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Event highlights the history and flavor of Lebanese wines

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    Chateau Musar wines offered during a tasting of Lebanese wines at a dinner prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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    Zac Isaac and Genevieve Geha Kirbride toast during a tasting of Lebanese wines at a dinner prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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    Anna Hartung sips Chateau Musar wine during a tasting of Lebanese wines at a dinner prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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    Marc Hochar of Chateau Musar hosts a tasting of Lebanese wines at a dinner prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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    Chateau Musar wine is poured during a tasting of Lebanese wines at a dinner prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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    Rachel Nasatir serves wine from Chateau Musar during a tasting of Lebanese wines at a dinner prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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    Smoked chicken rillettes with broasted brioche, dijon mustard and pickled turnip prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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    Marc Hochar of Chateau Musar warms a glass of wine during a tasting of his Lebanese wines at a dinner prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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    Bill Schuck, left, smells a glass of Chateau Musar wine during a tasting of Lebanese wines at a dinner at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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    Roasted beet salad with pickled apples, turkeyfoot feta and nasturtium prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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    A wine from Chateau Musar is shown to guests during a tasting of Lebanese wines at a dinner prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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    Bacon wrapped pork tenderloin, roasted broccoli and broccoli puree' prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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    Braised short rib, yukon gold potato puree', braising reduction and fingerling chips prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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    Smoked chicken rillettes with broasted brioche, dijon mustard and pickled turnip prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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    Marc Hochar of Chateau Musar hosts a tasting of Lebanese wines at a dinner prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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Forget “everything you know about wines,” said Marc Hochar, a third-generation winemaker from Lebanon’s Chateau Musar (chateaumusar.com). “Start from scratch.”

Mr. Hochar was visiting the Toledo area in late October for a private wine tasting seminar hosted at Element 112, 5735 N. Main St., Sylvania.

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Marc Hochar of Chateau Musar hosts a tasting of Lebanese wines at a dinner prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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“The image people have of Lebanon is of an arid, war-torn region,” said Austin Beeman, vice president of marketing for Cutting Edge Selections wine distributors. Instead, it’s “more like the French Riviera, the Italian Riviera,” he said. 

Mr. Beeman had worked with this area’s Lebanese community and with the Toledo Sister Cities International to invite Mr. Hochar here so he could dispel misconceptions about the country’s wine industry.

“We’ve been making wine in Lebanon for around [5,000] or 6,000 thousand years,” Mr. Hochar began with a charming French accent. “The history is old.”

Wine production began in Mesopotamia, “a bit more north,” 7,000 years ago, he said, before wines gradually made their way westward. All of his family winery’s white wines are varietals that existed 3,000 to 4,000 years ago; they may be produced in a different manner now, “but history infuses it,” Mr. Hochar said.

Winemaking in the region was discontinued from 800 to 1,800 A.D. with the rise of Islam and the Turkish Empire. France, Italy, and Spain “picked up the ball” during that period, Mr. Hochar said about the more noted wine producing countries.

The Hochar family has been involved in the industry since 1930. 

“My grandfather, in the 1920s, went to France to study medicine. I think he drank more than he studied,” Mr. Hochar said with a laugh.

Gaston Hochar returned home and decided to make wine to cater to the French in Lebanon, declaring that “we’re going to set the benchmark really high.”

Chateau Musar is “non-interventionist,” Mr. Hochar said, with no filtering or other manipulation. The vineyards have always been organic and received official certification in 2006. The only additive is a bit of sulfur to prevent deterioration as the wines are shipped around the world. Additionally, toasted wood is not used for aging. 

“I don’t want ‘wood wine,’” Mr. Hochar said. “I want wine.”

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Chateau Musar wine is poured during a tasting of Lebanese wines at a dinner prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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The winery is in Ghazir, north of Beirut along the Lebanese coastline; the vineyards are three hours away in the Bekaa Valley and in Mount Barouk. While instability in the area has posed some difficulties over the years, with no wine being produced in 1976 due to conflicts, Mr. Hochar said, “our problem is not war; our problem is heat — global warming.”

This has led to early harvesting of grapes, as alcohol levels can increase in as little as two days, and there can also be issues with acidity if the fruit is left in hot temperatures.

The tasting began with a Musar Jeune 2015 rosé, whose vines originated in the south of France where Gaston Hochar had friends. This had been offered as guests arrived. 

The Chateau Musar Jeune wines, which also include red and white, are “wines that have the ability to grasp the attention of younger drinkers,” Mr. Hochar said. They are “attractive and accessible to those who are new to wine,” who then “learn and grow with the wines and the winery.” The term jeune, which is French for “young,” refers to the target audience rather than to the age of the vines.

The remaining wines were sampled in pairs. Mr. Hochar said that if you “taste one wine alone, you’re relying on your memory.” Tasting two offers an opportunity for comparison and greater analysis.

Genevieve Geha-Kirkbride, Bekaa Valley trustee for the Toledo Sister Cities, particularly liked the Jeune Rouge 2014. Her tablemates found the companion wine, Chateau Musar Hochar Père et Fils (father and son, in French) 2012 to be more woody. This characteristic was not a result of storage in a cask, Mr. Hochar said, but rather is “inherent to the wine.”

“You can build the balance and the harmony of your wines” through blending, Mr. Hochar said. The Jeune reds comprise Cinsault, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon; Père et Fils exchanges Grenache for the Syrah. Jeune whites feature the fruits of Viognier, Vermentino, and Chardonnay vines.

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Rachel Nasatir serves wine from Chateau Musar during a tasting of Lebanese wines at a dinner prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

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Chateau Musar Rouge varieties from 2009 and 2001 were sampled next, to gauge the development of complexity over the course of eight years. One guest stated that “the perfume in the ’01 is just glorious.” Its taste was described as being concentrated, like jam, while the younger wine offered flavors of fresh fruit. A third Rouge, from 1998, was sampled, eliciting adjectives such as “beautiful” and “exquisite” from those in attendance.

“The older wine has much more to say, much more to offer,” Mr. Hochar said.

Two bottles of Chateau Musar Blanc were then poured: one from 2007 and a beautiful, toffee-colored one from 1991 that Mr. Beeman said “no one in Ohio has ever tasted.”

“It’s an experience — the experience of changing,” Mr. Hochar said, as everyone savored sips of each wine. Rachel Nasatir, a Cutting Edge Selections representative, spoke of “the mystery of wine,” as it develops and matures and those who drink it do, as well, bringing new emotions, memories, and moods to the relationship.

By the end of the tasting, the wines had been in their serving glasses for approximately two hours, which Mr. Hochar was pleased about. He said that as a wine sits in the glass, “it opens up.” Chateau Musar produces mostly “nose wines,” he said, which need a bit of heat — which can be achieved through cupping a glass briefly with one’s hands — to encourage that fragrance.

Later that evening, Chris Nixon, chef and co-owner of Element 112, prepared an exceptional five-course meal to serve with specially selected Chateau Musar wine pairings.

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Smoked chicken rillettes with broasted brioche, dijon mustard and pickled turnip prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

The Blade/Lori King
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“The advantage of having the wines with dinner,” said Mr. Hochar, rather than on their own at the afternoon seminar, “is to see how versatile they are. If a wine is static, there is not a conversation; it’s a monologue. The wine is imposing upon you.” By sampling the offerings along with the food, and comparing them to each other, there was not only a conversation with the wines but among tablemates as they discussed their impressions and discoveries.

A gorgeous roasted beet salad with apples, a sprinkle of feta from Turkeyfoot Creek Creamery in Wauseon, and delicate nasturtium was served with Chateau Musar Jeune White. “It smells of exotic fruits,” said Mr. Hochar of the wine.

Luscious smoked chicken rillettes to spread on buttery toasted brioche came next, presented with whole grain Dijon mustard and slivers of pickled turnip. “It’s an excellent pairing,” said Mr. Beeman of the accompanying Jeune Red 2014. Mr. Hochar agreed, saying that “the more exotic combination” was “perfect.”

Bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin, roasted broccoli, and an immensely popular broccoli purée was complemented by a red — the Hochar Père et Fils. Guests tasted the separate portions of the dish along with the wine, comparing each unique pairing.

Two wines were chosen for the meltingly tender braised short rib with a whiff of cinnamon, silken Yukon Gold potato purée, and fingerling chips: the 2009 and 1998 vintages of Chateau Musar Rouge. Mr. Hochar asked that everyone taste the 2009 first, then the 1998, and then go back to the 2009 in order to taste bright freshness in the younger wine contrasting with depth and richness in the one that had an opportunity to age.

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Chateau Musar wines offered during a tasting of Lebanese wines at a dinner prepared by Chris Nixon at Element 112 in Sylvania, Ohio.

The Blade/Lori King
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For dessert, Mr. Nixon served another Turkeyfoot variety, brieda (a brie and gouda combination prepared exclusively for Element 112), with poached pears and hibiscus purée. The final wine was the Blanc 2007, which wasn’t particularly sweet to accompany a more savory dish.

Locally, the wines are carried by the Bottle Shop at Mancy’s Italian, 5453 Monroe St., and Walt Churchill's Market, 3320 Briarfield Blvd., Maumee. Prices vary, but range from approximately $20 per bottle for Chateau Musar Jeune (red, white, rosé) and $30 for Hochar Père et Fils to $75 for the Blanc 2007. Among the specialty Library Offerings category, the Rouge 2008 has a suggested retail price of $55 while the exquisite Blanc 1991 is about $258. The rarest vintages from the 1960s are valued between $1,300 to nearly $2,600.

“It’s events like these that promote understanding and insight” among communities, said James Hartung, vice president of the Toledo Sister Cities.

For those who are curious about Chateau Musar and about wines from Lebanon, Mr. Hochar issued a gentle invitation to learn more.

“Just keep an open mind,” he said. “And have a conversation with the wine.”

Roasted Beet Salad

2 pounds red beets

1 tablespoon white wine

1 tablespoon olive oil

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

¼ cup canola oil

1 Granny Smith apple

Black pepper

½ cup crumbled goat cheese

¼ cup toasted sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a large bowl, combine the beets, white wine, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Toss to coat the beets evenly.

Tear a large sheet of aluminum foil and place on a sheet tray. Pour the contents of the bowl in the enter of the foil and fold up the ends to create a pouch. Roll the ends together to seal the pouch and move the sheet tray to the oven. Set a timer for 1 hour and 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, carefully remove the beets from the oven and place somewhere to cool for 10 minutes.

Carefully open the aluminum pouch (there will be steam). Put on a pair of gloves to avoid turning your hands pink. Peel the skin from the beeets and cut into chunks.

Combine the apple cider vinegar, a pinch of salt, and about 1/4 cup of the cut beets in a blender. Turn the blender on and stream the canola oil slowly into the mixture to make a beet vinaigrette.

Cut the apple into slices and set aside.

In a bowl, toss the rest of the beets with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.

Place a sponful of the beet vinaigrette on each of the plates. Split the beets between the plates and top with the goat cheese, sunflower seeds, sliced apples, and a crack of black pepper.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Source: Chris Nixon, Element 112

Contact Mary Bilyeu at mbilyeu@theblade.com, and follow her at facebook.com/thebladefoodpage.

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