Making wine from adversity:
a reflection on two great men
who stoically plugged away
by PHILIP WHITE
In the break between Christmas and New Year, there was tickle of rocketry and tankfire during a macho bristle on the border of Lebanon. Not many were killed.
Rough notes from a 1991 encounter with Serge
"Bekaa is one thousand metres high ... no irrigation, but enough melting snow to ensure the vines survive ... these wine are 100% natural ... we pick first the Cabernet second the Carignan, third the Cinsault.
"In the 1930s it began ... I took over in 1959 and then I was winemaker, even '58 ... I took the wine from my father on the agreement that he leave ... He had no choice, and I was only eighteen years old."
The second wine is even more delicious.
"In '75 I had a man from Bordeaux but he had to go because of the war. I taught him everything because I thought I was going to die very young. I have an oenologist from Montpelier but I am still in charge.
"We pick at an average of 14%. 3rd September to 19th October is harvest. 300 acres total.
"I extract the wine on the flavour. Not the colour. Three weeks of ferment. The tannins are competely polymerised before we begin."
"What makes the structure? Cabernet skeleton below flesh and muscles.
"Carignan is male: Merlot. Perfumed skin. Cinsault, female. Pinot.
"We can't make Syrah like here. Syrah reflects and projects Australia. It doesn't do that in my country. It is the grape of this country.
"I made no wine in '76 or '84. I couldn't harvest in '84 because the truck took five days to reach the winery and the grapes were already fermented ... they were shooting at everything that was moving ... gunfire all week ... explosions ... '91 will be great in five more years ... '81's been like this for five years."
'95 Ch Musar: more bitumen and tar. Lovely genteel leather. Pretty rose and plum perfume. Some gentle hedgerow briar. Incredible concentration and finesse; elegance and poise; high volatiles. Lovely silky wine with staunch, slender, tapering acidity and extremely fine-grained tannins Now to 10+ years. 90+ points. VA like Max loved it. "It's 1.2. On the limit."
'91 Ch Musar: softer. Some chocolate and leather. St Henri style. Smells like the back seat of a Bugatti Royale. That's the 14.7 litre one with the seven foot bonnet hinge. Who's the girl and how long ago did she leave? He laughs. "Now we are talking the same way!" Now - 15 years. 93.
'81 Ch Musar: like old Grange: walnuts and leather. Extremely soft and opulent ... long, fading, but with wondrous length and finesse and delicious tannin structure ... integrated, composed, harmonious ...
"And now I leave the wine three months without protection in the cement tank. Third year I put them back in vats and blending is in March of third year. They are then left a year blended before they are bottled. Now the assemblage is in September - I'm shortening the time, but just experimenting.
"No fining, minimal sulphur, no filter, no treatment. So they seem to grow younger as they age."
And the 'white'? Whew! This burnished artefact is bigger than the reds.
"At 1500 metres. The origin of Semillon. And maybe Aligote. The Merwah vines are over 150 years, the Obaideh over 100. We have the reds with fish; the white with lamb."