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Musar In Manchester: Lament For A Winemaker

Lucy Hope laments the death of a winemaker and points out where to buy Musar

Written by . Published on February 3rd 2015.

Musar In Manchester: Lament For A Winemaker

ON New Year’s Day, I learnt that Serge Hochar, spiritual and legendary Lebanese winemaker, had passed away. If you already know his wines, then use the information in this article to seek out and raise a glass of his beloved Château Musar to his memory. If you have yet to try it, I hope this article will both inform you as to where and inspire you as to why you absolutely must.

 “Unbelievable, indescribable, not a wrinkle, full of life, endless.” 

One afternoon last year, Serge Hochar taught me how to drink wine (in my late twenties and after a lot of practice, I thought I’d mastered that, if not much else). He initially chastised me for drinking too fast. Once I’d tempered my libationary vitesse, and under his guidance, I revelled in the complexity and change that I could now perceive in just one inch of white Chateau Musar (his personal favourite) over hours of slowly tasting it. 

He made the comparison of uncovering the complexities of a fine wine as similar to unravelling the sophistications of someone’s character. It made me think of Juliette Greco’s song, Déshabillez-moi (Undress Me), and we joked about the 1967 song as a metaphor, quoting lyrics back and forth, which appealed to the puckish side of his character.

The song coquettishly speaks of a pre-coital situation between a man and a woman. She wants him to take his time over the 'prelude' and to enjoy the act of coveting and desiring her first. She asks him not to rush, to exercise restraint, so that she has the time to disrobe and reveal herself fully (just like a fine wine) peu à peu… 

Château Musar should be teased, coaxed, sensed and savoured. Linger and prevaricate on each taste and smell. Pleasure deferred is pleasure prolonged and then, due to its unique and beguiling taste, you will become hooked, quite like falling in love. 

The classic red Musar blend is Cabernet Sauvignon Carignan and Cinsault: a Bordeaux-style natural (organic) wine aged in French oak. What is it that turns that casual first bottle into a life-long love affair? 

There is consistency to each Musar vintage. It always just tastes like Musar. Yet, the mystique and intrigue of the wine is constantly reimagined due to marked year-on-year variations and in-bottle ageing. Even devoted fans marvel at how each vintage can taste so different whilst retaining classic Musar expressions. 

For me, however, it is the sense of Lebanese terroir that makes Musar exceptional. Terroir is quite a nebulous term in English, there isn’t a concise, direct translation. The French word encapsulates a unique ‘essence’ of a place: the intensity of the sun that ripens its grapes; the texture of the soil out of which its vines grow; and the caress of the winds that makes them quaver. 

Six thousand years of tumultuous Lebanese history has fructified the vines of the Beqaa valley and Musar invites you to know them. It lures you to smell the musks and spices of antiquity and tempts you to taste Biblical figs, dates and pomegranate and hear their ancient loral whisperings. You will know what Serge meant when he said that, “inspiration is our seventh sense”. 

If you’re inspired by the sound of Musar red, there are several places in Manchester where you can try it. Salut and Hanging Ditch are the best bars to start as they stock an array of different vintages. Both correctly serve it decanted, as, due to it being unfiltered and unfined (and therefore, incidentally, vegan), you will find sediment. 

Musar at Salut in Manchester


Musar at Salut in Manchester

Restaurant-wise, you have various options: TNQ Restaurant stocks the 2004 (£45) as do both Sam’s Chop House (£42.50) and Nutters (£38.80) who also stock the 2003 (£43.80). Wings has the 2000 (£39.90); Yara in Altrincham and Alderley Edge has the 2001 (£25) and 1999 (£30); The Rose Garden in West Didsbury has the 2001 for £74.50; and Dimitri’s has the youngest 2007 vintage at £45. 

Older vintages are available at specialist wine merchants such as Reserve and Corks Out. Serge said that the best time to drink his Musar was around its 30th birthday. I reach that milestone (or hang that millstone) this year. I have a magnum of 1985 waiting for a little party for one. I will think of him and pour him a glass.

Craft as with art affords posterity to their creators and many thousands of Musar devotees will continue to delight in tasting Serge Hochar’s oenological progeny for years to come. Of his very first vintage, 1959, which I was lucky enough to taste with him, he said it was, “unbelievable, indescribable, not a wrinkle, full of life, endless.” In my mind, this translates as his epitaph: indescribable, full of life and endless. Merci, Serge, Rest In Peace.

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