Life is made of those little moments where you appreciate how “Small is Beautiful”
We had so much heard about Atibaïa that we had set the bar very high. And the least we can say is that we were pleasantly surprised and far from being disappointed. Jean Massoud, wine lover and collector of great wines, has created in 2007 in this fertile region, a wonderful winery housed in a 17th century rustic tenement.
At our arrival to Smar-Jbeil, Jean greeted us at the door of this beautiful house transformed into a reception hall and an office, both very nicely furnished with a collection of classic design pieces. And we were only starting to discover this superb winery full of personality, well reflecting its owner’s figure & taste.
Without wasting time, Jean started telling us about his passion and the full story of Atibaïa.
Atibaïa’s vineyards are spread in Smar Jbeil and the surrounding three villages: Mrah El Ziyat, Mrah Chedid & Jran.
A mix of flat and steep terraces, gravelly and rich mineral soils, all growing mostly the same variety of grapes: Syrah & Cabernet Sauvignon. Some Malbec has been added recently and the production is very promising for some future single varietal wines.
Atibaïa’s wines are produced with an uncompromised attention to details. Jean and his oenologist and winemaker Diana Salameh are hands on from the very start of vineyard care till the end of sealing the bottles. Closely watching the grapes grow, controlling the yields and keeping 7 to 8 clusters per vine only. Following up the sugar concentration continuously and intervening throughout year on the vines.
Then depending on the years, in August or September, comes the harvest season.
This, like everything else, is a manual process. Harvesting starts in the early morning from 5 to 8am. At 8:00, all the grapes are in and a festive wine tasting is prepared for the team, just before starting to sort and select the quality grapes to retain.
The 1st vintage of red was produced in 2009. Currently, it is the 2012 which is marketed.
Jean has always wanted to produce one red wine only. However, Diana, who had worked with ‘Leflaive’ a famous producer of great white wines in Burgundy, was pushing Jean to produce a white wine. She succeeded in convincing him. And in 2015, the Atibaïa white, a blend of Chardonnay and Viognier aged in French oak, was produced. And it was a great success.
Our group was well into the story when Jean invited us to resume our discovery visit, moving to the cellars. So we walked to the second part of the domain, and down the stairs to a very impressive, carefully organized, very well equipped, tidy and clean production and aging site.
Jean took the stand and continued his story about the grape’s journey to red wine…
Fermentation lasts 20 days @ 18 to 21 degrees. Two times a day the juice is pumped over to better extract color, tannin and flavor from the grape skins. Then follows a second malolactic fermentation which can last 1 to 6 months.
After that the wine is put to rest in Oak barrels, exclusively French Limousin barrels.
The used barrels are changed at a pace of 30% per year. Each varietal of each parcel is aged separately. Aging lasts 12 to 14 months. Then the blend is assembled. All barrels are tasted before assembly and only those that are of the required quality are retained and used for the blend.
The Atibaïa blend is 55% Syrah, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon & 2% Petit-Verdot. The Syrah brings softness and richness to this beautiful wine.
The Atibaïa reds 2011, 2012 & 2013 were very well noted by Robert Parker and are exported in selected countries.
Now that we know all about Atibaïa, the group was hasty and eager to taste the wines.
So we moved to the upper floor where Jean had prepared the scenery.
Decanted Atibaïa red 2012, chilled Atibaïa white 2016, cheese platter and wine glasses were all set.
Everyone, a glass in hand, went enjoying these 2 wines on the Terrace.
The 2012 Red is of a deep ruby color and has a lot of character.
Aromas of cherry and a mix of red fruits. Soft spices and complex notes of tobacco and cedar with a hint of cloves and cinnamon.
It will surely gain in complexity with years in the cellar, but still very ready to be enjoyed now.
The 2016 white is just very elegant and aromatic.
It combines floral and stone fruits aromas. Well balanced, the oak bringing a nutty, buttery hint.
Definitely a white wine to adopt.
The group was so delighted discovering this marvelous domain and superb cellars and greatly enjoyed the savory wines.
It was difficult to leave but obviously we did not go empty-handed.
A big thank you to Jean for his kindness and hospitality, and we surely look forward to more great wines from Atibaïa.