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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Massaya: The Hidden Gem in Bekaa

When touring Lebanon, it would be easy to miss some of the finest wines and arak in the world. Here’s a hidden gem the Media Guy recommends for those with a discerning palette.
Bekaa, Lebanon

Ok, I hear you…the Bekaa Valley? The Middle East’s breeding ground for terrorism training and drug running? You want us to go THERE for wine?

Let me clear up these myths right now: This ISN’T your father’s Bekaa Valley

I’ve seen the Bekaa with my own eyes. Home to the finest Greek/Roman archeological site (Baalbeck) in my world, Bekaa has changed quite a bit in the modern Lebanon. The days where stolen cars would be dumped after being ransomed off and the massive hashish trade are long gone. When you enter the Valley, the military checkpoint is welcoming and alerts you of any pitfalls that may await your journey. I called them “the Armed Forces Lonely Planet.”

Fine wine making is a tradition that dates back over 5,000 to the original inhabitants of Lebanon: the Phoenicians. With Byblos, the world’s oldest continuously running seaport a short distance away, tending vineyards and then trading the wine with spice runners were a natural fit. And, the people in Bekaa—then and now—are among the world’s most hospitable.

Now that we’ve cleared this up, let’s get to the good stuff. 

Massaya is the continuing incarnation of the pioneering Tanaïl Estate tended by the Ghosn family. Today, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call the sprawling, dramatically-located vineyard the centerpiece of the burgeoning Lebanese wine tourism industry.

On the day I arrived, Sami Ghosn was the king of hospitality treating a few colleagues / friends and me to a tour of the winery while crafting some amazing culinary selections from their Le Relais restaurant where guests normally lounge under the comfort of lush trees and pergolas.

In one of the most glorious dining experiences this side of Italy, Sami and his brother Ramzi—a trained Cordon Blue chef himself—guided their normal staff of housewives from neighboring villages in a finely executed balancing act of blended gastronomy.

Bruschetta, whole bean hummos, grilled eggplant with the signature Massaya soja sauce and pasta with dried anchovy paced a full-throttle menu that retained its equilibrium and old-world personality indigenous to the Bekaa region.

Sami Ghosn is the king of hospitality.
Inside the authentic country kitchen where the meal was being prepared in front of us, the sumptuous glasses of Massaya wines invited easy camaraderie with our new friends.

As Danny McCoy [Josh Duhamel’s character in Las Vegas] might say, “I’m more of a beer man than a wine man,” the Media Guy usually would say he’s more a vodka martini guy than a wine guy, but today swayed my bias towards to sweet tastes of Massaya.

The vineyard produces five labels every vintage: one Massaya Rosé, one Massaya blanc and three Massaya rouge (Gold Reserve, Silver Selection and Classic). Each features a fruity, rich blend with remarkably low acidity; a smooth innovative taste that is such to add to unforgettable evenings when you uncork a bottle at home with your guests.

As I sipped my way through the evening, somewhere between mountains and the Mediterranean Seas I felt something stirring. I realized it was my soul connecting to the land. I envisioned the Phoenicians entertaining much the same way. An understated feast with new friends while enjoying the wine that can only be crafted in the special place that Bekaa has become once again.

Epilogue

A quick search of the Internet found dozens of places to find Massaya wines. If you can’t find what you need, contact them directly:
Massaya & Co
+961 8 510 135 (p)

The Massaya wines spoke to my pallete...and my soul.
Friends share a toast.
The odd combination of dried anchovy and pasta was a true delight.
The grapes become wine under the watchful eye of the Ghosn family.
Loving Massaya...