Michael Broadbent's Column on Len Evans and Serge Hochar.
Although I intended to write about Serge Hochar, after hearing about Len Evans fatal heart attack, I wanted to say a few words. There aren’t many larger than life characters in this mealy-mouthed, politically correct age, but Len Evans was one of them. Talk about a man for all seasons. Len, who died in August (see p13), was creative, gregarious, not infrequently outrageous, a great raconteur, lovable and infuriating, the most generous of hosts, egotistic, opinionated, and as good a judge of people as he was of wine. Behind the extrovert bonhomie was a deep knowledge and understanding of wine. His influence in Australia was unprecedented and formidable, based on his expertise in every phase of viticulture, winemaking, marketing and, above all, as a taster. He was not only a top judge at state and federal wine shows but was equally at home with classic European wines and vintages. Despite, or possibly because of, our contrasting attitudes and temperament (and shape), we enjoyed a very long and close friendship, as close as anyone can be living in different hemispheres. Regular and frequent exchanges of rude and hilarious letters filled the gaps. He will be greatly missed.
Serge Hochar is another outstanding wine character. Only a matter of days before the recent appalling outbreak of hostilities in Lebanon we had dined together in London. Serge had taken me gently to task for saying that his 1999 Chateau Musar was too sweet, and, at 14%, too alcoholic, adding that perhaps he was trying to ‘move with the times’. Serge Hochar brought to the table a bottle of the 1999 which we tasted alongside the Musar 1997 and 1995. Each wine, while of the immediately recognisable Hochar style, had a different character, for Serge’s genius, like an artist with a colourful palate, is to produce a distinctive blend based on each individual vineyard and, of course, the vintage.
It has been said that Musar is not consistent, that a follow-on vintage is unlike the previous, which of course goes against the conventional commercial grain. Hard to explain to customers; moreover, Musar red wines do not conform to the now global stereotype.
How did his wines fare in that crowded and trendy Kensington restaurant? The first poured was the 1997: medium, neither deep nor pale, with a soft red glow; a warm, harmonious, ripe bouquet; distinctly sweet, as red wines go, its flavour delicious and, I confess, its high (14%) alcoholic content coped deliciously with the exotic ‘fusion’ food. We next tried the 1999, the subject of my earlier comments. Its colour was more ruby and nose crisper, with cherry-like fruit. On the palate, sweet, rich, the same alcoholic level, but with more of a bite. Also excellent with ‘fusion’ dishes. The third red was the Musar 1995: richly coloured, long legs; super-ripe nose; soft texture. A lovely wine.
Truthfully, I am not a great fan of Serge’s white wines but to my surprise, after the reds, Serge Hochar pulled out of his bag a cool bottle of 1999 Musar blanc. At six years of age now a mellow, palish yellow; its nose hard to pin down, slightly meaty, nutty, certainly very good; medium-dry and a modest 12.5% alcohol, well balanced, complete. I didn’t note the acidity so it must have been unobtrusively adequate.
Mas de Daumas Gassac and Chateau Musar have several things in common: distinctive originality and quality sired by innovative, determined and characterful proprietors.
Aimé Guibert sends me a couple of bottles of his Gassac, red and white, one for me to taste, one to keep, soon after their release. Like Musar, indeed like all fine wines, vintages are infinitely variable and fascinating. The 2005 Mas de Daumas blanc, hot from the press – almost literally – is already glorious, a superb blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Chenin Blanc and Manseng. It will age well, for the 1995, tasted recently, is delicious: a palish polished gold; rich, creamy nose which still retains a whiff of youthful pineapple; medium – a touch of sweetness, lovely flavour and good acidity.
But I particularly wanted to compare the 1999 Gassac rouge with the Musar. Unsurprisingly, the ‘Lafite’ of the Midi, with its 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% ‘variétés rares non clones autrefois’ (Guibert’s labels are full of information, not all of which I wholly comprehend), was distinctly different, with its deep ruby colour and almost Bordeaux-like tannin and acidity. Also less sweet and a degree lower in alcohol than the 1999 Musar. Excellent balance, drinking beautifully.
I confess, however, that Daphne and I had been so taken by the 1995 Musar that a couple of days after Serge had returned to Beirut, we ordered some from Musar’s UK-based company. We are almost ready to re-order.
What Michael’s Been Drinking This Month
I have collected quite a few delectably sweet Alsace wines. Though agreeable as ‘elevenses’ they tend to pall. Best with food, ideal with cheese. Daphne and I take a great delight in matchmaking, and recently found the perfect partner for a Double Gloucester and mature truckle Cheddar. It was Domaine Weinbach’s lovely Vendange Tardive Pinot Gris, a suave, sweet but refreshingly crisp 2002. The wine gave the all-too-familiar English cheeses added attraction, and the cheeses gave the wine a perfect reason for its existence.