Lifestyle: Serge Hochar (Chateau Musar)

Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar, the iconic Lebanese winery, had a fatal accident over the New Year. Serge had been the chief wine-maker at Chateau Musar since 1959, taking over from his father, the founder of Chateau Musar, Gaston Hochar. Chataeu Musar is Lebanon’s most famous winery, with vineyards which run down Lebanon’s historic Bekka Valley, between serene snow-capped mountain ranges through civil war-torn territory.

To commemorate this legendary winemaker, I attach a brief (previously unpublished) tasting note of Chateau Musar red 2001 that I had written back in 2012.

“Very excited to find this wine on an enomatic in Central in Hong Kong. Musar’s reputation lies in its ‘exotic location’ (Bekka, Lebanon) and rustic production methods- no fining, no filtration and using ambient yeast to ferment, plus hand harvesting of all grapes (Cab Sav, Carignan and Cinsault) by local bedouins. Chateau Musar red is a product that is approximately 7 years in the making- extended fermentation up to 6 months, French oak barrels for 2 years, blending, further maturation in cement tanks and 4 years in bottle. It’s occasionally described as a “cult” wine, which I take to mean- a bit (or very) funky and not quite universally loved. Why is it exciting to me ? Well, no fining, filtration, none of that anaerobic flushing, using yeasts that are actually on the grape skins or in the winery naturally- this is as ‘back in the day’ old school as it gets, short of stomping on the grapes with your feet. To continue to manufacture a commercial product like that in this day and age, let alone persist making it in a country which the world associates with the phrase “civil war”, with vineyards surrounded by Hezbollah controlled territory, is a feat. Hats off to the Hochars just on that account.
First impressions- on the nose- bam..yup, very funky. A bit stinky, some rotten eggs. I guess this is classic textbook reduction, one of Musar’s well known traits.
On the palate, old leather, rubbery, not much fruit which isn’t a surprise since the tertiary flavours are already quite prominent. The fruit flavour that is left is unspecified baked black fruit, a bit rotten-ish. Very savoury, salty, burnt rubber. Somewhat unintegrated acidity and tannin, and could probably benefit from even more ageing.
It’s interesting that the label mentions Cab Sav, you certainly cannot really discern any classic so-to-speak Cab Sav flavour.
It seems a bit bold to have on its own and I wonder what food I would pair it with. Maybe could hold up with oily salted fish fried rice, or fried chicken coated with belachan paste.
Conclusion, this wine is as strong a statement about terroir-driven wine as you can make. It’s not for everyone and at first glance you could be put off by the appearance of some residue and cloudiness. It is the exact opposite of a ‘clean’ scientifically adjusted new world fruity red wine. Maybe not something you want to rush to serve at dinner with your new neighbors or a business dinner. But if you are tired of your Cab Sav-Merlot or GSM blend, and want to venture out into the varied world of wine, go for it.”