Lebanese Evening

Aladdin Restaurant, Withington, Manchester
24th January 2009

John Dickinson of French Regional Wines in Lancaster had put together a selection of Lebanese wines from various importers and the search for a suitable venue at which to taste and drink these wines resulted in us alighting on Aladdin Restaurant in Withington in South Manchester.  This perhaps wasn't the most comfortable surroundings, but it was very apt.  A busy, crowded restaurant is usually a sign of good food and good value, and we certainly got both here.  An long procession of quality mezze showed particular prowess with the fryer for various borek-type pastries, though there was also some slightly unaccustomed spicing on occasion, as in, for example lahmajun with a strong cinammon flavour - not unpleasant, but unexpected.  We had all eaten so much of the mezze that we perhaps did not do full justice to the simple, but very tasty and accurately cooked grilled meats that formed the main course, and only the hardiest of stomachs (on this occasion not including me!) could even contemplate desserts.  The Arabic style coffee was pretty good.

When it came to the wines, I have to admit to being a little disappointed in the overall quality.  Most were decent wines, but lacking much interest.  The best wines, however, were excellent and could stand against their comparators/competitors from other regions of the world.  Probably the most famous name in Lebanon wine is Serge Hochar's Château Musar: I was, I think, secretly hoping that a wide ranging tasting of other Lebanese wines would knock Musar off its perch, but for me, the evening cemented Musar's prominence.

NV or 2004 Private Selection Muscat-Viognier, Domaine Wardy, Bekaa Valley, 13.5%
2500 bottles produced.  A flashy bottle that screams premium.  I couldn’t see any vintage on the bottle, but was told this was 2004.
A mid gold colour.  Feeling rather oxidised on the nose, which is lemony and slightly musky.  Quite a rich feel on the palate; very dried fruit.  Not unpleasant, but a bit over-oxidised.  Is it meant to be like this?  83/100

2007 Blanc de Blancs La Cuvée d’Hélène d’Egypte, Château Kefraya, Bekaa Valley, 13%
This is a blend of viognier, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, clairette and ugni blanc from terraced vineyards at an altitude of 1000 metres.
It has a slightly pinkish straw colour.  The nose is floral, scented and citrusy.  Simple palate.  Quite a forward, warm climate sauvignon feel.  Very short, and with a slightly hard metallic feel on the finish.  It’s not convincing me.  83/100

2006 Coteaux de la Bekaa Blanc, Château Nakad, Bekaa Valley, 12.5%
This is a blend of ugni-blanc and clairette.  It has a simple nose with some hints of melon.  Quite a concentrated feel to the palate.  It’s fine, but doesn’t really appeal to me.  82/100

2005 Massaya Classic White, Bekaa Valley, 13%
Massaya is a collaboration between Sami & Ramai Ghosn in the Bekaa Valley, Dominique Hebrard of Châteaux Bellefont-Belcier and Trianon in St Emilion, and the Bruniers of Vieux Télégraphe in Châteauneuf du Pape.
The Classic White is a blend of 60% sauvignon blanc and 40% clairette.
The nose is very air-freshener perfumed – like sitting in a taxi that’s just replaced its lemon air freshener hanging from the mirror.  Nice palate.  Very crisp with high acidity.  A nice fresh, clean, crisp wine.  86/100

2000 Château Musar White, Bekaa Valley, 12.5%
Grapefruit, cashew nuts, almonds and musk on the nose; maybe even a hint of oak?  Lovely palate, with a nice savoury feel.  Rich and satisfying.  90/100

2002 Jars of Cana, Clos de Cana, Mont-Liban, 13%
A blend of petit cabernet (whatever that is), pinot noir and mourvèdre.  On the nose there are very fresh, plummy black fruits, some raspberries and some cherries.  Quite a sweet nose, but it has a nice fresh lift.  It’s great until you put it in your mouth.  Ugh.  It’s like drinking a stale ashtray.  Very firm tannins throughout.  There are some red fruits there, but after the nose, it’s a real disappointment.  82/100

2002 Château St Thomas, Clos St Thomas Bekaa Valley, 14%
A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah from vineyards situated  at around 1000 metres above sea level, looking over the plain of Bekaa.
There’s quite an international feel on the nose, which is just a hint Rhôney.  There are forward black fruits on the palate, and it’s a bit chocolatey on the finish.  Very good texture.  Excellent length.  90/100

2001 Chateau de Cana, Vallée Lamartine, Clos de Cana, Bekaa Valley, 13%
A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah.  This has very herbal red fruits on the nose with some volatile lift.  There’s nice fruit initially on the palate, then some very dominant woodiness, and the tannins take over completely towards the finish.  Rather short, with a curious suggestion of cocoa on the finish.  86/100

2002 Cuvée Lamartine, Clos de Cana, Bekaa Valley, 13%
A blend of cabernet sauvignon, grenache and merlot.  This has a very light colour.  There’s bright cherry fruit on the nose with a bit of blackberry.  Feels fine.  A rather rustic palate.  Really quite interesting.  A touch medicinal.  87/100

2005 Massaya Classic Red, Bekaa Valley, 14.5%
A very deep, complex nose with elegant black fruits and some meatiness and sweetness.  There’s sweet, forward fruit on the palate.  Very appealing with great spice on the finish.  Lots of interest here.  Very enjoyable.  90/100

2002 Château Nakad, Bekaa Valley, 14%
Cabernet Sauvignon, syrah, grenache and merlot.  There are very even black fruits and a hint of woody spice on the nose.  Rather nice on the palate.  Very mouth filling – very wide.  It develops a very spicy, peppery feel on the finish, which is nice and clean.  Very good length.  88/100

2002 Château Kefraya, Bekaa Valley, 14.25%
Cabernet sauvignon, carignan, mourvedre, grenache and syrah.  Fairly mature colour.  There’s some smoky, toasty oak dominating the nose.  Quite an intense … errmm … purple fragrance.  A nice mature palate, showing good balance.  89/100

1999 Massaya Selection, Tanaïl Property, Bekaa Valley, 13%
A fresh nose, though quite slight, with some red fruits.  Nice palate – nice and light and fresh.  The most elegant wine so far tonight.  90/100

2004 Massaya Gold Reserve, Bekaa Valley, 14%
Quite a perfumed, serious nose.  Good palate, with a nice freshness and good acidity balancing the ripe fruit.  Very peppery spice on the finish.  89/100

1999 Château Musar, Bekaa Valley, 14%
The nose has meaty red and black fruit, accompanied by orange peel, sour cherry and a sweet lift from a hint of volatile acidity.  On the palate, this is a lovely, fresh, young Musar.  Very fresh and lifted, with flavours of red fruits, cherries, roses and a bit of white chocolate.  90/100

2000 Heritage Chateau, Heritage, Bekaa Valley, 14.5%
An interesting nose with clean, slightly citrussy red fruit.  Very nice attack.  Fairly high acidity on the palate, rather too much in fact turning precision into something a little unbalanced.  87/100

1999 Comte de M, Le Grand Vin de Chateau Kefraya, 14.5%
This is a blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah, aged for 12 months in new French oak. 
The nose?  Imagine Serge Hochar making Châteauneuf du Pape: very bretty and rather rubbery, with black fruits, violets and some garrigue notes.  You really would be in the southern Rhône with this if served blind.  Quite fresh on the attack. Very precise, focussed palate.  It has a nice integrated structure and a lovely finish.  Great length.  91/100

2003 Marquis des Beys, Grande Cuvée Pierre L. Brun, Domaine des Tourelles, Bekaa Valley, 14%
A blnd of syrah and cabernet sauvignon.  It has a rather young appearance.  Very bright strawberry and vanilla ice cream nose.  On the palate, there are more red fruits initially, but these fade very quickly into a hollowness, followed up by firm tannins.  It doesn’t wholly satisfy and is a bit unbalanced.  87/100

2003 Lacrima d’Oro, Château Kefraya, Bekaa Valley, 15%, 500ml
This is a vin doux naturel made from clairette grapes, which matures in tank for a year, followed by three years in bottle.  A palish gold with a bronze tinge.  Lovely nose – orangey, but also slightly nutty.  Rather disappointing on the palate.  Quite freshly flavoured on the attack, but then it’s just very sweet and lacks acidity.  Just a tiny bit of a spirity bite on the finish.  It tastes a bit like a honey, orange-flower-water and rose water syrup that you’d pour over baklava.  85/100

NV Nectar de Kefraya, Château Kefraya, Bekaa Valley, 18%, 500ml
This is a mistelle, that is grape juice (here from ugni blanc grapes) fortified with spirit (in this case a brandy that has been matured in oak barrels at Château Kefraya).
It has a caramelly, oxidised, raisiny nose.  Unsurprisingly, it’s like a low alcohol, sweetened brandy, but still maintaining a spirity touch.  The back label says “boire glacée” and it would be better so served, though it’s not going to win any more interest nor character thus.  I would much prefer a Pineau des Charentes or a Floc de Gascogne which are made in a similar fashion.  84/100  


NV Divina Arak, Château Khoury, 55%, 500ml
Arak or Raki is the traditional spirit of the Middle East.  It is an anise spirit, intended to be drunk with water.  It is obviously related to Greek Ouzo and French Pernod and Ricard, but is a cleaner taste than those.  This Arak is a blend of obeidi grapes and anise vert, triple distilled.  It has a glorious, very clean anise nose.  Very, very clean palate.  Extremely good arak.  92/100


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Last updated: 2 April 2009