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Bill Spohn

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WTN: Ch. Musar with Serge Hochar

by Bill Spohn » Wed May 10, 2006 11:07 am

Notes from a small trade tasting with Serge Hochar in Vancouver.

I hadn’t seen Serge in a couple of decades, but he was looking great and dapper as ever despite some recent health scare. He was on one of his peripatetic promotional tours and had some of his recent wines with him.

2003 Hochar Pere et Fils Rosé – Serge says he makes the Pere et Fils wines to please everyone, while he makes Ch. Musar only to please himself. Pale pink, pleasant and balanced with a hint of spice, a middle of the road decent rosé for summer consumption. Made from cinsault with some Grenache.


2001 Hochar Pere et Fils Red – this wine is bottled after 3 years (6-7 months of it in wood) and is mainly cinsault. The colour is fairly light, the nose was ripe with some pepper, and it was balanced, soft and ready to drink,

1999 Musar – bright wine with leather and spice in the nose, and only a hint of VA. Medium body, good acidity, and the tannins are quite soft. Made from cabernet, carignane and cinsault. He considers this a very good vintage, and the 1995 an excellent vintage.

1998 Musar – a little spicier in the nose, which carries through on palate, a bit oxidative at the end. Forward wine.

1995 Musar – this was more like the vintages of old that I remember fondly. More depth to the nose and markedly greater VA, which Serge indicated was intentional. Sweet entry, quite juicy middle and good length.

These wines have always been a bit unusual in that the seem to put on weight as they age instead of the opposite. Hochar himself says that he thinks Musar should be drunk from about the age of 15 onward.

I asked him about the difference in the showing of the 1995 versus the later two vintages and he indicated that he had to cut back on the VA quite a bit after.

He then presented his white wine, serving it last as he thinks it is the most ageworthy and because he believes that it stands up to the reds. It is made from two local varietals, obedieh and merwah, which he posits were taken back to Europe following the Crusades, and became what we know as chardonnay and Semillon. I have no idea if modern scientific ampellographers agree.

1999 Ch. Musar White – now showing some colour, musk melon nose, a bit reticent, and pleasant, full and balanced. One of his only wines fermented in steel (he prefers concrete for the reds). Only the second time I’ve tasted the Musar white, and maybe I just haven’t had one old enough (he went on about the lovely 1952), or maybe it just isn’t my cuppa chai, as I wonder what all the fuss is about.

Always interesting to revisit this producer – I very much enjoyed the wines from the 1970s, then thought they had dropped the ball a bit in the 80s. The 1995 was enough to convince me that they can still produce a pretty interesting wine, and I’ll keep an eye on them, if only for use in blind tastings where you can easily fool everyone, as long as they don’t know that VA clue!
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Re: WTN: Ch. Musar with Serge Hochar

by Jenise » Wed May 10, 2006 12:32 pm

More depth to the nose and markedly greater VA, which Serge indicated was intentional.

Maybe I've not been paying close enough attention, but I've never heard any winemaker describe VA as intentional before. Does VA serve some purpose I'm unfamiliar with, or is he just saying "I like that smell and I want it there"?
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Re: WTN: Ch. Musar with Serge Hochar

by Bill Spohn » Wed May 10, 2006 12:48 pm

Hey, he likes it. And I don't find it too out of place once you get used to it.

Idiosyncratic winemaker trained in France, going his own way.

At least some of his wines are pretty interesting.
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Re: WTN: Ch. Musar with Serge Hochar

by Jenise » Wed May 10, 2006 12:58 pm

I do not remember VA in the 91 Musar that Jay Miller so generously gifted me, nor was it in the two Hochar reds I've had in the last two years, but it was there in spades in the little 03 Cuvee Rouge I had a few weeks ago, a wine I liked very well but for that. Wine should not smell like salad dressing. :) Anyway, interesting to learn it's deliberate, as I said I've not seen such an admission before.
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Re: WTN: Ch. Musar with Serge Hochar

by Rahsaan » Wed May 10, 2006 1:39 pm

I had the same reply as Jenise, even if he likes it, what does he do to encourage VA in the wine? Use grey rot/vinegar-filled grapes?
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Re: WTN: Ch. Musar with Serge Hochar

by Bill Spohn » Wed May 10, 2006 2:01 pm

Rahsaan wrote:I had the same reply as Jenise, even if he likes it, what does he do to encourage VA in the wine? Use grey rot/vinegar-filled grapes?


Not at all - acids are a normal product of fermentation. All you have to do is limit the sulfiting (or just don't sulfite the must) to encourage them, if, as Hochar does, you believe that they add complexity.

Most reds can take much more than whites like Riesling, for instance.

Indeed they do add interest to wines (acetic acid particularly), but at a certain point they switch from being interesting to being obtrusive. The most common current allowed maximum level is 1.3 micrograms per liter, although it varies in different jurisdictions.


I take it from what Serge said that the wines after 1995 had to adhere to that lower level and thus the 1995 must have exceeded it, but by how much I do not know as I didn't ask. Personally, I didn't find it objectionable, and I expect he may be right about it adding interest, perhaps more so later in life. It might be too much for some people.

Interesting question. We know there are people almost completely insensitive to TCA, for example, and those for whom even a hint is too much. Perhaps VA has a similar range of sensitivities?
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Re: WTN: Ch. Musar with Serge Hochar

by Hoke » Wed May 10, 2006 2:17 pm

As Bill just replied, VA is something that naturally occurs in wine, and can be "encouraged" by not being controlled or repressed.

VA, and people's response to it, has always been intriguing to me. When I started out with wine as a professional, it was one of the first things I learned to recognize. And it was then clearly expressed as a fault or flaw.

Lately, there are so many wines with appreciable amounts of VA, and downright plunging into total ascecense, that it's seen as a character more than a fault, I believe.

Certainly, different people are sensitive to VA in different degrees. To a casual drinker, and even to quite a few professionals, a touch of VA "lifts" a wine---that's what the V stands for, after all, volatile. To the more senstive, though, it prickles the nose with vinegar and ruins the overall experience of the wine.

As with everything else to do with wine, I suppose it comes down to whatever the proper balance is for you. I don't mind a touch of VA myself, since I find it so often, but I also don't like pickle juice up my nose.

In that sense, I consider VA to be like brettanomyces: I don't need it; I don't mind it in small doses; I don't like a lot of it.

The one thing I do find curious, and most interesting in all of this is that in by far the vast majority of the wines that have VA, it is a conscious choice by the winemaker/producer, unless it's just crappy winemaking. That is to say, in former days, when control was less readily attainable, and sanitary conditions were of less concern, VA sometimes happened in spite of the winemaker's efforts (and that's why it was seen as a flaw). Nowadays, any decently rigged professional winery should be able to moderate VA.
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Re: WTN: Ch. Musar with Serge Hochar

by Bill Spohn » Wed May 10, 2006 2:26 pm

Hoke wrote: Nowadays, any decently rigged professional winery should be able to moderate VA.


Agree in general, Hoke, but there are some special cases where it can be difficult.

An example is ice wines, where the very high must weight puts the yeast into osmotic stress and results in variations to the normal fermentation pathways that result in rather high acetic content. It is a matter of ongoing study as to how to control this.
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Re: WTN: Ch. Musar with Serge Hochar

by Jenise » Wed May 10, 2006 2:34 pm

Interesting question. We know there are people almost completely insensitive to TCA, for example, and those for whom even a hint is too much. Perhaps VA has a similar range of sensitivities?


It's been my observation that yes, it does. And like TCA sensitivity, it is something that you can develop over time. (In both cases, there was a time when I couldn't detect it in wines others present denounced.) In fact I've either been extremely unlucky or I've become especially sensitive to VA of late, judging by my high rate of detection.
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Re: WTN: Ch. Musar with Serge Hochar

by Ian Sutton » Fri May 12, 2006 3:23 pm

Bill
Thanks for the notes, especially the 99 red Musar, as this is the first note I've seen on an eagerly awaited vintage.
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Re: WTN: Ch. Musar with Serge Hochar

by Otto » Fri May 12, 2006 5:55 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:It is made from two local varietals, obedieh and merwah, which he posits were taken back to Europe following the Crusades, and became what we know as chardonnay and Semillon. I have no idea if modern scientific ampellographers agree.


Thanks for the excellent notes! Strange what Serge said. When I toured the winery, Gaston Hochar said that there might be some link (at least the varietal samples I was given seemed like Chard and Sém) but was very emphatic that this isn't proved and is only a theory. I also wonder if there has been new research done to prove or disprove this?

I also am glad to hear about the 1999s and that they are as promising as they seemed when I tasted the red before release at the winery (wasn't given the white).
I don't drink wine because of religious reasons ... only for other reasons.
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Re: WTN: Ch. Musar with Serge Hochar

by Bill Spohn » Fri May 12, 2006 6:04 pm

Otto Nieminen wrote:Strange what Serge said. When I toured the winery, Gaston Hochar said that there might be some link (at least the varietal samples I was given seemed like Chard and Sém) but was very emphatic that this isn't proved and is only a theory. I also wonder if there has been new research done to prove or disprove this?


I doubt there has been any research on Serge's varietals, but chardonnay has been shown to be derived from local Burgundian material (pinot and another local grape)

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