Sami at Star Anise
Sami Ghosn wasn't taking much credit for the splendid set of wines he shared with a packed Star Anise at last night’s Wine Dinner, part of the 10th anniversary celebrations of the excellent Bridge Street restaurant.
Sami, Chairman and General Manager of the Massaya Company, based in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, said it was easy to make wine there. The local conditions, no rain from April to September, but still moisture in the soil from the snow melt in the nearby mountains, the same mountains that hold back the rain clouds, plus the blue sky luminosity (a major factor in promoting growth) and the soil itself, lead to grapes of outstanding quality. He maintained that ninety per cent of the work is done for the winemaker.
Still Massaya does have some work to do and does it well in this surprisingly small country, some 200 kilometres by 50. They can wait for the proper time to pick, citing this as a major difference between his wine and “supermarket wines” which are produced to a schedule. But, in Massaya, everything, including the picking for example, is done “at the optimum time”, the schedule being laid down by nature.
Our first bottle was the Massaya Blanc, a blend of Clairette, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and the indigenous Obeidi. This was fresh, elegant and well balanced, almost velvety on the palate.
Then it was reds all the way. First came the Classic Red, a blend of Cinsault (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. “This is very approachable”, he said. “The door opener to the Bekaa. Cinsault is the Southern Rhone grape and we have French partners working with us. It has good fruit and spice and is very versatile.” Just to underline that latter point, we enjoyed it with the monkfish course.
The Silver Red was another Rhone type, a bit more serious, maybe not as versatile. “But more classic. Goes well with lamb, which we have to-night”.
We finished with the Gold Reserve Red, a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Mourvedre and 10% Syrah. This is the top one. He advised dressing up for this serious bottle. “It has spent two years maturing in new French oak casks and will keep maturing nicely. It may need decanting and is to be enjoyed with red meat, chocolate and maybe a big cigar!”
It has 14.5% abv. “You are not supposed to sense the alcohol. ..if you do..it is unbalanced.” No danger of that with this full-bodied gem. Tasting notes on all the wines are here.
The excellent wines proved a challenge to Star Anise but one they welcomed and met by providing a brilliant matching meal. Each course was top notch, almost impossible to pick one over the other but, if pressed, I’d go for the Monkfish and the exquisite Madeleines. But I really wouldn’t want to miss any of them. Well done to Virginie and her team and a big congrats to Conor and Virginie on their ten years in business. Long may they continue!
Gazpacho with Celery Cress and Goat’s Cheese crostini
Scallop tartare with Shaved Fennel, Chilli and Orange
Monkfish, wrapped in Prosciutto, with Romesco Sauce, Courgette, and Toasted Almonds
Canon of Lamb with Tabbouleh, Sweet Potato Puree & Pomegranate Yoghurt
Madeleines with lemon Curd and Strawberry Salsa
Tea & Coffee