Grapevine Archive for Lebanon
Burns Night is fast approaching, arriving this coming Sunday. In anticipation of the coming night here are some of my choices for wine and spirits to toast, and then drink alongside the glorious haggis.
Haggis is a very robust dish with strong meat and spice flavours. Any lightweight wines will therefore be well and truly drowned out. In my opinion, the best options are therefore full-bodied and spicy reds of the Rhône, Greece and Lebanon.
• Semeli Nemea Reserve 2010 (£10.95)
This is a wonderful example of agiorgitiko with firm tannins and red berry fruit. From a classic vintage in Greece this is a full-bodied and rich, yet fine and elegant wine that will continue to age for a further five years.
• Gigondas Chateau Raspail 2011 (£14.95)
This is classic Gigondas, full-bodied, richly textured, spicy with ripe and round tannins with just the slightest oak influence.
• Massaya Silver Selection Red 2010 (£17.50)
This cuvée is a blend of cinsault, grenache, cabernet and mourvèdre made with the help of Chateauneuf winemaker Daniel Brunier. This has wonderful blackberry notes with spice. It’s round, exotic and elegant with firm, ripe tannins.
• Chateau Musar 2007 (£22)
One of the great cult wines of the wine-world coming from Lebanon’s most famous producer. This cabernet, cinsault and carignan blend has bags of character, it is powerful and concentrated with dark berry fruit and spice. This should be peaking around 2022 and lasting until 2027, but is drinking fantastically now.
Of course, if you are able and willing to experience the occasion in the true, traditional way then there is no better option than Scotch whisky. Of course it is advisable to have some of Scotland’s greatest export on hand even if serving wine, for after the meal.
• Litre of The Society’s Special 16 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky (£25)
If you are having a Burns Night party with the whole clan in attendance it may be an idea to keep aside the single malt and pass round glasses of this terrific blend. A blend of fine old malts and grains this has delicate smoke and honey here, with complexity and length reminiscent of far more expensive drams.
• The Society’s Exhibition Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 12 Years Old (£32)
For those looking to splash out (hopefully retaining some liquid in the glass) this is a wonderful option from the Society’s Exhibition range. This 12 year old malt has classic Speyside qualities of wonderful dried fruit, sweet spices, nuts and citrus fruits.
Trainee Campaign Manager
‘Wines are made to be opened and enjoyed. Tomorrow the wines may not be here or you may not be here.’ – Serge Hochar, November 2014Lebanon’s great wine luminary Serge Hochar passed away last week whilst on holiday with his family in Mexico. He was 75.
Serge Hochar was the driving force behind Chateau Musar, having taken over the reins as winemaker from his father Gaston in 1959. At this time, the wines were sold exclusively in Lebanon, but under Serge’s stewardship Chateau Musar became one of the great internationally celebrated wines of the world.
However, Serge leaves far more than a monumental winemaking legacy. He will be remembered as much for his charismatic, eccentric personality and sense of fun, which touched everyone who had the chance to meet him.
The Wine Society’s first contact with Serge was during his UK visit in the late 1960s when he met with then Society buyer, Christopher Tatham, to taste the new vintages of Musar. The tasting was a success and The Wine Society became the first wine merchant in the country to ship the wines: the 1967 listed in April 1971.
Since then, Musar, especially the red, has always held a special place with members of The Society. It is a wine style like no other: both bewitching and baffling, reflecting Serge’s non-interventionist approach to winemaking, his courage to take risks and his determination to stick with his vision. As he once said, ‘I once produced a wine that was technically perfect but it lacked the charms of imperfection.’
It was family friend Ronald Barton of Château Langoa Barton in Bordeaux who persuaded the Hochars to plant cabernet sauvignon, adding to Musar’s exuberant carignan and cinsault bush vines in the Bekaa Valley. It is why Musar red can resemble claret one year and Châteauneuf the next, depending on which variety or varieties appear to hold the most promise.
In 1984 Serge was chosen as Decanter magazine’s first-ever recipient of the ‘Man of the Year’ award, for continuing production in defiance of Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War. And now, three decades on, the wines of Chateau Musar are exported globally with a fervent following around the world.
Serge said: ‘I make wine on the edge, every vintage is different. There is no one Chateau Musar exactly like the other.’
Likewise, it is fair to say that there is no personality in the wine world like Serge. He will be missed.
I was delighted to host a tasting of eight vintages of Lebanon’s Chateau Musar last month, attended by some 50 Society members. It was a great chance to examine what makes this iconic Lebanese wine so special.
We were fortunate to look at four of the estate’s most reputed years – 2005, 1997, 1995 & 1993. The wines all showed beautifully.
The currently available 2005 (£20 per bottle) continues to impress me: still in its first flush of youth and with plenty of time ahead, it is such a beautifully complete wine. The 2003 (also currently available for £20 per bottle) had a more subdued nose but a lovely, fleshy, sweet-fruited palate that everyone really enjoyed.
The 1998 was the most surprising wine of the tasting: this has come round well and is drinking perfectly now. It was one of the favourite wines amongst those present. It was nice to hear from Musar’s Jane Sowter that our thoughts chimed with those at the estate’s: ‘We didn’t use to feature it much and it was always overshadowed by the 1997 and 1999,’ she told me, ‘but everyone falls in love with it now.’ It is not hard to see why.
The 1997 provided a fascinating and delicious contrast to the elegant 1998: powerful and bold, it is full of flavour with an attractive spicy note that was pure pleasure to taste. The 1995 bowled me over: an amazing and dazzling wine. The 1993 was also superb, in a more mellow yet structured way.
The final wine was the fully mature 1977, and it was interesting to see this complex, cloudy and leathery Musar divide opinion. Some adored it, while others found its more savoury, less fruit-forward style challenging. Even more so than with punchier modern vintages, personal preference does seem to play a part when tasting wines of this age. Personally, I thought it showed the complex tertiary flavours you expect with a fine, high-quality aged wine yet was still incredibly fresh and lively on the palate.
All in all, a fantastic Musar tasting.
Society Buyer for Lebanon
Every year The Wine Society takes advantage of the London International Wine Fair and the presence in the country of so many growers by inviting them to come and pour their wines, and talk with enthusiastic members.
This year we decided to do things a little differently and invited members and producers to our premises in Stevenage for an ambitious and exclusive mini wine fair for Society members: ‘A Grand Day Out’ (cheese and crackers optional).And so it was that on Sunday morning, over 500 members poured in to our tasting marquee to sample the 96 wines on offer, the majority presented by the winemakers themselves.
The wines were arranged in a rough alphabetical order based on country of origin and so Australian producer Mac Forbes had a busy start to the day. Showing both his own wines and the exclusive Blind Spot range, the highlights for me were a sneak preview of the spicy Mac Forbes RS 14 Riesling, 2012 (stock due in June) and the soft and succulent Blind Spot Grenache-Shiraz-Mataro.Further round the marquee, Basaline Despagne cut as stylish a figure as her wines, with the 2012 vintage of Society favourite Château Bel Air Perponcher Réserve blanc showing extremely well. Flying the flag for New Zealand, Jane Hunter OBE and Michael Brajkovich MW between them showcased the diversity of premium New Zealand whites – Michael’s Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay, 2010 proving a balanced and complex wine after the vibrant intensity of Jane’s 2012 Exhibition Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
Nipping outside briefly for some air (and making a note to book a larger marquee next time) I received a tip off from a member that the Italian offerings were simply stunning and so made my way to the back of the marquee where Bernardo Barberani was charming an enthusiastic audience of members. The wines didn’t disappoint. The seductive and elegant Foresco had the potential to embarrass many a higher-priced Tuscan wine and a second glass, accompanied with a slice of game pie would have made an extremely enjoyable lunch.
Passing the members gathering for a cellar tour, I made my way up to the Members Room just in time to find Serge and Gaston Hochar of Chateau Musar checking their wines before their masterclass. Like many with an interest in wine, I am a big fan of Chateau Musar and was keen to meet the men behind the cult wine.Well aware of Serge’s status as winner of the Decanter Winemaker of the Year, I approached cautiously in case an Ego of the Year was a part of the prize. It became immediately apparent however that Serge is an utterly charming, thoughtful and fascinating man.
As he explained to me how he had first visited The Wine Society with his father in 1971, it was clear that this visit to Stevenage was much more than an opportunity to show his wines.
Their masterclass overran massively, simply because members didn’t want it to end, and because Serge and Gaston love to share their passion for what they do. Serge’s philosophy on life seemed a perfect note on which to end the day – be happy, be positive, be funny.
Head of Tastings & Events
There are difficult vintages and there are difficult vintages. From the Californian drought of ‘77 to 2003s scorching European heatwave via the Bordeaux washout of ‘92, Mother Nature finds a variety of ways to test the mettle of both vine and man the world over.For most winemakers the common worries of a vintage concern the weather: too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet and/or a multitude of other combinations. Throw in a host of generally unpleasant diseases that prove troublesome to the vine and a tricky economic climate and the winemaker’s lot is not always a happy one.
But then of course there is the other kind of difficult vintage, those where man despite all the elements being in balance does his utmost to throw a spanner into nature’s carefully constructed works.
2006 was one of those difficult vintages for Lebanese winery Chateau Musar. Indeed at Chateau Musar difficult vintages can sometimes be translated as dangerous vintages.On July 12th the troubles that had blighted Lebanon through the latter part of the last century rose to the fore once again with the start of the 34-day conflict with Israel. Over 1,300 people lost their lives and approximately half a million more were displaced, and serious damage was inflicted to the country’s civil infrastructure.
Given such circumstances the team at Musar could have easily been forgiven if they had decided to look to their own safety first and leave the grapes hanging on the vines while the conflict raged around them. The grapes were harvested safely thanks to the dedication and bravery of the vineyard workers.
But sadly such adversity is not new in a country plagued by over 15 years of civil war and Chateau Musar has a proven history of shining when the days are darkest. Incredibly only two vintages were missed during the war years of 1975–1990. That the Musar winery is located just outside Beirut makes this achievement all the more astonishing. Indeed, the journey from their vineyards in the Bekka Valley to the winery is a particularly dangerous one, following a route known to be used by Hezbollah and in times of war often subjected to shelling by artillery.
Much has been written about Musar’s enigmatic figurehead, Serge Hochar. He was Decanter Magazine’s inaugural man of the year in 1984, and today in his 70s he still exudes energy and travels extensively. His eldest son, Gaston, named after his grandfather whose name appears on the label and who founded the winery in the 1930s, now looks after the day-to-day running of the estate and while of a different, perhaps calmer character to his father, he shares the same passion that that has propelled Musar to become a wine of worldwide acclaim ever since its emergence onto the international wine scene back in the late 1970s. Both men are engaging, unique and deservedly well renowned throughout the world of wine – qualities that are also rightly used to describe Chateau Musar itself.
The Society was one of the first merchants to import Chateau Musar into the UK, and we are delighted to announce that both Serge and Gaston Hochar will be visiting our premises in Stevenage as part of our Grand Day Out event on May 19th. They will be pouring wines and talking to members as well as hosting a masterclass showcasing several Musar vintages.
A fitting opportunity, then, to raise a glass to this remarkable estate and to pause and reflect on the dedicated and sometimes quite incredible efforts that go into making great wine.
Marketing Campaigns Manager for Lebanon
It got me thinking about wine: which ones have been my most memorable in 2012?
Here, in no particular order, are the five that completely knocked my socks off. Unlike music, good wine is produced in limited quantities, and as such not all are available to buy from The Society. I hope they are of interest nonetheless.
Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay, 2010, Margaret River (£57 per bottle)
An exquisite Margaret River chardonnay that exudes class and is featured in our current Giants of the New World offer.
Viña Zorzal Graciano, Navarra, 2010 (£6.75 per bottle)
Brilliant, fruity red, perfect for everyday drinking yet with enough character to keep you interested.
López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva Blanco, Rioja, 1996 (£19.95 per bottle)
One of the world’s most original white wines from this ultra-traditional Rioja bodega, and which in 1996 worked beautifully.
Ridge Monte Bello, 1995
With 17 years under its belt, this classy cabernet is at its most focused and refined. A remarkable wine.
Chateau Musar, 1995
Possibly the greatest Musar I have tasted. Like a fine Burgundy with an exotic twist.