September 18, 2019
News Opinion

WINE O’CLOCK: Sipping a fine red in the war zone

THE Middle East has a good climate for grapes, that’s why wine figures in many Bible stories.

But anyone producing wine there needs to be extremely brave and slightly mad. Both descriptions could apply to the remarkable Hochar family, Maronite Christians who have been making excellent wines in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley for more than 80 years.

Gaston Hochar established Chateau Musar in 1930 and passed it on to his sons Ronald and Serge. Ronald was named after his father’s friend, the Franco-Irish wine maker Ronald Barton (of Barton and Guestier fame), who was stationed in Lebanon during the second world war.

Serge died four years ago but a third generation has taken on the task of producing good wine in bad circumstances.

Their winery is just 40 km from Beirut. The story has it that during Lebanon’s civil war, when the area came under heavy bombardment from Syria, Serge refused to take cover. He poured a giant glass of his 1972 vintage which he sipped during 12 hours of shelling, noting how it changed hour by hour through exposure to the air.

Their red wine is made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache and Mourvéde grapes. They also make a white, from Obaideh (related to Chardonnay) and Merwah (related to Sémillon).

Lebanese wines are not easy to find in Ireland and the shops that do carry them are sometimes out of stock. Ask at The Wine Centre in Kilkenny, or try The Corkscrew online. O’Brien’s sometimes stock the best-known red, Hochar Pere et Fils.

There are other Lebanese wine makers. Marks and Spencer carry two reds from the Ksara winery, Clos St Alphonse and Ksara Reserve du Couvent.

Prices range from €20 to €35. A bit expensive, but think of it as danger money.

MICHAEL WOLSEY

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