To celebrate my birthday a few weeks ago my boyfriend and I went for dinner at London’s Oxo Tower, a restaurant renowned for its culinary art, stunning views and exceptional wine selection.
As it was obviously a very special occasion we decided that a unique, out-of-the-ordinary bottle of wine should be consumed. It had to be either new to our palettes, or one that would be rare to find on your typical wine list… priced within reason of course!
After taking in the stunning views from the restaurant’s balcony, we sat down at our table and were immediately presented with the wine list – well actually, to be more precise, we were presented with the wine book. All in all there were 15 pages of wines to choose from. From red to white, to the pink and the bubbly, to the before and after meal varieties, every kind of wine had been accounted for. We both looked at each other, slightly baffled about where to even begin, but intrigued by the choice.
The first thing was to decide red or white.
We choose red as we’re both in the mood for a rich, meaty meal. We jump right to the rouge section of our new bible, quickly passing over the Pinot Noirs and the Merlots. Delicious yes, but not tonight. We’re after something a bit different after all. When we reach page five of the reds, we see a small section entitled “Ancient World Wines” and we stop in our tracks. We’re intrigued. It’s soon decided that a birthday celebration is the perfect occasion for exploring all things “ancient,” so we peruse over the different options and decide upon the 2009 Massaya Rouge Classic from Lebanon; a blend of 60% Cinsault, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Syrah: a truly mouthwatering mix!
Massaya, meaning twilight, is produced at the Massaya & Co Vineyard in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon’s primary wine-growing region. The valley’s fertile soil, arid summers and rainy winters make for perfect growing and ripening conditions for the grapes. Lebanon is one of the oldest wine-making countries in the world, dating back thousands of years to the time of the Phoenicians, who were in many respects, the viticulture masters of their time.
Lebanese wines might not currently rank in popularity amongst us UK wine-drinking plebs, like French, Italian and Spanish wines do, but thanks to a recent surge in publicity, awards and accolades, they’ve quickly become increasingly popular amongst experts and wine elitists. Now, if my plebeian experience with the Massaya Rouge Classic is anything to go by, then it’s only a matter of time before Lebanese wines become dinner party staples. Prepare to make room on your wine rack, I say.
The 2009 Massaya Rouge Classic is rich, smooth and incredibly unique in flavor. It’s an earthy wine, perhaps almost musky, with infusions of cracked black pepper, exotic herbs, leather and perfume. All of these tastes and aromas were extremely prominent due to the genius blend of jammy Syrah, spicy Cabernet and aromatic Cinsault grapes.
My favorite element of this wine, however, is the faint taste of pine and licorice on the finish. These dynamic flavors gave each sip a truly unique edge. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not a strong pine flavor, like the one you get in Greek Retsina; it’s just a subtle ode to the lushious conifers that surround the Bekaa Valley: faint but present.
Now lets talk about age here. 2009 is a young vintage, but I was completely surprised by how mature and complex the wine was. It really held its own and complimented our meaty meals perfectly.
Overall, I’d recommend this bottle to anyone who likes a little bit of intrigue and distinction in their vino. Massaya Rouge Classic is not like your everyday go-to wine, but trust me on this, give it a try and you’ll quickly be singing its praises as well. I’ve since picked up another bottle from my local wine merchant, Highbury Vinters (£12), but it’s also available online through Berry Bros & Rudd and Hedley Wright Wine Merchants.