Sunday, 28 April 2013

Wine from a philosopher

I had another chance recently to meet Serge and Marc Hochar, the father and son team that runs Chateau Musar high up in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, this time tasting their whites.

Anyone who has spoken with Serge would agree that he is a charismatic gentleman. He has been making Chateau Musar since 1959, and although his son recently took over day-to-day operations, Serge still retains responsibility for overall direction in winemaking and continues to present the wines around the world, a role that he clearly enjoys.

Serge is a competent winemaker, but forget about asking him any technical details—I tried and failed. He prefers to talk about philosophy, and likens wine with the brain: we all have different ways of thinking and sensing, and so does wine. Every wine evolves differently. His 180ha vineyard is organic and the wine is made with minimal human interference and sulphur. Serge believes wines make themselves.

We tasted his white, the 1999 and the 1989. It is a blend of Chardonnay and Viognier, pale brown in colour. The 1999 had an intense marmite savouriness with a round mouthfeel and lingering length, while the ten years older 1989 was, surprisingly, much fresher on the palate with still a hint of the floral. Why? I asked. Was it because of the vintage, the winemaking, the ageing? He shrugged and said this is just how it developed. Just like himself: he felt he was younger now than yesterday — 27 years old, apparently. Well, I suppose we can’t be too technical all the time. After all, wine is for the enjoyment, especially with company.

Chateau Musar is not everyone’s glass of wine. ‘It is faulty, oxidised, bretty....’, said some, but then it has its loyal followers. Life wouldn’t be fun if every winemaker made the same "McDonald’s" wine.

Having said that, his new range, Musar Jeune, first produced in 2007, is unoaked, vibrant and approachable. With its modern label, it appeals to the young consumer who prefers an easy drinking style. It is apparently a big seller in Europe. The white is a blend of Viognier, Vermentino and Chardonnay. It is refreshing yet has a good concentration of fruit. Musar Jeune Red is a blend of Cinsault, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon with ripe tannins and a fruity palate. Despite his philosophical approach, Serge is still a businessman, sensing that a new style of wine is needed for today’s consumers.

When I left, I was still pondering some of Serge’s words: "My doctor is wine", "My whites are my reds"... Well, let’s have a glass of wine.

Chateau Musar is available from Fico International

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