Bank Holiday Battle of the Rosés Château Ksara Sunset Rosé 2018
The lovely Hannah from the British Bouchon recently challenged a group of wine lovers (including me!) to put forward their competitors in an epic Battle of the Rosés! I wanted to champion something exciting and unexpected from a region that we wouldn’t ordinarily connect with rosé wine - and so my choice in this brilliant challenge is the oh-so-prettily pink Château Ksara Sunset Rosé 2018.
Lebanon may not be the first country on your go-to list when it comes to choosing a wine (indeed, it may not be a country that you associate with winemaking at all!) but make no mistake, this small Middle Eastern nation nestled on the Mediterranean coast boasts some serious viticultural credentials. Lebanese wine was being exported around the Med to nations such as Egypt as far back as 2600 BC, whilst the jaw-dropping Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek was constructed around 150 BC and is one of the largest and most magnificent tributes to the god of wine to be found anywhere on earth. And let’s face it – where Bacchus was concerned, bigger was always better!
However, the history of winemaking in Lebanon is not an uninterrupted one. Lebanon has a colourful, chequered and often turbulent past and has been controlled by many civilisations and empires down the centuries, including the Phoenicians, the Babylonians and the Romans. In terms of winemaking, one of the most pivotal periods began with the arrival of the inexorable Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. Ottoman rule saw the country enter a protracted dry spell which wouldn’t end until the arrival of Jesuit monks in the 1850s … an event which in fact brings me beautifully on to my rosé of choice! The connection here is a satisfying one, as it was Château Ksara, whose fabulous Sunset Rosé I am reviewing, where the very first modern Lebanese vines - Cinsault imported from Algeria, to be precise - were planted in 1857.
The Ottomans held control until just after World War 1, when the League of Nations ruled that Lebanon would be administered by France. This led to welcome new freedom for winemakers, and from 1930 onwards, the founding of iconic wineries such as Château Musar and a profound French influence on Lebanese culture (so much so that for a time Beirut became known as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’) meant that the winemaking industry slowly began to thrive and has been on the rise and rise ever since. This is all the more astounding considering that difficulties posed by the unstable political situation in Lebanon, which continue to the present day, have often made winemaking a much more hazardous a pursuit than in many other regions. Today, an ever-growing number of successful producers, including the likes of Château Musar, Domaines des Tourelles and Château Ksara, are making fabulous wines from all kinds of interesting and exciting grape varieties which place Lebanon firmly on the map as a rising star of the modern wine world!
SO. This brings us nicely to the producer of the moment!
Château Ksara Sunset Rosé 2018
Château Ksara takes its name from the Arabic ‘ksar’, meaning fortress, and sits at the heart of the remote Bekaa Valley. The Bekaa is one of Lebanon’s premium growing regions thanks to a long, hot summer growing season and an average altitude of 1000 metres, which balances the often baking summer heat with cool evenings and nights, helping the grapes ripen fully whilst retaining lovely freshness and character; a naturally occurring water table also prevents the region from becoming too arid.
Fun Fact Alert: Allow me to digress here just for a moment, but it’s cool, I promise … aside from making great wine, Château Ksara also has the unique distinction of being home to the first observatory ever built in the Middle East! It was established in 1902 by the Jesuit priests who owned the property at the time in order to monitor rainfall and seismic activity – it’s now a private home, but Ksara still have a wine named Blanc de l’Observatoire in honour of the monument.
The Sunset Rosé is, in my opinion, a fabulous example of how to do rosé differently. Lovers of those uber-trendy paler-than-pale Provence-style rosés might not know what to do with the energetic rose pink colour initially, but I love it; this is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Syrah which spends around 12 hours on the skins (meaning that the grape skins and juice remain in contact, transferring colour into the wine) so it’s vivid and bold against that sometimes barely-there Provence pink. It’s still a dry wine, but complex and interesting, crisp acidity and a luxurious mouthfeel supported by aromas that are redolent with bright, ripe red berry fruit notes of wild strawberry, raspberry and cherry, alongside a gorgeous vanilla fragrance and some lovely spice from the Syrah.
On the palate, it’s rich, rounded and refreshing, oozing delicious juicy fruit and more vanilla. The depth and complexity of this rosé is a great recipe for gastronomic success; I tasted it alongside some kiln-smoked salmon from our local market which was bang on, but it would make a beautiful accompaniment to any form of Mediterranean-style cuisine. Think beachside dining on a balmy Beirut afternoon … or, indeed, what is shaping up to be an equally balmy Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK! This is no glamorous, one-trick pony summer quaffing rosé – the Château Ksara Sunset is a pink wine with serious vinous credentials and a fantastic way to dip your toe into the enticing waters of Lebanese wine. I rest my case!