Even before Jesus pulled off the neat trick of changing water into wine, even before the Greeks and Romans got in on the act, the ancient people of Lebanon were making wine'some 5,000 years ago. All across Lebanon, which is only about the size of New Jersey, you’ll find vineyards and wineries. The country is blessed with some 300 sunny days each year.
The only place I know of in Utah where one can sample Lebanese wines is at Ali Sabbah’s Mazza Middle Eastern restaurant (see Dining, p. 34). The state wine stores don’t seem to carry wines from Lebanon'all the more reason to enjoy a meal at Mazza and discover wine from the world’s oldest wine-making region.
I should mention, by the way, that the wine list at Mazza doesn’t only feature Lebanese wines. There’s an eclectic mix of wines from Spain, France, Italy, Morocco, New Zealand and California as well, not to mention beer from Lebanon, Armenia and Morocco. And now Squatters’ full-strength IPA is available at Mazza, a slam-dunk pairing for Sabbah’s wonderful lamb and rice dolaas.
Probably the best known Lebanese wine is Chateau Musar. Wine Spectator wrote “Chateau Musar makes great, age-worthy reds.” Unfortunately, there aren’t any Chateau Musar reds on Mazza’s list yet. Sabbah is working on bringing some in, but they are pricey. His white wine from Chateau Musar ($7.50/gl.,$36/btl.) is made from obeideh and merwah varietals, which undergo partial fermentation in oak, then are blended, bottled and aged for another four years. It’s a nice pairing with Mazza’s potatoes harra and baba ganooj.
Mazza also serves Massaya Lebanese wines from the Bekaa Valley. Massaya is a not-so-ancient wine venture, a partnership between brothers and winemakers Sami and Ramzi Ghosn with the owners of France’s Chateau Trianon and Le Vieux Telegraphe. It’s named (Massaya) for “the time of day when twilight sets on the vineyard and the sky turns purple as the sun sets behind Mount Lebanon.” Massaya “Classic Whiteâ€ ($5/glass, $24/bottle) is very dry and aromatic and would make a good aperitif wine. I’d also drink it with Mazza’s Lebanese Salad or spinach fatayer. The “Classic Red” from Massaya would pair nicely I think with the falafel or chicken and cauliflower kabseh at Mazza.
One especially nice consideration when sampling Lebanese wines at Mazza is that they are each available by the glass; you don’t have to spring for an entire bottle to indulge in your own Lebanese wine tasting. The very tannic, acidic Chateau Ksara Reserve du Couvent ($5/glass, $24/bottle), for example, might not be for everybody. But it’s smoky, somewhat nutty flavor would, I think, work well with a dish like ful mudammas or Mazza’s beef and lamb shawarma platter. Meanwhile, the flexible and fruity KÃ©fraya Cave Kouroum RosÃ© ($5/glass, $24/bottle) can complement almost anything on the Mazza menu.
So the next time your hankering to try something new and interesting, schedule a field trip to Mazza to explore the wines of Lebanon.
Correction: In the Nov. 10 Grapevine, I suggested that the half-ounce “splashes” at Ghidotti’s for sampling wines were free. The samples are actually 25 cents each.