Lebanon. How many of us know much about this country?
And Lebanese wines??
Lebanese food yes, but Lebanese wines may not be entirely familiar territory to most.
It has been an interesting first quarter of 2011 for me; both experience & certainly culinary -wise.
Fresh off guzzling wines in vineyards in Yarra Valley, Victoria Australia; I recently had my first sip of South African wines from the La Motte Vineyards . Argentinian wines was another memorable discovery during the MALBEC day a few weeks back (blog post pending).
And just last month I was privileged enough to dine at Al Amar, Pavilion KL for their exclusive wine tasting dinner, featuring wines from the respected Chateau Musar vineyards.
Needless to say; as a gourmand I was most curious & eager to learn about Lebanese wines. Food that night was grand, (that goes without saying) and perfectly paired with the majestic wines of Chateau Musar.
Below: Samkeh Harra – Grouper fish served on a bed of spicy tomato sauce. I loved the firm, fresh fish paired with spicy & sharp tangy stewed tomatoes.
Dinner commenced with the Vegetable Platter – fresh vegetables to be dipped with the array of cold mezzes (Hummus, Moutabal – mashed aubergines, etc) & a platter of variety of pickles & olives.
Fresh vegetables platter coming out from the kitchen.
All mezzes were accompanied with hot, freshly baked Lebanese bread. Self restraint had to be exercised to stop at ONE serving. Seriously.
One of the cold mezze was this “Shanklish” – assorted Lebanese cheeses fused with labneh (cheese made of strained yogurt) & Al Amar’s special spices with thyme, chopped tomatoes, onions, parsley & capsicum. A fan of strong tasting cheese, I find this particularly good for the difference in texture & flavours when the cheese was eaten mixed together with the spices. It’s certainly a twist from the common varieties of cheese one buys from the supermarkets.
The Lebanese wines were free flowing all night long of course. As we snacked on the cold mezzes, we sipped on CHÂTEAU MUSAR HOCHAR PERE ET FILS 2003, BEKAA VALLEY, LEBANON.
The Hochar Père et Fils Red 2002 is an intense burgundy color with a beguiling, complex nose full of ripe, juicy black and red fruits with Christmas spices combined with figs, dates and cedar wood. The oak is subtle and well-integrated with a palate bursting with fruits – red and black cherries, juicy blackcurrants and blackberries, damsons and plums balanced with good acidity, fine tannins and excellent length.
Personally? I agreed on the berries; for this wine took me by surprise with its strong, sharp smell of “fermented berries“. Taste-wise it was heavy & savory, perfect to drink complement with food, for I won’t recommend it to be drunk on leisure. Perhaps the taste took some getting used to, as I find all the wines tonight so “heavy” & strong from the norm. But that’s the point of wine tasting isn’t it? To discover new palates & to appreciate different vintages from different countries.
Ralph Hochar, third generation of the Hochar familyof Chateau Musar gave a brief introduction of the vineyard’s history & background of the wines that night.
Chateau Musar Vineyards
‘organic’ from the outset
Chateau Musar’s red vineyards are situated towards the southern end of the Bekaa Valley, north of Lake Qaroun and about 30 km south-east of Beirut. They lie near the villages of Ammiq, Aana and Kefraya on a range of gravelly soils over limestone – ideally suited to viticulture.
The wide range of soil types & aspects results in wines of distinctive character and blends of appealing complexity. The grapes used to make Chateau Musar Red are Cabernet Sauvignon and Southern Rhône varieties of Cinsault and Carignan from long established, mature vines yielding a maximum of 30 to 35 hectolitres per hectare.
CHÂTEAU MUSAR CUVEE ROUGE 2004, BEKAA VALLEY, LEBANON
The Musar Cuvée Red 2004 vintage is predominantly made from Cinsault (55%) blended with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and a small amount of Carignan.
Fermentation took place in cement vats and was kept at a maximum temperature of 28 degrees Celsius, resulting in an intensely rich and fruity wine.
It has a beautiful deep, red ruby colour with attractive dense berry and currant aromas. The palate is full of rich red fruits with blackberries and juicy cassis finishing with a hint of chocolate.
The tannins are soft and subtly integrated into the round, full palate and the wine has a freshness which counters the Mediterranean richness and cements the wine’s easy drinking personality.
CHÂTEAU MUSAR JEUNE ROSÉ 2007, BEKAA VALLEY, LEBANON.
This is a bold, flavorsome dry wine, reminiscent of a top class Provencal rose. A pink/coppery hued wine, it is made with the free run juice from Cinsault. Pure and un-oaked with intense aromas of ripe raspberries, red apples and toasted almonds. These flavors follow through on the smooth, rounded palate, which is savory and refreshing.
CHÂTEAU MUSAR JEUNE RED 2009, BEKAA VALLEY, LEBANON
The blend of Cinsault, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon was left un-oaked to allow full expression of vibrant fruit characters and the unique Lebanese terroir. Intensely aromatic with vivid, mouth-filling flavors of cassis raspberry and red cherry.
The ancient and indigenous white grapes of Obaideh and Merwah which prefer slightly cooler conditions to the reds are grown in vineyards at even higher altitudes on the mountain slopes, some 1,500 metres above sea level.
Every wine of Chateau Musar is produced naturally with a ‘non-interventionist’ wine making philosophy and the winery was the first in Lebanon to implement organically certified viticulture.
It was certainly an educational night. I sipped on all the wines, took notes and tried to match what my tastebuds was telling me to the wines that was described during dinner. The overall experience was new, and the wines; you’ll have to taste it to agree with me that Lebanese wines are entirely beguiling & multifaceted in taste from the usual ones from Australia, New Zealand, etc.
Below: More food with the wines. Salads.
This pastry platter below consisted of 2 cheese rolls – all gooey & yummy, 2 kebbeh kras – the round balls, 2 beef sambousik – almost like lamb curry puffs, dry but flavoursome; & 2 spinach fatayer (spinach dumplings).
Cross-section of the kebbeh kras, beef samsousik & spinach fatayer.
The fried chicken liver topped with pomegranate is an acquired taste. Simply put : love livers? You’ll like it. Not a fan of livers? Then you won’t.
Soujouk. Spicy lamb sausages marinated with Al Amar’s Lebanese seasoning. A good ratio of fat & meat.
Foul Moudammas. Steamed chick peas served with olive oil & garlic.
Kind of reminded me of a certain indian snack.
Falafel. Fried beans & chick peas paste served with tahina sauce & condiments. This was like chilli; & tasted very much like a wholesome stew.
Surprisingly the humble Batata Harra – fried potato cubes with chili powder, garlic coriander & lemon was everyone’s favourite that night. Fluffy soft potatoes coated with a tinge of spice, we polished the plate & agreed this was the next best thing to fries.
The Chateau Musar wines that accompanied our food that night. This particular one has such a mesmerizing hue of lovely red, perfect shade for a sexy cocktail dress.
The pièce de résistance of the night was this. A whole lamb baked for more than 10 hours with Al Amar’s blend of spices.
There’s 2 of them on this platter alone.
And here’s another platter below. All to ensure that the esteemed guests that night was well fed. Thank you so much Al Amar!
The meat was craved on the spot onto individual plates for serving.
This was so incredibly good that I wished they have served it earlier, when I’m not so stuffed from all the earliers mezzes! Haha…I’m a pig I know.
The meat was tender – (I have expected nothing less!); accompanied by the fluffiest & aromatic long grained rice plus a sprinkling of cashews & raisins. Right before the plate leaves the chef, he rained a spoonful of flavourful gravy on top.
Last dish of the night – Grilled Chicken marinated in Al Amar’s home made garlic lemon sauce. The sauce was almost like aioli with a squeeze of lemon, while the chicken was beyond reproach, smoky & delicious marinated with its secret myriad of spices.
Then it’s desserts time. The Al Amar rice pudding.
And a refreshing platter of fresh fruits. Perfect to cleanse the palate from the strong flavours from the meal we had.
Some perfect flaky bavlavas for a sweet ending.
Our desserts were accompanied with glasses of Arack.
CHÂTEAU MUSAR ARACK, BEKAA VALLEY, LEBANON
For the uninitiated, Arack is Lebanon’s national beverage. It is traditionally produced from distilled grape must and aged for 5 to 10 years before being redistilled in the presence of anis seeds. Finally, the Arack is matured for 12 to 24 months in terracotta amphoras, the same style that served Romans during antiquity.
Note: Château Musar produces two different styles of Arack. L’Arack Vieille Réserve which is distilled 3 times and l’Arack de Musar which is distilled 4 times.
Below: The chef responsible for the delectable dishes.
All the esteemed guests that evening.
Al Amar Lebanese Cuisine, 6th Floor, Pavilion KL.
Al-Amar Lebanese Cuisine
Jalan Bukit Bintang
Tel: 03-2166 1011.
For an earlier review on Al Amar Express, surf over HERE.
Al Amar Express aims to bring Lebanese cuisine at more managable portions, affordable pricing & is perfect for shisha sessions overlooking the busy streets of Bukit Bintang!
All Lebanese wines featured here are available from:
Dionysus Asia Sdn Bhd
Contact: Louis Choong (+6016- 330 4333) or Edmond Quah (+6016 -332 0333).