Serge speaks about wine in such a unique way. He has a very interesting perception of wine that I think many people are only able to come to in brief moments of clarity. For him, wine is about experiencing the wine in the moment, and actively engaging with that wine over several moments. To Serge, you cannot fully "get" a wine in a sip. You need to return and return again to actively engage with it to learn more about it, and you may never access all that is there.
During his talk, I kept thinking back to school studies about performance art and semiotics; how symbolism accretes to form impressions, and how a performance is never isolated from the audience. A book becomes a book in the space between the reader and the pages. A painting becomes art in the space of engagement between the viewer and the painting. A music or drama performance emerges in the exchange between the performers and the audience, each element feeding off the other. A Musar wine becomes wine in the active engagement between the wine and the drinker-- it cannot be separated from the environment in which it is drunk.
What I love about his perspective on wine is that he includes the drinker. He encourages the drinker to define the wine in multiple ways, and to continue to go back and find new things. Though we may initially bristle at this view of wine, because, as wine professionals or wine lovers we want to understand the wine and define it, I think this is a deep truth that we all secretly admit to ourselves; and this mystery of wine is what has captured our attentions to begin with. I dislike rating systems and point systems because so often they disassociate the drinker with the wine. These systems disregard individual perception and change over time. Point systems place strict boundaries around the wine, around what it can and should be; they attempt to pin down an ever-fleeting target, they wrestle the dynamic aspects of wine into static, dimensionless shells. Serge breaks free of all this, and doesn't try to nail down his wines. He also holds them back until they are ready to start expressing themselves.
Here is a series of his thoughtful quotes, because he puts it so elegantly himself:
"Wine is communication... We agree on one word to use, but sometimes the meaning of that word for each of us is different. This is how we can communicate more clearly: through wine."
"Each time I taste my wines I discover a new dimension to my wines. As a wine gets older, each bottle takes its place. I'm at a point where, now, each day, I drink a completely different wine."
"I make wine because I love wine."
"Winemaking is an act of faith."
"Wine teaches you openness. You should approach things in a more open attitude."
Serge's son, Marc Hochar, prepared the old wines while his father talked.
"Wine is away from air for so long. When you open it, it wakes up. As it wakes up, it starts to show its soul... A wine of experience-- an old wine-- has an endless speech. It can talk to you for hours. You have to learn to listen. For me, each wine is an individual and has characteristics. I try to understand, I try to listen. Each wine will tell you something, will give itself to you. The wine will talk to me, will give me an impression, will touch my different feelings. If you feel the wine with emotion, it opens windows in your brain."
"My red wine is for your tummy. My white wine is for your brain. My white wine is way more complex than you could ever think. These whites mature long after the reds."
"After one sip, go back. The wine will have something new to show you. You are changing by the minute. So is the wine. You are evolving, aging by the minute, as is the wine. The wine is a companion for you in this."
"There are one million things you could find in these wines. You have to penetrate the wine, you have to give it time to penetrate. Are these wines difficult or easy to understand? Once a wine has the ability to confuse you, it affects the brain. It begins to work on the brain. Wine has the ability to touch all parts of the brain. The more you know, the more you are confused... I'm happy when I can confuse the brain with my wines."
"How can you experience charm? How can you explain finesse? ... Finesse is a state of mind."
<-- Casellula's cheese selections were, as always, great; and they brought out so many nuances in the wines.
As I cut into this one, Serge walked up to me and asked, "Are you happy?"
"Always," I replied with a smile, and we clinked glasses.