If you're into wine and were in Los Angeles this weekend, you were probably hovering around the Wine Spectator's Wine Experience, a wine affair that sponsors compelling panel discussions (another excuse, like you need it, to drink in the morning) and splendid wine tastings involving California's and the world's greats.
Many of the world's greats were here, therefore, and one of these was Serge Hochar, who makes wine in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon for his family's estate, Chateau Musar. Musar is planted to grape varieties like cabernet sauvignon, carignane, and cinsault, as well as a few, like obaideh and merwah, whose origins may be traced to the Phoenicians. The region, and the winery, has frequently been scarred by wars and conflict, and whole vintages have been lost to Middle East strife - through all of it Musar has thrived; if anything its reputation is greater now than it's ever been.
Hochar has been making wine here since 1959, virtually in the shadow of an ancient Roman temple to Bacchus. He's an old soul, and makes wines that seem to share this bearing -- wild, ginger-scented whites, deeply flavored, idiosyncratic blended reds defined by the heat-tolerant, mildly spicy cinsault grape.
The wines often taste like they have a foot in the oldest of the Old World: sensuous, earthy, deeply structured, a touch brooding, redolent of exotic spice, with a sinewy vitality coursing through them, even as the flavors elude you, always putting you off your bearings a bit. They are also wines of astonishing length and persistence when you taste them, an aim of Hochar, since, in his estimation, "if a wine does not have length, it cannot be meaningful."
Hochar's speech is peppered with similarly aphoristic phrases, which are inevitably linked to the wines he makes. "Wine is my doctor," he said, as if to justify his preference for older wines, which to him have richer prophylactic qualities. Younger wines, he says, cannot act upon the body in the same way.
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Nevertheless, he makes a white and red for a line he calls 'Jeune,' which are delicious, affordable, and bright, an entrée to one of the more exotic wine regions available in the L.A. market, and one of the more idiosyncratic winemakers on earth.
Chateau Musar is imported by Bartholomew Broadbent Selections.
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