Driving up to Combe House yesterday with surrounding green fields, galloping horses, grazing cattle and a slight swirl of autumnal mist it’s hard to believe that things have ever changed over the past few hundred years. On arrival, the CPW team with Sami Ghosn of Massaya headed into the oak-panelled dining room to taste current vintages of Massaya.
(For background history to the Massaya estate please see Chris’s Blog under ‘Wine Trips.)
The vineyards of the Tanaïl Estate are located at an altitude of 1000 meters above sea level in the Bekaa Valley, where the slopes are protected by Mount Lebanon and the Anti -Lebanon mountains. Free of frost and disease, the Bekaa Valley enjoys a unique climate with long gentle summers, wet winters and an average temperature of 25 degrees that is perfect for viticulture.
Sami and his partners are in the process of building a new estate, primarily for white varieties in the Faqra region of the upper Bekaa Valley. Built alongside a ski resort, overlooking the Mediterranean and opposite one of most ancient temples in the world at Byblos, this has to be one of the most ideallic positions for a winery. Not to mention that if things ever get ‘difficult’ politically further on down the valley at their current position at Tanail then then they will have the new winery to depend on. The Faqra site is due to open in a year and with handcrafted stone archways, cellars backing into the mountains we are sure it will be a momentous occasion and a wonderful site to see.
Massaya Classic White 2010 – probably from the most un-stressed vines in the world. Sunshine, protection from harsh winds etc…A smooth, buttery aromatic nose, fresh and lively with floral notes which follow through to the palate. Elegant and soft with lovely fresh acidity that keeps this wine alive and zesty. Wonderful mouthfeel and a long length – definitely a Massaya characteristic which can be seen in all their range.
Massaya Rosé 2010 – Deliciously perfumed with fresh strawberry aromas and a touch of spice. This is a light peachy coloured rosé, dry and fresh in style with creamy fruit on the palate. A very versatile rosé, brilliante with food (see Chris’s blog in Lebanon – lots of rosé is mentioned !). Made to be consumed when it’s fresh and lively with that persistant red summer berry length.
Massaya Classic red 2009 – A dark rich, plummy nose, perfumed and aromatic with the sweetness of eastern spice. Great body, well-rounded, a splash of acidity and crunch red fruits from the Cinsault. (60% Cinsault, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah). Modern wine meets ancient tradition. A firm favourite of the CPW team.
Massaya Silver Selection Red, 2007 – Complex herby nose, tightly knit and Sami admits this is the most representative of Massaya and the Lebanon. Very fresh, beautiful balance and extraction, the spice continues through to the length and this will benefit from another 3 or 4 years ageing.
Gold Reserve Red, 2007 – (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah) – Firm and very elegant aromas of black spice, classic notes of violets and cassis. This is a delicious big chunky red, prominent tannins, and in a serious class of its own. If you’re thinking about cellaring some wine for the future this will not fail in delighting you in a decade.
Arak - Strangely enough their biggest export market is California. Made from the Obeidi Grape. When Massaya was first established in 1992 the cost of one kilogram of the indigenous Obeidi grape used in arak (5 liters of Obeidi wine for one 75 cl bottle of arak!) and white wine, was 20LBP per kilogram. This indicates a remarkable shift and one which is realizing the original vision of Massaya; the sustainability of agriculturural practice in the Bekaa. Massaya is the largest single buyer of this indigenous grape purchasing over 500 tons per year; a quantity which allows to take credit for this rejuvenation in traditional farming practices.
Having tasted these wines on their own we were lucky enough to taste them over lunch at Combe. Hand on heart these are great food wines – the Reds being sipped alongside chicken, belly pork, venison and wood pigeon and the white with bream and crab. The Rosé unfortunately had all gone by the time we had lunch (tuh !) but am assured it goes with pretty much everything it meets (as does Arak assured Sami). Thank you to Sami for a relaxed and informal tasting and thank you to Combe for a wonderful lunch.