Notes from London, Beirut and Izmir

London’s calling

When the bomb that took out a block of houses in Beirut on October 19 exploded, my mother and I were working our way through a bottle of unforgettable “deliciously fruity” (according to the wine list) Merlot in a pub on London’s King’s Road.

My mother instantly ordered another bottle “For our nerves you understand. And anyway two glasses cost nearly as much as a bottle so it makes sense, non?” I tried to suggest we go for something else, but she was adamant. “It’s the one I always have when I come here.”

I gave in. I had been in London for ten days and was by that point thoroughly underwhelmed by the mediocrity of the wines that had found their way onto the wine lists of the capital’s bars and gastro pubs.

Mediocrity defines many of the wines in London’s bars, brasseries and gastro-pubs

It’s as if consumers don’t really care what they are drinking as long as it passes for wine and fits their budget. Are expectations really so low? I was at another lunch with Lucca, an Italian friend who tasted a “cheerful, easy drinking” £18 Sicilian red. “It’s ok,” he said, before eventually casting off any misplaced patriotism and admitting that it was about as much fun as a mafia funeral.

$18 pounds may be scraping the barrel, but before you start telling me it served us right for being so cheap, there is no excuse for serving junk at any price. In any case I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised by what I expected to be an honest table wine.

The Sicilian winemaker should have been arrested

We sent it back and had to climb to the upper £20 range to find a wine that was worth drinking (a “robust and full bodied” Rioja as it turned out). As the waiter cleared up the bottle and glasses, the Italian told me that the wine was probably sold ex-works for euro 1.50. It doesn’t take Pythagoras to calculate the whopping mark up.

But what I would have given for a Domaine Wardy Merlot, a Massaya Classic, a Domaine des Tourelles Rouge, a Karam Maison, a Château Musar Cuvée or any of the other entry level reds that punch above their weight. They would all have been in the mid-to-upper £20 range and blown away the competition.

London is where entry level Lebanese wines with their full-on fruit, spice, guts and grandeur can compete with and overpower similar labels from the rest of the world.

I’m not saying it’s easy (finding the right distributor is key) but I am no longer sold on the old canard that all Lebanese wines are necessarily overpriced.

Except in Beirut

That said, many are, especially those that are made for the local market and for no reason other than their owner thinks they are worth it. If you are asking people to pay in some cases up to $50 for a locally made wine, you had better deliver…and at this price very few can.

We are a nation possessed of an unwarranted wine snobbery

There is a weird rationale here in Lebanon that suggests if something is attractively priced it won’t sell. Maybe it stems from the Arab adage el irhkees ghalee (cheap [will eventually prove] expensive).I don’t know.

A few weeks ago, a winery owner whose total production is under 10,000 bottles and who has just released his second vintage, told me that his “marketing team” had advised him not to under-price his wine, as no one would buy it. Is this because we still see wine as something special, the gift to take to dinner or the drink to serve on those occasions? If so we attach far too much unwarranted snobbery and see wine through the wrong “lens”. We should celebrate our wines, talk about our wines (and by that I don’t mean complain that “Lebanese wine gives me a headache”), drink and enjoy our wines and not treat them solely as an indicator of taste.

Turkish Delight

Just back from Izmir where from November 9-11, 300 wine bloggers, geeks and educators gathered at the latest European Wine Bloggers Conference, of which Wines of Lebanon was one of the sponsors, to meet, share ideas and learn about the region.

It was a vibrant event, attended by some of wine’s biggest hitters, and one that demonstrated, not only the power and potential of social media, but also just how much wine producers can get their message across by using it.

Two Lebanese wines, Chateau Ka’s Fleur de Ka 06 and Domaine des Tourelles’ Marquis des Beys 06 represented Lebanon at the Grand Terroir tasting, which was hosted by Charles Metcalfe and Tim Atkin MW, and featured five other wines from Turkey, Georgia and Armenia.

Our wines were easily the smartest on the parade square (Well I would say that wouldn’t I?). The Georgian white Teliani Valley, Samshvenisi Kvevris 2010 was very funky and loaded with honey, citrus and nutty flavors (Fans of Musar’s Château white would like it), while red Zorah, Karasi 2010 from Armenia was elegant and understated, if a bit thin. But none came close to the elegance of fruit, balanced structure and sustained range and controlled power of flavors that the Lebanese pair delivered. So there!

It’s a shame the Greeks, Cypriots, Israelis, Syrians and the Egyptians didn’t show up. Then we could have found out, once and for all, who really does rule this end of the Mediterranean.

Till next time…


5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    I enjoyed this, thanks … I was there in Izmir as well … although I do not completely agree with the (biased) assessment of the wines … and I do mean that in the friendliest sense … I do believe you are correct in suggesting that more wines could have been represented and that there was, perhaps, an opportunity lost in this moment … next year? #ewbc13? a judging panel a’la LIWF to create a list of 100 wines from Europe might be a puzzle worth inventing … Cheers! see you next year, Michael

    • 2

      ywsadmin said,

      Hey Ben,

      Yes I make not excuses for my bias. I did enjoy all the wines on offer and had a thoroughly good time. Hope to see you soon somewhere equally fun.



  2. 3

    I love that I have learned a new arabic phrase that I so agree with “irhkees ghalee”

  3. 5

    evoinos said,

    Shame I didn’t pick up your review earlier – let’s hope that indeed this Eastern Med wine cradle will awaken so as to accompany you in the upcoming editions – nice write up – Keep well

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