Mondiale - Chateau Musar Vertical Tasting - Sepia

Maître de Table Restaurateur Emmanuel Nony

Monday, October 22, 2012


On October 22, the Chicago Société Mondiale Du Vin (an organization within the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs that specializes in the appreciation of fine wine and other crafted beverages) held a vertical tasting of Château Musar wines from the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, hosted by winery owner Serge Hochar and his son Marc. The event was held in the beautiful private event space of Sepia, owned by Maître de Table Restaurateur Emmanuel Nony.  Executive Chef Andrew Zimmerman, fresh off his victory on Iron Chef America, was in the kitchen creating delicious food designed to pair perfectly with our wines.

Serge Hochar, eldest son of the winery founder Gaston Hochar, spent an hour guiding four tables of ten Mondiale members through a tasting of nine wines.  The five reds and four whites were decanted for just over an hour, and all of the wines were served at the same temperature—between 55-60º F (12-15º C).  Mr. Hochar discouraged the use of all palate cleansers other than water during the tasting. Mr. Hochar also suggested that we only take the tiniest of sips, and encouraged participants to spit all sips into a buckets provided at each table.  Although unorthodox, Mr. Hochar always requires tasting his red wines before the white wines. Clearly, this charming patriarch, whose father founded the winery in 1930 just 15 miles north of Beirut, was supremely serious about his wine-tasting protocol!

We started with Château Musar Rouge from the 2004, 1999, 1988, 1977 and 1969 vintages, tasting them in reverse chronological order.  The distinctive reds are an unusual blend of Cabernet, Cinsault and Carignan grapes that change from year to year in the bottle and minute by minute in the glass. Musar reds are also distinguished by two characteristics that are typically considered faults in most wines: volatile acidity (which conveys the smell of acetone) and brett (its sensory compounds reminiscent of funky barnyard).  A few members couldn’t get past the bouquet of the older reds. Others agreed that these complex wines had the fruit concentration, tannins, body and alcohol of a great red Bordeaux or Burgundy.  The reds were definitely polarizing, at least without food.

Next, we moved to Mr. Hochar’s premium white wine, Château Musar Blanc from the 2005, 2000, 1999 and 1980 vintages. The white wines are a blend of the indigenous Obaideh and Merwah grapes and are aged for six months in oak. All of the wines were youthful and displayed a toasted honey palate, although there was some disagreement about whether the amber 1980 vintage was past its prime.  Like the red wines, members agreed that Château Musar white wines also have remarkable aging abilities and all the vintages have a fascinating capability of morphing by the minute in the glass.

Following the informative tasting, we enjoyed a lovely reception with Cuvée Musar Jeune Blanc, a blend of Viognier, Chardonnay and Vermentino with bright apple, pear and pineapple flavors.  The outstanding wait staff passed four very tasty hors d’oeuvres:  skewered ancho cardamom shrimp with a lively aioli and fresh tarragon, cubes of short rib rillettes topped with whole grain mustard on crostini, house made merguez sausage meatballs with a creamy tomato sauce and pumpkin-stuffed agnolotti topped with sage and a touch of crumbled amaretti cookie for texture and crunch.

Following our thirty-minute reception, dinner started with a magnificent duck liver mousse topped with a layer of spice cherry gelee and garnished with a small frisée salad with ground almonds and several pieces of toasted brioche.  This dish was very successfully paired with the 2004 Château Musar Rouge, the fruit flavors in both shining through.  Our second course was a perfectly roasted squab breast along side a brilliant squab confit cannelloni with flavors of cocoa, cassis and anise, which was paired with the stunning 1999 Château Musar Rouge.  Although members had somewhat divergent opinions about the red wines during our tasting, members were virtually unanimous that the Château Musar reds were exceptional when thoughtfully paired with Chef Zimmerman’s superlative cuisine.

Chef Zimmerman honored Mr. Hochar’s request to move from reds to whites, and he succeeded in creating an entrée that fit brilliantly into the evening’s wine progression. Serrano wrapped monkfish with tiny cabbage leaves stuffed with bacon and mushrooms with a white wine matelote-style sauce matched beautifully with the 2005 Château Musar Blanc.  Mr. Hochar boldly proclaimed during the tasting that his whites were particularly amazing with cheese, and members were able to confirm this sentiment during the final course of the evening. The Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk, a triple-cream, washed-rind, fully flavored cheese made from organic cow milk, was served with chestnut-fig bread, a schmear of milk jam and a dollop of brown butter apples.  The cheese course was excellent with the 1999 Château Musar Blanc, which displayed rich hazelnut and sherry aromas.

At the end of the evening, Roger Tracy, Conseiller Gastronomique Hon. des Etats-Unis and event organizer, acknowledged the Sepia team and presented a Société Mondiale Du Vin porcelain plate to Chef Zimmerman.  He also presented a Chaîne des Rôtisseurs plate to Serge Hochar, the winemaker who had taught us so much during the evening, not only about the character of his wine but also about the character of his family. Château Musar is located in a region that for decades has been devastated by war, placing demands on the Hochar family that most winemakers can’t begin to imagine. Even though the Hochar family home and winery have suffered direct hits from shelling, their wine cellars have also successfully served as bomb shelters. Despite having to survive winemaking under life-threatening situations, wine has been produced at the Château every year with the exception of two vintages. Mr. Hochar is not unlike Château Musar wines: unique, interesting and getting better with age.


Chậteau Musar Vertical Tasting
with Chậteau owners Serge and Marc Hochar


We are pleased to announce this unique event will take place on Monday evening, October 22, 2012 at 6:30 PM.

Through a contact in Paris France, we are pleased to be able to tell you that the Château Musar owner, Serge Hochar (pronounced Hoshar) and his son Marc will be personally present at our tasting and will lead the discussion.  The Hochar family, originally from France, arrived in Lebanon in the 12th century as “Preux Chevaliers” and have remained there ever since. The Chateau was founded by Gaston Hochar in 1930 and run by his sons Serge and Ronald since 1959. Château Musar is generally considered to be Lebanon’s top fine wine producer blending primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan grapes from this sun drenched part of the world.

Château Musar is located in an 18th Century castle in Ghazir, just fifteen miles north of Beirut, in Lebanon. This location, in a region that for many years was ravaged by civil war, placed demands on the Hochar family that most winemakers, fortunately, do not experience. The vineyards, which lie 30 miles east of Ghazir in the Bekaa Valley, were remarkably close to the frontline. Battle raged around the vines throughout the 1983 harvest, and Serge Hochar had to be smuggled in by small boat to make the wine. Similar conditions were endured in 1988 and 1989, and during the latter year both the Hochar family home and the Château Musar winery suffered direct hits from shelling. For a short while the wine cellars served a dual purpose, as they made excellent bomb shelters for the local people. I am sure there will be many fascinating anecdotes to hear.

Musar is particularly interesting as it ages wonderfully over a long period and we expect to taste and compare some older vintages as well.  The format of the evening will be to taste wines under the tutelage of Serge Hochar for about an hour and half and then to follow with a dinner where we can taste some of the wines accompanied by food.

Here are a couple of links you may find interesting.

Château Musar website:

Well written article by British wine writer Paul Howard:

We are in the process of planning and organizing the logistics of the evening.  Having taken the opportunity to profit from the “Hochar” visit to Chicago, we have changed the date of our Mondiale tasting from Sunday to Monday October 22 to accommodate the Hochar family travel schedule. You will receive an invitation as usual in two/three weeks.

If one of our Société Mondiale members who is particularly enthusiastic about Musar wines and/or would like to learn about putting on a high level tasting/dinner would like to join in the planning and execution of this event please call or email Roger Tracy. He will be very happy to share this most interesting experience.

Roger Tracy - Conseiller Gastronomique Hon. des Etats-Unis – Bailliages de Chicago USA and Lyon France.