Wine of the Week: A Desert Island Wine from Lebanon

Wine professionals get the question all the time: What's your favorite wine? When I get asked this question (and I get it all the time), I always respond with my stock answer: It depends on what I'm eating (never wine without food, never food without wine). In other words, if it's raw oysters, the wine is going to be Muscadet. If it's zampone (pig's trotter stuffed with head cheese), it's going to be Lambrusco. If it's fish tacos (grilled or fried), it's going to be vin gris from Pinot Noir (preferably from Oregon or California).

But when pressed (forgive the pun) to reveal what wine I reach for when celebrating or enjoying dinner alone with my wife Tracie P, I cannot conceal that old white wine and old Nebbiolo and old Pinot Noir are the wines that rise to the occasion.

I was reminded of one such wine over the weekend at the Texas Sommelier Conference when I chatted with winemaker Serge Hochar, owner of the legendary Lebanese winery Château Musar. In May of this year, we opened a bottle of his 2001 blanc (above) that I had picked up at the Houston Wine Merchant for less than $70. The occasion was the 40th birthday party, held at our house, for one of our best friends from Italy.

Made from grapes indigenous to Lebanon, Obeideh and Merweh (Merwah or Meroué), believed by many (however inconclusively) to be related to Chardonnay and Sémilllon, the wine was a medley of mineral and fruit aromas and flavors that alternated between stream-kissed pebbles and white flowers and apricot. And as the slightly oxidative wine began to open up and reveal its fruit more generously, a note of toasty brioche also emerged, as if the wine were a marmalade to be smeared hedonically over a baker's freshly baked bounty.

According to the Wine Searcher, the Houston Wine Merchant only has the 1991 white Musar in stock (and a lot of the winery's older reds). At around $170, the wine isn't cheap (and is through-the-roof when it comes to our price ceiling). But it represents extreme value nonetheless: To find something comparable in Burgundy or Bourdeaux, you would have to spend $350 to 500, or even more. And to give you an idea of the longevity of these wines (when stored properly), here's the flight that they opened for the sommelier conference yesterday:

Photo by Alfonso Cevola.

There are two variants of the "what's your favorite wine" riddle. One is If you had to be stuck on a desert island, what wine would you want to take with you? And the other is What wine would you drink at your last meal?

When it comes to "desert island" (read Gilligan's Island) and "last meal" wines, I always answer by saying that life is too short to drink mediocre wine. As the late and great Len Evans, father of the Australian wine industry, once said: "You only have so many bottles in your life. Never drink a bad one." People who knew Len well often report that he lived by this credo. There are so many great wines in the world, he maintained, that you could drink a bottle a day for the rest of your life and never drink an inferior wine.

Words to live by in my book.

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