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A Wine Lover's Diary, part 191 (June 2, 2008)

Monday, May 26: Last night's dinner was with Serge Hochar, proprietor of Lebanon's greatest winery, Chateau Musar, at Le Select Bistro. In spite of just having returned from Paris that afternoon Deborah and I could not pass up the opportunity to spend time with Serge. We have known each other for nearly 30 years and he is an honorary director of Grapes for Humanity. We can hardly keep our eyes open but are determined to taste through all the wines. Serge tells us that there are now 30 wineries in Lebanon, mostly in the Bekaa Valley, where he is located.

Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar

Hochar Père & Fils Red 2002 (a blend of Cinsault with Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and a small amount of Grenache): light, plum and licorice flavours; very elegant. ****

Chateau Musar Red 2000 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan): mature, black fruits with a violet note, chocolate and white pepper. ****

Chateau Musar Red 1999: earthy raspberry, well structured and still very fresh. ****½

Chateau Musar Red 1998: gamey, raspberry nose; sweet blackcurrant with a medicinal note; lovely soft, sweet fruit. ****½

Chateau Musar Red 1991: mature sweet raspberry and rose petal flavours, great balance; drinking beautifully. *****

Chateau Musar Red 1981: mature ruby, gamey, dry but still lively. ****

The first vintage I ever tasted of Chateau Musar was the 1977. These are impressive, long-lived wines; but the real revelation is Chateau Musar White, which I had not tasted before.

Chateau Musar White 2001 (a blend of two indigenous Lebanese grapes – Obaideh and Merwah): rich barley sugar and apricot flavours with a strong spine of acidity. ****½

Chateau Musar White 1999: rich caramel flavour, creamy on the palate but beautifully balanced and finishes dry. *****

Spent the day catching up on emails and writing my 680News reviews.

Tuesday, May 27: This is like old home week. Lunch with another old friend, Sandro Boscaini of Masi. Sandro is in town to show the wines of Bossi Fedrigotti, a co-venture with this small Trentino producer. In 1961 Count Federico Bossi Fedrigotti made the first Bordeaux blend in Italy with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. At 40 hectares it's the largest estate in Trentino. Trentino and Friuli, like Alsace, are the only Italian regions to use varietal names on their labels. We tasted a 2007 Pinot Grigio (not my favourite wine), an excellent Gewürztraminer 2007 (lychee, orange, very dry and elegant), a Marzemino 2007 (rustic, bitter finish), Teroldego 2006 (floral nose, herby, blackberry flavour with lively acidity). The best wine was Bossi Fredrigotti Fojaneghe 2005, named after the estate where the Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Teroldego are grown for this blend. (Dense ruby; dry, savour red berry nose with a smoky note; blackcurrant flavour, very majestic and firmly structured. ****½)

With the lunch we tried a series of Masi wines, including a new wine from Serego Aligheri – from their recently acquired property in Tuscany, Poderi del Bello Ovile 2004. This will be one of my Wines of the Week.

Wednesday, May 28: After recording my 680News reviews I went down to Bravi restaurant on Wellington Street to meet James Mariani of Castello Banfi, with fellow writers Gordon Stimmell and Tod Stewart. Banfi, Mariani, tells us, introduced stainless steel fermentation to Brunello in 1987 and was the first winery to move their wine around under nitrogen. We wanted to hear about the scandal in the region (some producers allegedly adding Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot to their Sangiovese. Brunello has to be 100% Sangiovese). Mariani gave us a printed sheet by way of response. The last sentence reads: "By late summer we hope to have a resolution or more news on the status of the situation." The quickest way to resolve it is to change the DOCG regulations to allow for the addition of Bordeaux varieties and call it "Super Brunello" – but am I too cynical?

Castello Banfi Vigne Regali Principessa Gavia Gavi 2006: dry, stoney, crisp peach pit flavour, very fresh. ****

Banfi Centine Rosso 2006 and Rosso di Montalcino followed.

Banfi Cum Laude 2004: (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah) – earthy, black cherry, pencil lead and orange peel flavours. ****

Banfi Colvecchio 2004 (Syrah): chunky, blackberry, firmly structured – tasted great with olives. ****

Banfi Tavernelle 2004 (100% Cabernet Sauvignon): dense purple-ruby, cedar, cigar box, sweet blackcurrant with a marine note and dusty tannins. ****½

Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2002: deep ruby colour; licorice, blackberry, dry and savoury with great elegance and balance. ****½.

Thursday, May 29: Spent the day working on the cellar book. Good to get back to writing books again. For dinner, a lightly curried chicken with Peninsula Ridge Fumé Blanc 2005.

Friday, May 30: A Vintages tasting day. 87 wines. The white wines and the rosés were at room temperature, which made tasting difficult. Had a nap before going over to a neighbour's for dinner. Argentinean Malbec must be catching on because it was poured in great abundance.




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