect situation for growing Grenache and Mourvèdre. Cap Est is a 50/50 blend of the two varieties, vinified at the Tanaïl winery after hand-harvesting. Post sorting, fruit is fully destemmed and vinified in temperature-controlled oak vats, followed by 22 months of aging. Notes of juicy red berries, violets, and wet stones gorgeously collide in this smooth, well-balanced bottle. The wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered.
PAIRING IDEAS: Cap Est’s fruit-forward flavor profile and well-integrated tannins make it the perfect companion for roasted red meats, crock pot stews, and veggie burgers on the grill.
Massaya Rosé 2018
This varietal Cinsault rosé has been one of our favorite wines to drink this summer, and we can’t wait to continue savoring it throughout early fall! Fruit comes from the hillsides of the Beqaa Valley at altitudes ranging from 900 - 1,200 meters (3,000 - 4,000 feet) above sea level. Post hand-harvesting, grapes are brought back to the Tanaïl winery in small crates and are direct pressed. Fermentation and élevage take place in stainless steel vats for the sake of preserving the juice’s natural freshness. The wine exudes flavors of straw- berries, red currants, and spice, leading to a lengthy, refreshing finish.
PAIRING IDEAS: This Cinsault rosé is ideal for early fall happy hours out on the porch. Simply grab a light sweater and your favorite block of cheese and get to sipping.
Massaya ‘Terrasses’ 2013
Fruit for Massaya’s ‘Terrasses’ grows in the foothills of Mount Lebanon, specifically in the Hadath Baalbeck region. This Grenache dominant blend (55%) is rounded out with Mourvèdre (30%) and Syrah (15%), leading to a juicy, dark-fruited wine marked by well-integrated tannins. The juice is vinified at Massaya’s Tanaïl winery in temperature-controlled oak vats and is aged 22 months in foudres. Flavors of black cherry, sappy plum, and exotic spices, dominate the palate, leading to a structured, lingering finish.
PAIRING IDEAS: This powerful yet balanced red is the perfect match for lamb, grilled meats, and a variety of traditional Lebanese dishes, including sfiha (meat pies) and kafta kebabs.