All to often we get caught up in the technical aspects of wine. You know the real wine geek stuff, types of soil, clones, flavor profile, but we forget the human aspect of wine. I was reminded of this Monday afternoon when I had the opportunity to listen to Serge Hochar tell a group of wine professionals about his famed Chateau Musar wines from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Well in actuality, Serge does not say much about the actual wines, Serge talks about life. “Wine is alive” he said, you experience it and tell me about the wines. These wines are unlike any wines I have experienced in my life. “I wanted to show them a wine that was beyond what they could understand, a wine that was the product of millennia and not the product of war” said Serge.
Imagine, a wine grown and made in the cradle of society and agriculture.
Think about the history of winemaking in the Bekaa Valley. In the Book of Genesis it say’s, after the flood, “Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank the wine”. Noah is reportedly buried in Zahle, one of the towns in the Bekaa Valley. The wines of Lebanon were so good in fact, that they were exported to Egypt during the Old Kingdom period (2686 BC-2134 BC). The best-preserved temple in the Roman era ruins of Baalbek, was dedicated to Bacchus, the Roman God of Wine. With an incredible history of fine winemaking in the Bakaa Valley, there is no wonder why these wines were so incredible to experience.
The ancient history of agriculture and winemaking in the fertile Lebanese Valley in the shadows of Mount Lebanon makes it easy to picture creating a winery there. So in 1930 after a long stay in France, Serge’s father, Gaston created Chateau Musar in the cellars of the old “Mzar” Castle in Ghazir, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. After his oenology degree in Bordeaux, Serge took over the winemaking in 1959 immediately putting his own unique stamp on the wines making Musar into what it is today. Year after year, in a nation that has been rife with conflict and civil war Serge has create artisan wines that have been compared to top Bordeaux and Burgundy wines. The wineries associated with Château Musar are located at a height of over 3,000 feet (1,000 meters) inside Bekaa where the vines are sheltered by the encompassing mountaintops running parallel to the Mediterranean and beyond coastline.
The Red wines are made from a mixture of various grapes, primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and also Carignan. The vines are cultivated in gravely earth with a limestone foundation. The White wines are created from a mix of Obeideh and Merwah that are indigenous to the Bekaa Valley. Based of legend, these grapes were taken back to Europe with the Crusaders and became the forefathers of Chardonnay and Semillon.
Chateau Musar has had a cult like following since the 1979 Bristol Wine Fair, where Michael Broadbent described the wines as “Discovery of the Fair”. So how does one describe Musar’s wines, Unique and Individual. “No two bottles can be a like, the wine is alive” Serge said at the TexSom Conference in Dallas earlier this week. The wines are of superb quality, but made is a style all their own. They seem to almost age in reverse, with a 1969 Musar Blanc showing as much fruit and acidity as a 1990. These are wines to be experiences, not just tasted.
So what do these wines taste like? I think it is best for you to taste them and tell me.