Posts Tagged ‘organic wine’

Winemaking in Al-Lubnaniya (Lebanon) had been heavily marked by 20 years of civil war (1975-1990). During this period of the last century a majority of wineries closed down and the industry fell into a stalemate. This ‘dark age’ of Lebanese wine production was deadly for many wineries, except for one.

Serge Hochar, the oenologist and owner of Chateau Musar, managed to make and export wines of remarkable quality so he could continue the family business without interruption. For his bravura he was named the first ever ‘Decanter Man of the Year’ in 1984. His awareness of the extraordinary achievement seems to drive him today to produce one of the best wines on the world. Chateau Musar has had since then a strong affinity to Europe, particularly the UK, where the majority of Musar’s wines has been exported. About 25% of total Musar’s production today stays in Lebanon.

Gaston & Serge Hochar


The climate in Lebanon is quite stable – there is rain in winter, but not in the summer so the grapes are protected from this adversary of winemakers elsewhere. Serge Hochar points at the importance of mountains in Lebanon moderating the temperatures and assuring the high day/night temperature differences. Most of Lebanese vines are grown in the Bekaa Valley, east from the capital Beirut.


Inspired by the family’s French roots, Serge and Gaston Hochar produce red wines from international grape varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Carignan and Grenache in reds and from ancient Lebanese grapes – Obaideh and Merwah in white wines. These indigenous varietals resemble Semillon and Chardonnay and are thought to be their predecessors.


The approach to winemaking of Serge Hochar is to be as close to nature as can be (organic viticulture and winemaking using natural yeast fermentation, adding minimum sulphur, no additives and chemicals) and releasing wines only when they are ready to drink (top range at least after 7 years). Keeping wines in the winery (similar as in Rioja and Ribera del Duero’s Vega Sicilia, Spain) is an expensive process and it elevated Chateau Musar as the biggest winery cellar of still wines in the world. Serge Hochar had not added any sulfur into his wine at all until 1964 vintage, but he discovered that a minimum sulfur was needed to protect the wine for longer. Today he adds less than 10mg of sulphur.

The winery has three main ranges of wines:†

  • Musar Jeune as its name suggests is young, easy to drink, unoaked white, rosé and red wine.
  • For everyday drinking is more approachable and less complex single vineyard red blend of Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Grenache called Hochar Pere et Fils, which since 2005 has a new label.
  • Top of the range is Chateau Musar. Red, which needs at least 10 years of aging, is very dynamic as its taste changes significantly over the years. Gaston Hochar said about this wine: ” Chateau Musar is the type of wine where time is an essence”. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Cinsault gets better if you are patient enough. The white Chateau Musar wines are made from indigenous white varietals. These are incredible, intense and aromatic wines resembling in style Graves from Bordeaux.

The wines and vintages tasted:

Hochar Pere et Fils:

2007 – intense nose of dried black currants and berries, spices, bread and cherries. On the palate it is very expressive as well with leafy character, dark berries and nicely incorporated tannins thanks to careful French oak maturation for 9 months. Great balance and strength comparable to top Bordeaux – and this not their top range yet!

Chateau Musar Red:

2005 – juicy dark fruits with mouth-squeezing tannins calling for more aging. The nose is smoky, spicy with touch of dark chocolate and cigars.

1999 – known as ‘an exceptional year’ in the Bekaa Valley this wine came out very balanced and fresh even after almost 14 years of aging. Leather, cigar box, fresh currants and dark cherry on the nose followed by high acidity adding to the freshness of the wine.

1980 – cool winter and twice as usual rainfall in the winter together with mild summer leading to slow ripening and low sugar levels is today showing a bit racy with sharpness and high acidity. Ripe fruit, leather and spice make it a complex wine, yet the alcohol feels on the palate. Its tannins are still astringent so hopefully this wine will show better in a couple of years.

1974 – my favorite red wine from the tasting. This vintage has been waiting in the cellar for longer than most other Chateau Musar reds as it was not ready. Serge Hochar did not think it was good enough at first, but once on one visitor’s request the bottle was opened, its excellency saw the taste buds of many excited palates. Super-complex on the nose with flowers, wet leafs, mint, raisins, prunes and tea leaves one is eager to sip it immediately. The palate is tender with elegant fruit, smoked beef, dark chocolate leading to a delicate touch of apricots as the wine swirls on your tongue. This is a wine to be drunk on a special occasion with even more special people who can appreciate it.

Chateau Musar White:

2005 – dried grapes, flowers, nuts and quince on the nose are charming. Honey and quince, exotic fruits – banana and passion fruit, citrusy acidity and intense aromas make this wine a joy to drink even in its relative youth when compared to other Ch. Musar line wines.

1991 – wow! I rarely say this about wine, but this was something my palate savored only on rare occasions in the 10 years of my wine-drinking life. I am not an “over-oaky” fan, yet in this case the 18-21 months in new oak made wonders. Top vintage of Chateau d’Yquem have a serious competition in this extremely deep wine with balancing acidity and multiple layers of fruits. Dried apricot, cantaloupe, nuts, herbs and an icing made od marzipan – well, it sounds like my dream wedding cake! It is not sugary though, but deadly enjoyable. I only wonder how many cases are left at the Chateau Musar’s cave??

1986 – could be called the opposite to the 1991, but not in terms of enjoyability. Until 1986 the whites were made without oak. In this vintage only one grape was used – the Obaideh. It is a delicate and fresh wine with creamy nose and apricots with exotic fruit on the palate. Nice acidity but not as pronounced as in the 1991 vintage.

† The fourth is grape alcohol Arack, and fifth Mosaic is only for the UK market.

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Map of Colchagua valley

Viu Manentwhere art meets wine

The winery today produces various wines in different price realms. I fell in love with their range of a very well-priced Secreto during a picnic with friends in Santiago. These wines were a double secret for me. First, my chilean friend shared his personal secret with me about this excellent value-for-money treat at a wine shop, where instead of all the pricier Pinots and Sauvignon Blancs of big names, he put in our basket two Secretos. Second mystery is the actual blend in the wines. The main grape is featured on the label as in the case of the juicy Pinot Noir and aromatic and fresh Sauvignon Blanc we bought. The rest is a well-guarded secret of the winemaker. It is a temptation to guess what might be in it. And, that is what we ended up doing. Relieved though, we concluded: who actually cares? Important is that we all like it a lot!

Once we have visited the winery we were better equipped for the guess-game as we saw the vineyards and grapes planted there. What is more, our journey through the lush green vineyards moved us further into a Viu Manent wonderland, as we were driven in a horse-ridden carriage. Who would expect a romantic touch at a cool, young and modern winery? Besides, we were surprised by the nostalgia of the environment with a historic wine press and other old winery artefacts sprinkled all over the property. The trip is worth the trip from the capital city Santiago de Chile.

Viu Manent

Art is at the centre of Viu Manent attention. Winemaking is conceived there as one form of art, the one enjoyed by our palate. While the visual art is embodied in the colorful drawings on the labels, yet these are less fancy than the legendary Mouton Rotshield commissions. The labels are fresh, playful and stimulating matching to the effect of the liquid content of  all the Secretos.

Artistic wine shop

A ride in a carriage through the vineyards

Old press

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I am a big fan of sustainability. I think that being in harmony with nature is necessary for our future survival. In the past decade we have been constantly remained not only by environmentalists but also by a growing number of scientists that we should regard and respect the nature as our ancestors did before the industrial revolution turned literally everything upside down.

It is encouraging to see that many winemakers as well as chefs embraced sustainable practices in their professions as well. One of the pioneers of organic and sustainable winemaking in South America is a Chilean winery Cono Sur.

You can watch this insightful video to learn more.

I have recently tasted Cono Sur’s Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2010 as well as their Merlot 2010 Reserva during Wine and Dine magazine’s Fest in Singapore.

The Sauvignon was zesty and fresh as is signature to this white wine, but it was more complex then average Sauvignon Blanc. I encountered some candy floss and honeyed tones on my palette making it an interesting aperitif and also great fit with seafood dishes.

The Merlot proved to be more a food wine with its sharp acidity and mouth awaking tannins. Black berries with smoked meat character on the backbone made for a masculine wine ideal with meat dishes such as veal or even a duck.

Cono Sur is surely reaching beyond its Chilean borders. You can get it in London as well as in Singapore.

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