There are moments in the career of a wine sales rep that will forever last in ones' memory. One of those moments happened this past Friday night when I had the privilege of dining and tasting through some of the most remarkable and enigmatic wines of the world – Chateau Musar. To my delight, I had the rare opportunity to dine next to Serge Hochar, wine maker of Musar in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, at L'Escale in Greenwich, CT. The event was sponsored by Nicholas Roberts Fine Wine in Darien, CT by Peter Troilo.
Serge came to speak with his son, Marc Hochar. In the lineup, we had six wines; three red and three white wines; all individually spellbinding and curious. But before I even start to tap into the amazing-ness that is Ch. Musar, I want to talk about Serge.
Serge Hochar, in of himself, is an enigma. But he's the kind of puzzle that you can't stop playing with, like a rubix Cube or those metal trick toys that are so simple, yet hard to find the right notch. Serge has been an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer and in his lifetime and the only thing that has held his attention so long is wine. Talk about a man that has found his calling in life! His wines are right in line with his own personality. They are deep, complex, but young-hearted and limitless. Serge is very young at heart; he would tell you that he is 27. And similarly to himself, his wines seem to get younger as they age. Of a winery that is producing around 50,000 cases annually, he does not try to manipulate the wines in any such way that would hinder their natural potential to age. His philosophy is simple: he wants you to feel happy when you drink his wines. “Drink ONLY what is memory.” This is the most important thing he would tell me all night.
Sitting next to Serge at dinner was like I was his own personal audience. The music of the dining that evening made it tough for an older (27) year old gentleman to speak to the whole crowd. So lucky me! I would ask questions and he talked to me about Lebanon. I am but a sheer novice in the department of Middle Eastern wines. But simply, these are wines from the 'Land of Milk and Honey'. And that they are...... There are over 200 different varietals that easily grow in the region because there is such a diverse amount of soils, elevations, and micro-climates. The grapes that are primarily used in the whites are indigenous varietals: Obaideh (related to Chardonnay) and Merwah (related to Semillon). For the reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Grenache. Serges' family history goes back over 900 years in Lebanon and then originating in France before the Crusades. He even wears a pin on his lapel marking that he is part of the Knights of Malta. Marc, his son, stays in Paris during the year working on the exporting of Musar around the world while Serge mostly stays at the winery.
OK, but what about these wines?? I mean, this is what it is all about!
All six of the wines were poured before we sat down to breathe and to also come to room temperature. Serge is adamant about even his whites being the same temperature as the reds. I would find out in a moment why. Also, the reds were served FIRST because they are not as complex as the white. Another unique tasting experience for me. We were encouraged to taste through all the wines before dinner was served to get a sense of them and then to pair with the foods to find our likings.
Red #1: 2001 Ch. Musar Rouge
A lovely wild strawberry color with a brickish outline. Upon my first taste, I noticed a lot of sweet prunes, rhubarb, figs and raisins. Serge would tell you that this wine reminds him of all the delectible things he used to eat growing up as a kid. This was a very easy drinking wine with or without food and has years of potential to cellar.
Red #2: 1990 Ch Musar Rouge
This is the wine that Serge would refer to as 'A Man'. It's maturing and really in a good place. The wine seemed to be a tad unfiltered with a cloudy hue in the color, almost reminding me of a Flemish ale, like Roedenbach. Loads of cardamom, sweetly dried apricots, cinnamon, plum cake and vanilla. A very showy wine but pretty. It was later in the evening as this opened up, a very dominant note of fresh orange peel came lunging out of the wine and it was very pleasant!
Red #3: 1983 Ch Musar Rouge
Tons of red fruit on this wine; raspberry, blackberries. And the acidity was beautiful. This wine almost reminded me of a Tawny port with the essence of toffee coming through. Serge got to this wine in our tasting and he said 'Ah ha! This is a REAL man!” Enough said.
White #1: 2005 Ch Musar Blanc
As most at the table would have it, they liked this wine the most, not to rule out the '81, but this wine was fun. It was my personal favorite at the table. It's a wine that when you put your nose to the glass, you are instantly transported to a world where everything is beautiful: meadow flowers, maybe chamomile, a warm sun beating on your face, golden honey, cinnamon baking spice, vanilla bean and buttered pecans. The taste was magnificently drier than expected. A very clean and precise taste that was warming and almost tawny-like on the finish with toasted cashew.
White #2: 1999 Ch Musar Blanc
This wine was the most perplexing as it took a bit to grasp what was in the glass. Admittedly, Serge told me this vintage was in a bit of a closed state. In about 3-4 more years, this wine would be in a good place to start drinking. But for the moment, I was able to get a more notes of butter than the 2005. The palate displayed a dry and minerally je ne sais quois. I'd be interested to see where this wine takes us in a few years.
White #3: 1981 Ch Musar Blanc
The darkest in color from the aging, the '81 was soy-like with umami tones. A very precise nose, complexity, but beautifully floral on the first whiff. There was something in this wine that took me a little while to pinpoint until I had it: Caramel Salt-water taffy from Cape Cod! I used to eat it every summer as a kid and it was screaming at me from this glass. Incredible how these wines hit every nerve in ones' memory glands. A little later I started getting notes of herbal spices and chamomile, not to mention the preserved lemon. Just a super gorgeous and feminine wine.
Each of these wines don't have to be a mystery to you. I you're reading these notes and want to add them to your collection. Nicholas Roberts Fine Wine in Darien, CT will be taking orders as long as they are available. You certainly would not be disappointed.
For more information on ordering these wines, please contact Peter Troilo:
Nicholas Roberts Ltd.
1053 Boston Post Road
Darien CT 06820
Phone: (203) 656-9463
If you'd like more information about Ch. Musar, click here: www.chateaumusar.com/
For reservations and upcoming events at L'Escale, call (203) 661-4600.