The rosés of Lebanon

Lebanon has enjoyed a rich wine culture that dates back to over 4000 years ago when Phoenicians made wine from grapes along the long narrow coastal strip (200km long and 50-60km wide) at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean sea. The Lebanon and Anti Lebanon Mountains run the length of the country behind the coastal plain. Sheltered between these mountain ranges lies the high altitude Bekaa valley, made of deep chalky clay structure that has made it possible for grapes to thrive in this region.

These high altitude vineyards, ranging from 400 to 1200m, have cooler temperatures and a large diurnal temperature range (hot days and cold nights) resulting in high acidity, while the UV light gives thicker skins and greater fruit intensity. This, along with abundance of water from snow-capped mountains and an average of 240 days of sunshine a year, have resulted in success for a multitude of grapes, the list of which is ever expanding as more passionate wine growers achieve successful experimentation with many other grape varieties. Traditionally, Mediterranean varietals such as Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvedre have achieved great success in producing elegantly intense wines. But more so, grapes such as Vermentino and Touriga are also appearing in blends and hopefully will soon make it as varietal wines someday.

Lebanon has been a confluence of various sects of Christian and Islamism that has enriched its culture The Jesuit monks were the first to start growing grapes and Chateau Ksara is the oldest and one of the established and successful wineries producing over over 30% of the wines for Lebanon. Domaine des Tourelles follows closely a few years later in 1868 started by a French engineer and now run by the Issa and Issa-El-Khaoury family. The end of the 20th century witnessed a renaissance when wineries went commercial and the business of wine production expanded manifolds, due credit to a growing generation of passionate business entrepreneurs who worked abroad and came back to instil similar quality standards of wine production back home. Massaya is one of the modern wine leaders of Lebanon that came about during this dynamic era of wineries established in the late 1990s.

Lebanon embraces an elegant mix of rustic old-world sublime charm along with the fruit outburst and attractive easy style of New World era, making these wines not just uniquely gastronomic but also very versatile in terms of pairing due to their vibrant expression.

We acted fast to introduce this episode and reached out to wineries and merchants, Madeline Waters of Co.co and Rachel Davey to help us with bottles. All three of the wines reached Sumi in time for the instagram live show above. Liz had the Domaine de Tourelles live, but caught up with the Chateau Ksara the following day.

Massaya Wines

Massaya is a collaboration of Ghosn brothers (Sami and Rami Ghosn) along with Brunier brothers of Chateau Vieux Telegraph and Dominique Herbrard of Chateau Trianon. The rosé wine is 100% Cinsault handpicked and direct pressed with gentle pneumatic press and fermented in stainless steel. The colour is pale salmon (and was the palest of the three rosés) and the nose is of fresh red berries and red currants with orange peel nuances. The wine has zesty and lemony linear acidity. This is an elegant and bright light bodied styled wine showing complex fiery peppery notes and a crisp aromatic finish.

Sumi

To pair with this wine, I made a pesto hummus and served it on crackers with chives and pine nuts. The herbal richness of Pesto coupled with smokiness of paprika is beautifully balanced by the fruit depth and intensity of the rose. The wine being high on acidity can also pairs with the zing of the lemon juice. Adding pine nuts and pungency of the chives makes the cracker weighty giving it enough power to match with the fruit intensity of the Cinsault rosé.

These wines are available to buy from Tanners Wines.

Sumi's Pesto Hummus

Domaine des Tourelles

Faouzi Issa is the winemaker at Tourelles and together with sister, Christiane Issa and Emily Issa El Khoury run the winery which has, since being taken over witnessed grown in exports to over 20 countries. Since Faouzi took over the production has grown from 40,000 bottles to 500,000 bottles of wines. UK is a key focus and Boutinot are the importers of the wines. The wine is available through independent wine merchants such as Hennings.

Domaine des Tourelles rosé 2019 is a blend of Cinsault (40%), Syrah (30%) and Tempranillo (30%). The winery uses indigenous yeasts for their wines and the rosé wines are fermented in stainless steel to maintain purity and fruit expression. Syrah undergoes maceration via saignee method while Cinsault and Tempranillo are direct pressed with short skin contact. The wine is salmon pink with sunkissed and baked strawberry pie, ripe red cherries and yellow peach aromas. The wine is rounded showing texture and the Syrah peppery attributes are quite notable while the red fruit depth from Tempranillo adds concentration to the fruit. Liz noted some bitter cherry and almond notes giving a firm finish to the wine.

Chateau Ksara

Ksara is the oldest and biggest winery in Lebanon. They produce four types of rose wines and are the largest Lebanese producer of rosé. Winemaker Elie Maamari makes four rosés: Rosé de Ksara (Mourvedre, Caladoc and Syrah; a pale shell pink Gris de Gris (Grenache Gris and Carignan); Nuance rosé (Malbec, Vermentino and Marselan) and Sunset Rosé ((Cabernet Franc and Syrah). We tasted the Sunset 2018.

The Sunset Rosé is a pale red pink in colour with youthful and ripe fruit notes of raspberries and strawberries and an underlying structure with the herbaceous and peppery essence from both Cabernet Franc and Syrah. Its rounded, fruity but also a powerful wine made from saignée method of 10-14 hours of maceration of grapes. The wine reminded Liz of rosés from Tavel with its intense red fruit, firm structure and a delicate tannic finish, although the mouthwatering acidity clearly steers it away from the southern Rhone and to higher altitudes.

These wines are imported by Berkmann Wine Cellars and distributed by Novel Wines, vivino.com, Wapping Wines and Wineman and are distributed by Etablissement Chirag in France

Sumi

Both Domaine des Tourelles and Chateau Ksara pair beautifully with vegan seitan kababs. Seitan is a wheat protein and is very soft, stringy, heavy and added with cinnamon, black pepper, cloves and coriander powder with ginger spicy edge pairs elegantly with the two gastronomic bodied rosé wines of Ksara and Domaine des Tourelles. Added with the lifted acidity of these two wines, it makes an excellent food and wine pairing.

I also prepared Fattoush salad which is a bread based salad, summery yet full of flavours and intensity. These went excellent as the tangy sumac lemon vinaigrette was elegantly matched by the fruity outburst in the wines and the depth of fruit was perfect to lift the pita bread and bring out the zinginess of fruit. The mint and parsley leafiness particularly matched with the Cabernet Franc herbaceous hints of Chateau Ksara. The Syrah pepperiness of Domaine des Tourelles gave a good lift to the multitude of flavours blending the tangy sumac and fresh salad attributes.

Sumi's Fattoush Salad

Liz

The power and fruit of these rosés, with their long fresh acidity made me think that I could go with quite strong flavours. I thought of the savoury pastries my grandmother would cook and chose to go with a selection of local Nicois pastries cooked by my village traiteur (delicatessen) Les Halles du Mercantour. Although traditionally served with ice cold Provence rosés which serve as a refreshing balance rather than with wines, such as these, to match the food.

Tourte aux Blettes (right)is a local pie found in the valleys around Nice and today can be made in both sweet and savoury versions. The version I selected was very traditional, made with the blettes (Swiss Chard - a leafy vegetable similar to spinach but without the astringent oxalic acid) and flavoured with the savoury seasoning offset by pine nuts and dried orange. The counterbalance of sweet, salty, fruity and earthy was perfect with both rosés.

Tarte Provençal (middle) a small quiche style tart with Mediterranean vegetables - peppers, tomatoes and courgettes. Creamy, fresh and soft, it was particularly good with the Tourelles with its pronounced red fruit.

My third pastry (left)was a slice of Pissaladière. This can be made with either a bready pizza dough or, as in this case, crisp pastry. The top is made with onions, cooked and reduced to a sweet rich compôte and decorated with salty black Niçois olives and slivers of anchovy. The rich sweet and salty mix also went beautifully, with both wines strong enough to balance, not hide behind the flavours.