Sunday, October 27, 2013

Wine Club ... Pairing Wine with Lebanese Mezze

The latest wine dinner was a first for one of the couples.  It was their first time preparing a dinner for everyone.  They decided to prepare and serve a multiple course dinner of Lebanese dishes that were drawn from family recipes.  From sambousek bi jibne to  kibbe nayee, it provided us with an opportunity to experience the culinary heritage that is an important part of their family.  

I volunteered to do the wine pairing, which was quite the task.  I wanted to make sure that there were at least a couple of Lebanese wines.  Lebanon has a long wine-making history, and, it may be one of the oldest wine production sites in the world.  The cultivation of grape vines dates back principally to the Phoenicians, who were primarily responsible for the planting of the vines along the coast and in the interior valleys.  The production of wine continued to grow while the lands were under the control of the Romans and Greeks.  However, once Lebanon became part of a caliphate, wine production decreased.   Wine production was tolerated only insofar as it was used in Christian religious ceremonies.  It was not until the mid nineteenth century that wine production began to increase once again.   This renaissance was led by Jesuits, who along with the French occupation, helped to increase wine consumption there.  

I managed to find several Lebanese wines at a local store; however, I decided to pair Lebanese wines to two of the four courses. I decided that I would try to pair a couple other wines for the remaining dishes.  
Chateau Ksara Blanc de Blanc (2012)
Paired with Syrian Olives, Jibn (mild white cheese), Syrian Bread, Stuffed Grape Leaves, Tabouleh, and Hummus

The first course was a variety of mezze dishes ... Syrian olives and Jibn, stuffed grape leaves, tabouleh, and hummus, all of which was served with Syrian bread.  All of these mezze provided different flavors and textures, which makes pairing a little dififcult.

Still, there is some common themes.  One of those themes was that the best wine for pairing would be a white wine.  There was one white wine from Lebanon.  It was a white blend from Chateau Ksara.  This winery was established by Jesuit monks in 1857 in the Bekaa Valley.  The vineyard and estate is located near Baalbeck.  Its name is drawn from "ksar" or fortress, because it was the site of a fortress during the Crusades.

There are several other interesting facts with respect to Chateau Ksara.  For example, the wine cellar used by the winemakers is a grotto that was discovered by the Romans, who dug tunnels from the cave.  The Jesuit monks enlarged the tunnels during World War I, using local people to dig the tunnels in order to create employment and alleviate famine.  The Jesuits eventually sold the estate and the wine production to a private concern, which has continued to produce the wines in the tradition of their predecessors.

This particular wine -- the Blanc de Blanc -- is a blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Chardonnay and 25% Sémillion.  This wine is aged for four months in French oak barrels. The aromas of this wine were described as floral, which is true to a certain degree.  The taste of this wine evolved as it warmed up.  At first, I was not sure I could describe it, but, over time, it opened up and elements of citrus, like grapefruit, and melon began to make their presence known.  There was also some elements of nuts and spice in both the aroma and the taste.

While I may not be a big fan of Sauvignon Blancs, the blending of the grape with Chardonnay and Sémillion really helped to produce a relatively light, smooth wine.   This wine was a very good start because it was not overly fruity, which allowed for it to pair well with all of the different flavors -- from the chickpeas in the hummus to the parsley in the tabouleh.  A bottle of this wine sells for about $11.99.

Henri Bourgeois Petite Bourgeois Rosé de Pinot Noir (2012)
Paired with Eggplant Slices, Pomegranite, Yogurt and Tahini

There was only one dish for the second course ... Eggplant Slices with Pomegranite, Yogurt and Tahini.  The eggplant slices were baked in the oven and then topped with the pomegranate seeds and a yogurt sauce.  

For this course, I had my sights set on a white wine or perhaps a rosé.  I ultimately chose the latter, and began looking for a French rosé.  The rosé style is produced in many different appellations in France, from the Loire Valley to Provence.  I chose a rosé wine from the Loire Valley, which is one of my favorite appellations in France.

The wine is the Petit Bourgeois, which is produced by Henri Bourgeois.  The vineyard is in Chavignol, which is located in Sancerre is almost equidistant from both Tours and Dijon.  The winemakers at Henri Bourgeois focus upon two varietals: Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.   Those Pinot Noir grapes are used to produce the Petit Bourgeois.  

This salmon-colored wine was described as offering up light red cherries on the nose, followed by red berries and dill on the palate.   The description is fairly accurate.  The aroma of this wine was full of strawberries, raspberries and cherries.  Those strawberries carried over into the taste of the wine as well.  The body of the wine is particularly light and easy to drink.

This wine paired very well with the eggplant dish.  The wine was light enough to contrast with the baked eggplant and the tartness of the pomegranate seeds.  This wine served as a great transition from the Blanc de Blanc to the next wine.  This wine sells for about $10.99 a bottle.

Massaya Classic (2010)
Paired with Sambousek bi Jibne, Fatayer, 
Kibbee Nayee, Kibbee Sunnee and Koosa

The third course was a return to multiple mezze.  The dishes include Sambousek bi Jibne (cheese pies), Fatayer (spinach pies), Kibbee Nayee (raw beef with burghul and onion), Kibbee Sunnee (a baked version of Kibbee Nayee) and Koosa (squash stuffed with a lamb mixture).   These courses would naturally seem to suggest that a red wine, but the cheese pies presented a pairing challenge, because of the spices created some amount of heat.  That type of heat will often intensify the tannins in red wine, which is something that may not be pleasant for some (but it is fine with me).

This is where I chose to pair a second Lebanese wine.  I could have chosen another wine from Chateau Ksara, as there were at least four different reds from that winemaker at the store.  Whenever I do the pairing, I try to use choose different winemakers.  So that eliminated all of those Ksara wines.

There were two other red wines from Lebanon, and, I chose the Massaya Classic (2010).  Like the Blanc de Blancs, this wine is a blend produced in the Bekaa Valley. The particular blend is 60% Cinsault, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Syrah.  The wine is first fermented in stainless steel tanks and then in concrete vats, which the winemaker says helps to promote the "suppleness" of the wine.

The Massaya is very reminiscent of a French blend, such as a Bordeaux or a Cotes du Rhône.  It wine pours a dark red, and, there is a very solid aroma of red berries and fruits, from strawberries to red cherries.  The body of this wine is much fuller and bigger than the first two wines, which is to be expected.  The taste of the wine is very fruit-forward, with a good amount of strawberries and ripe cherries.  There is also some spice and tannins in the wine (which, as I expected, were heightened a little when eating the cheese pies.  However, it paired very well with both types of kibbe.  (By the way, I really liked the Kibbe Nayee, which was the first time that I ever had it.) This wine can be found for about $14.99 a bottle.

Bagrationi Classic Brut
Paired with Rice Pudding

The final course, which was the dessert, was rice pudding.  The original recipe included an apricot compote, but, apricots are not in season.  However, the rice pudding was made with orange water, which added a nice flavor to the dessert.

I knew what I wanted to pair with this dish ... a sparkling wine.  However, I did not want a prosecco or cava; instead, I wanted a different sparkling wine.  The store where I did my shopping had a couple of interesting wines from Georgia.  While Lebanon may have some of the oldest vinicultural sites, some sites in Georgia date back to 6000 B.C.  As with Lebanon, wine became more important in Georgia when its people converted to Christianity.  More recently, Georgian wine was produced and solid throughout the Soviet Union, and, the wine remained popular in Russia. However, recent political troubles led to the ban of Georgian wine in Russia, which meant that the winegrowers had to look elsewhere to sell their wine.  Hence, the sparkling wines on the shelves of the store where I was shopping.  

This particular wine -- Bagrationi Classic Brut -- comes from one of the more popular winemakers in Georgia. Georgian Prince Ivane Bagrationi-Mukhraneli began producing sparkling wine in Georgia in 1882 using the méthode Champenoise.  This sparkling wine is made from grapes that are indigenous to Georgia, such as Chinebuli, Mtsvane, and Tsitska.  The Chinebuli is a grape varietal that produces clusters with big, cylindrical and thin-skinned berries that have a fleshy, juicy pulp.  The Chinebuli used in this wine come from vineyards located in the Kartli region, which is near the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi.  The Mtsvane varietal is a white grape that is used for white wines.  The Mtsvane grapes come from Kartli, as well as Kakheti region in the eastern Caucasus mountains.  Finally, the Tsitska grape is a varietal that is used in sparkling wines and is cultivated in the Imereti region in western Georgia.

The Bagrationi Brut pours a light straw color, with a good amount of carbonation at the outset.  The wine is as its name suggests ... brut or dry.  The winemakers describe the wine as having aromas of citrus and flavors of honeydew.  Those descriptions are accurate, although I would add that there is some melon and cantaloupe in the taste of this wine.  The effervescence of the wine worked well with the creaminess of the rice pudding.  This wine was a good pairing, although other pairings, such as the Massaya and the Blancs de Blancs worked a little better.  Still, a bottle of the Bagrationi costs $11.99.


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