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Following my trip to Lebanon recently I’ve been reading up on my ‘Sergeisms’. Serge Hochar (1939–2014) was the creator of Lebanon’s iconic red wine, Chateau Musar, and a more charismatic winemaker you will rarely meet.

 

Serge was energetic, unpredictable and intriguing, renowned for his complete refusal to give up on his wines even when his country was in the depths of war (1975–90), his vineyards peppered with frequent sniper fire. Serge had a habit of summing up his winemaking thoughts with mysterious elliptical statements that seemed to project deep wisdom. But you couldn’t – at first – be sure of what he meant. One had to think about them for a while. A bit like his wines.

Sergeisms. Here’s a lighter one: ‘You have to trust the messages that you are given. I trust the messages I get from my wines, absolutely. Some of my winemaking decisions appear insane. I do not know how I came to them. Let’s say that all the information on every subject is in the air, in the sky above you. Intuition is your ability to pull this out of the air.’

This pretty much reflects the way Chateau Musar is made.

Although I suspect that there’s a little more science behind Musar’s 2019 range – from Musar Jeune (the vibrant, young Cinsault, Syrah, Cabernet blend), Koraï (Musar’s new-look: watch this space), and Hochar Père et Fils (the more serious single-vineyard wine). Not to mention its deep, rich white wine from the utterly brilliant Merwah and Obaideh grapes. Each of these is distinctly Lebanese, full of intense Beka’a Valley fruit and sunshine.

It is Musar’s icon wine, ‘Chateau’ as it is affectionately known by the Hochar family, that most directly reflects the true ambition of its creator. Made from Cinsault, Carignan and Cabernet grapes, each fermented separately and slowly, then matured in Nevers oak until ready for blending at two years. After blending, the wine is bottled and stored quietly, for five years, in the property’s deep, cool cellars at Ghazir.

Chateau Musar is only released for sale at seven years of age. At this stage you’ll get a hint of the character and intensity the wine is capable of – but don’t drink it, not yet. It’s only partway through its journey. A surly, uncommunicative, ‘teenage’ phase follows: this lasts a couple of years – maybe more, maybe less – before the wine emerges in all its fascinating glory.

The thing about Chateau Musar is that it is worth waiting for. The Hochars tell me that 30 years is about right…

Steven Spurrier and I will be tasting a flight of Chateau Musar ‘library’ vintages in September. I expect the truth behind the trickiest Sergeisms will come to light!

by Susan Keevil