Tag Archives: Wine

A BRAVE OLD WORLD | The Impossible Story of Château Musar

By Nick Hoyle

Any customer who has spoken to Nick in-store knows he’s a fountain of all wine knowledge and his passion for wine is second to none. Here he tells the story of his wine hero Serge Hochar.

The Lonely Planet travel guide describes Beirut, the capital of the Lebanon, thus: “If you’re looking for the real “east meets west” then you need look no further than Beirut…its energy, soul, diversity and intoxicating atmosphere make it a vital, addictive city.”

Well just maybe this is what “terroir” is all about – the soul of the wine – because the Lebanon’s famous wine, Chateau Musar, has an energy, a soul and is addictive and intoxicating in so many ways, it is as beguiling as Beirut and its story is woven in to that of the Lebanon.

The Lebanon has been an area of strife and conflict, on and off, for many years but the worldwide cult status of Chateau Musar is down in no small part to these conflicts and, of course, to the indefatigable charms and efforts of Serge Hochar the late lamented patron of Musar.


The Hochar family owe their presence in the Lebanon due to a much earlier conflict, the Crusades, when a Hochar ancestor was a French Crusader. The popularity of Chateau Musar, though, owes its fame to a more recent conflict, the Lebanese civil war of 1974-1990 and this is where the real story of Chateau Musar begins.

Serge, after a period studying oenology in Bordeaux with the great Emile Peynaud, returned to the Lebanon to take over from his father, Gaston, who had started Chateau Musar in the 1930s. Serge had a wish to create a distinctive and unique wine.

Musar was well received but its market was pretty much all in the Lebanon. This market was effectively destroyed in 1974 with the escalation of the Lebanese civil war. Serge though rolled his sleeves up and decided to take Musar out into the world. There was scarcely a wine event that he didn’t attend. Serge’s energy, drive, charisma and charm allied with his tireless globetrotting on behalf of his beloved Musar began to pay dividends.

In 1979, at The Bristol Wine Fair, the eminent English wine writer Michael Broadbent picked Chateau Musar out as the top wine of the Fair and this established Chateau Musar firmly on the world stage. So, although Musar was now in effect an internationally recognized and sought-after wine, there remained the tricky problem of producing it back in a land torn apart by conflict.


The grapes (Cabernet, Cinsault, Carignan and Grenache for the red, Obaideh and Merweh for the white) are grown in the Bekaa valley some 50 miles from the winery at Ghazir and there lies the problem when that area is a war zone. Astonishingly though, wine was made in every year but two of the conflict. In 1974, no electricity and impassable roads thwarted the vintage and in 1984 the grapes had to travel by sea but unfortunately began to ferment on the voyage and made the vintage impossible.

To make such marvellous wine is an achievement but to make it with tanks rolling through your vineyards and missiles flying overhead is nothing short of miraculous. There is a story that during one intense period of shelling, friends and family begged Serge to take cover but he refused. Instead he took a bottle of the 1972 poured it into one large glass and over the 12 hours of the shelling he noted carefully how it changed over time with exposure to the air. Such dedication.


This devotion and attention to detail is key to Musar. There is very little intervention, believing that each vintage says something different. It is, of course, organic and pretty much a natural wine (long before that epithet became trendy!)

So, if you are tired of the same old homogenised characterless wine that, although consistent, can be consistently dull and if you suspect “natural” wines are perhaps an oenological equivalent of the hipster’s beard, then give Musar a try. It has a real expression of place. It is a unique wine that is different to other wines and can even be different to itself vintage on vintage. This makes it interesting; it has character, it is after all a wine with soul!

For any information regarding the blog or social media, please contact sam@thewhalleywineshop.com.


Blog: It Was The 90’s in Johannesburg and I Fell In Love | Matt’s Wine Story

By Matt Monk

This week Matt reveals all about how he fell in love with wine and what he’s learned along his journey since that day.

Where did it all start for you?

It’s a question I’ve often been asked. Though I’m sure I’d been drinking wine for some time, I do remember the wine that made me stop, think, and wonder. It wasn’t a first growth or Premier Cru. It wasn’t a special occasion or event. It was a day like any other.

I was with a large group of colleagues in Johannesburg. (In a previous life I was a trolley-dolly for British Airways and, as crew, we always went out for drinks and a spot of dinner) The restaurant? What used to be a church, called Gatreels in the Central Business District.

I don’t know who picked it or why they choose that wine. Being a crew night out it was unlikely to be the old adage of “mid priced on the wine list must be good”. At one point in the meal I stopped talking for a change, topped up the empty glasses and took a sip.

Now the earth didn’t move cosmically, it didn’t stop spinning; I didn’t hear heavenly music or have fireworks go off in my mouth, but it did make me stop and think. It made me assess what I tasted: the aromas, the flavours. There were layers of complexity to this wine. I had so many questions.

What Next?

Now, I at the time I knew a little about wine; a day and a half in my 12 weeks training course with British Airways, in a room next to the engineering bays at Heathrow Airport. But looking back, my wine knowledge then boiled down to: Fizz, White or Red.

But now, the game had begun. I got back to our base and signed straight up for the company’s dedicated wine course.

Six months later and I was on it: the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Intermediate course. I think it was 6-8 weeks before I sat the exams: a multiple-choice paper and wine tasting with the head Wine Buyer of British Airways… Now I see why there had been a six-month waiting list: the chance to taste some wine, not just from Economy and Business Class but also First Class and Concorde!

How lucky we were! A lot of fun was had, and in that brief couple of hours tasting, I learnt more than from than any book I’ve read on Wine (and let me tell you I’ve read A LOT, much to the exasperation of my wife, who finds books and magazines piled up in the kitchen, the lounge and at the side of the bed!).

My Reflections Since Those Days

That was in the early nineties; a lot of time, changes and wine have passed by. There are days when I still don’t get it, maybe I’ve got a cold coming on, a bad mood, the wrong time or I’m just not feeling it.

I have found, however, that there is no rule as to what makes a bottle of wine taste good. Whether it’s that premium bottle, opened on a special occasion, or the affordable stuff I bring home to share with friends over a barbecue, or simply that glass experienced around the fire after a long day, that manages to hit just the right note; it’s all about the company, place and timing, and allowing your wine of choice to complement that situation. All the money and knowledge in the world cannot make up for the feeling of when these four elements come together perfectly!

And so, on that night in Johannesburg, I fell in love… with Wine.

Oh, and the wine in question? Well it was a Boschendal Blanc de Blanc.

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For any information regarding the blog or social media, please contact sam@thewhalleywineshop.com