French in origin, Lebanese in breeding and noteworthy in flavour. Kitty Kaye seems to think these are trademarks of Chateau Musar’s wines.
Three generations later and the Hochar family’s wines are slowly becoming more visible around the world, in particular, Malaysia. Originally from France, the family moved to Lebanon, founded a vineyard within Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in 1930 and hasn’t stopped producing impressive – if not somewhat elusive – wines since.
The best part is, they’ve hit Penang and in style too. The introduction of Chateau Musar’s wines to Penangites happens at the Dining Room of Macalister Mansion, between seductive bites of Chef Lance U-ren’s food, no less.
To begin with, their newly released aromatic 2010 Musar Jeune Rosè made out of cinsault grape charms us with strawberries on the palate. Simultaneously light and substantial, this rosè is like a cool but sunny spring day and perfect with fair colour food such as fruits, seafood, young cheeses and light, clear soups. With salmon, we find, it revs its strength a little by exuding fresh red fruits on the palate.
The Hochar 2007
From that, we move on to their 2007 Hochar Pere et Fills. This red is surprisingly masculine in aroma with wood and cocoa but tender on the palate with dark fruits such as plums, pliable tannins and when paired with braised beef cheeks coated in rich brown sauce, it releases chocolates.
Then the real fun begins – a vertical tasting of Chateu Musar reds of 2004, 2001, 2000 and 1999 made out of cabernet sauvignon, cinsault and carignan grapes. Each more refined than the next, the common threads with these four mark the vineyard’s red wine style of gentle in flavour but a long, memorable finish and soft but resilient tannins that indicate reds designed to age gracefully. Much like Audrey Hepburn, we say!
The 2004, youngest of the line-up, is good to age for another 15 to 20 years but for now, it’s an elegant young lady with soft tannins and when coupled with Chef Lance’s rich 8-hour duck confit, exudes caramel and spices.
Ale brined chicken and ratatouille
The 2001, meanwhile, can withstand another five to 7-year aging but today it is spicy, ripe raisins and soft tannins on the palate. Pairing wise, ale brined chicken breast accompanied by gorgonzola and garlic sauce along with ratatouille brings out a hidden sharpness of the wine, enhancing the metallic tomato flavour that adds surprising character to the meal.
Both 2000 and 1999 carry a deep red hue and are beguiling. Refined to a fault, both are ripe red fruits, possess a pretty spiciness, smattering of chocolate and velvety tannins on the palate. The 2000 with fatty flavours of wagyu meatballs turns sweeter and more voluptuous. While the 1999 proves to be the perfect companion for gamey meats such as roasted quail, although, the clincher here is, with a touch of truffles, its sweetness turns into addictive caramel.
The refined Chateau Musar 1999
Chateau Musar’s reds are typically 14 per cent in alcohol content and the rosè at 12 per cent. Although their whites are not widely available here, they’re generally at 12 – 12.5 per cent and made out of Lebanese grape varieties of obaideh and merwah that are two out of six indigenous grapes still existing in Lebanon.
Their whites have been reviewed as ‘…unusual and superb’ and rumoured to pair really well with spicy Asian dishes. We wait with bated breath and voracious thirst, of course. In Penang, the reds and rosè above are available at The Cellar, Dining Room, Bacchus Cellars, ChinaHouse, Eastern & Oriental Hotel, 32 at The Mansion, That Little Wine Bar and Ferringhi Garden in Batu Ferringhi.