Vicuna–The World’s Most Luxurious Textile

 

vicuna jacket

 

Vicuña

 

A garment made of vicuña wool is so rare and so precious that it is highly unlikely that even the proverbial “gentleman who has everything” has ever heard of one or seen one, let alone worn one.

 

Vicuña wool is considered the world’s most costly textile:  Based on 2018 pricing, a yard of it retails for approximately $5,000, a custom-tailored men’s suit typically priced between $30,000 and $50,000.  Even a vicuña scarf can command prices of around $2,000.  But for the few men who have ever had the pleasure of wearing a garment or accessory made of vicuña wool, it is worth every penny.

 

The vicuña (also spelled vicuna and vicugna), the animal that gives the precious textile its name, is a wild South American camelid that lives in the alpine regions of the Andes Mountains. It is a relative of the llama; is believed to be the wild ancestor of the alpaca; and like the closely related guanaco, has never been domesticated.  Smaller, more graceful, and more delicate than the guanaco, the vicuña is native to Peru, northwestern Argentina, Bolivia, and northern Chile, living at altitudes of 3,200-4,800 meters (10,500-15,700 ft.) above sea level. (A small introduced population exists in Ecuador.)  From head to tail, the animal measures about 5 ft., is about 3 ft. tall at its shoulders, and weighs on average less than 150 lbs.

Vicuna photo

By law, a vicuña can only be shorn every two years—after being rounded-up in the wild.  Each year, in an event called a “chacu” (also spelled “chakku,” “chaccu”) that dates back to the Inca era, the vicuñas are herded, captured, and shorn. (Only animals with wool longer than 2.5 cm may be shorn.)  Once shorn, the females and young males are released back into the wild. Old males, however, are slaughtered for their fleece and flesh.

 

The extraordinary warmth of vicuña wool is derived from tiny scales on the hollow, air-filled fibers, the scales causing the fibers to interlock, thereby trapping insulating-air.  Vicuña wool fibers are amongst the finest in the world, comparable in diameter to that of the angora rabbit and the down-hair (underfur) of the chiru (the Tibetan antelope) that is used to weave the fabled (now infamous and internationally banned on account of traders killing the wild antelope to get is precious fur) shahtoosh shawl, so fine as to be able to pass through a wedding ring. Vicuña, for example, is noticeably finer than cashmere. [It is also much rarer and, correspondingly, much more expensive:  While only 12 tons of vicuña wool that can be processed into yarn are produced annually worldwide, the tonnage of cashmere yarn is 25,000; likewise, 2 pounds of vicuña wool cost between $400 and $600, while a similar amount of cashmere costs $75-$85, with sheep’s wool running around $5-$6.  Harrods of London sells pure vicuña sock by Falke’s for over $600 per pair. And while a cashmere sweater retails for around $1,000, a vicuña one demands $5,000.  Vicuña wool is so fine that to place one’s hand into a sack of the sheared wool is like placing one’s hand into a sack containing nothing but soft, balmy air.]  And since the wool is sensitive to chemical treatment, it is usually left in its natural golden-tan color, dubbed “the golden fleece.”  (Modern manufacturers of the fabric have recently unlocked the secret for dyeing the textile into various fashion-colors.)  But the animal yields small quantities—about one pound per animal per biennial harvest—of a very fine, soft, extremely warm wool. Hence, its justifiably high price.  The Inca civilization (12th-16th century) so prized the wool—declared by Spanish conquistadors “the silk of the New World”—that it was against the law for anyone other than royalty to possess it. And according to Inca mythology, the vicuña was the reincarnation of a beautiful young maiden upon whom a coat of pure gold was bestowed when she acquiesced to the advances of an old, hideous king. Today, the vicuña is the national animal of Peru and is featured prominently in the country’s coat of arms.

 

The vicuña was protected under Inca law.  And today, there are national and international regulations that safeguard the animal and its precious wool.  But from the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru in 1532 until 1974 when the vicuña was officially declared an endangered species, the animal was largely unprotected, resulting in its being hunted and destroyed almost to the brink of extinction. (In 1824, Simón Bolivar[1783-1830], in his capacity as governor of Peru, banned the killing of the vicuña.)  By the mid-1970s, only about 6,000 vicuñas remained. Part of the reason for the animal’s decline is that, because it lives in the wild, harvesters of the wool tended to shoot the docile creature then collect its precious wool rather than undergo the labor-intensive process that engages the services of hundreds or even thousands of people to form a “human ring” around a vicuña herd then slowly close-in on the animals to round-up the live animals, thereafter shearing them before releasing them back into the wild. In 1987, CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) declared that only wool obtained from living vicuña could legally sold. During the Inca era, it is estimated that 3,000,000 vicuñas roamed their Andean habitat.  Today, as a result of local, national, and international efforts, the vicuña population is around 350,000.  And the gentle animal remains on protected species lists.

vicuna round-up

The world’s foremost trader in luxurious vicuña wool, garments, and accessories made therefrom is the Italian firm of Loro Piana (www.LoroPiana.com ).  Founded in the early 1800s by the Loro Piana family in Trivero, a district in northern Italy renowned for textile production, by the second half of the 19th century, the company had moved its operations to Valsesia, Italy, serving as merchants of wool.  In the 1940s, the company, under the direction of Franco Loro Piana, began exporting its fine wool textiles, becoming world-famous for its production of cashmere and then, in the mid-1990s, vicuña.  In 2013, LVHM (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy), the Paris-based French multinational conglomerate of luxury goods, purchased 80% of Loro Piana for $2.25 billion. Today, the Loro Piana family, which has been in the wool business for six generations and over 200 years, owns 15% of the company.

 

 

 

 

vicuna jacket

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China and Crystal Tableware for the Modern Man–by Richard Brendon

Bone China and Crystal—for the modern man

by Richard Brendon

 

Richard Brendon

 

When the typical 21st-century gentleman thinks of equipping his household—be it bachelor pad, starter-house, urban penthouse, or country mansion—he does not think of bone china and fine crystal. Simply stated, most men—not even wealthy and worldly ones—do not live like that anymore. As such, luxurious, iconic brands like Wedgwood and Lalique have given way to the likes of Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn.

 

But for the discriminating modern man who insists—like his father before him—in dining in

elegance and with style, there is a new generation of tableware designers who, using the age-old exquisite materials of bone china and lead crystal, create collections that are at once classic but modern, elegant and therefore understated, simple though luxurious. And one such firm is the design house of Richard Brendon ( www.RichardBrendon.com ).

 

Bone China

Stronger than “porcelain china” and “fine china,” “bone china” is a soft-paste porcelain composed of a minimum of 30% bone ash, feldspathic (rock-forming) material, and a fine, white clay called kaolin.

 

Bone ash is a white substance made by the calcification of animal bones. To make bone ash, the flesh is removed from the bone, then the bone is washed clean. It is then heated to about 1832 °F (1000 °C) in order to remove all organic material, the bone thereby becoming sterilized. The sterilized bone is then ground with water into fine particles that are used as the raw material for bone china. Today, many manufacturers of bone china use synthetic bone ash alternatives such as dicalcium phosphate and tricalcium phosphate. Richard Brendon, however, does not. His bone ash is made from the bones of English cattle.

 

Relatively resistant to chipping, bone china is also known for its whiteness and translucency. And because it is harder than other porcelains, it can be crafted into thin, delicate objects that are exceedingly durable.

 

English potter Josiah Spode, in the early 1790s, is credited as the first person to commercially market items made of bone china. And from its introduction until the latter part of the 20th century, bone china was primarily a British product, made almost exclusively in Stoke-on-Trent.

 

Lead Crystal

Comprised primarily of silica sand, calcium, magnesium, soda, and lime, the earliest examples of crystal glass date back to 500 B.C.E., Mesopotamia. But it was in 1674 C.E. that English glassmaker George Ravenscroft decided to substitute lead oxide for calcium, thereby inventing the now-famous lead crystal that is used to craft some of the most prized glassware known to man.

 

By adding lead oxide (typically from 18% to 40% by weight), the silica sand, of which glass is primarily comprised, becomes easier to melt. Lead oxide also increases the “working period” of the molten glass, affording artisans more time to manipulate the glass in its formative stages. Besides adding weight and stability, lead oxide also imparts a heightened refractory characteristic, resulting in a finished product with a brilliance that far exceeds that of regular glass. And while there are health issues associated with eating and drinking from vessels with lead content, such issues primarily arise when food is cooked or stored in lead-content vessels. (Drinking wine from glasses made of lead crystal poses no discernible health risk, whereas it is ill-advised to drink liquor that has been stored in a lead-crystal decanter, for example, for three or more months).

 

Lead-free crystal, sometimes called crystallin, is also a material of high quality with light-refractory properties similar to lead crystal. Crystallin, however, is generally less expensive and is not typically etched and carved. Much of its appeal is its light weight, enabling the manufacture of drinking-glasses that are ultra-thin, thereby enhancing the experience derived from their contents.

 

 

Richard Brendon

It is upon centuries-old traditions of English bone-china and lead-crystal manufacturing, then, that young Englishman Richard Brendon, a native of Notting Hill, established his company in London in 2013.

 

Brendon’s penchant for pottery began in his childhood years when his mother enrolled him in ceramics classes. But it was while studying product design and working at a pub on Portobello Road—famous for its every-Saturday-morning antiques market—that Brendon’s interest in antique ceramics was piqued. And it was while attending those weekly Portobello Market events that Brendon got the brilliant idea to revive “orphaned” antique tea saucers that had long been separated from their presumably broken, but certifiably missing, teacups. So, for his design school graduation exhibition, he produced platinum- and gold-mirrored teacups and paired them with antique saucers, their patterns reflecting on the teacups, seamlessly uniting the two.

 

Brendon’s ingenious, thrifty, sustainable concept, titled Reflect, was received with critical acclaim, the concept serving as a cornerstone of his design house, which was inaugurated shortly after his graduation. Prestigious clients, commissions, and collaborations soon followed: Harrods, Bergdorf Goodman, Fortnum & Mason, Four Seasons Hotel, etc.

 

And the natural complement to exquisite British bone china is exquisite British crystal. Thus, since 2013, Richard Brendon has offered several lines of lead-crystal stemware, Fluted and Diamond being the most notable. And in 2018, Brendon collaborated with esteemed English wine critic Jancis Robinson in the creation of an all-wines wineglass made of lead-free crystal.

 

But what makes Richard Brendon especially appealing to the modern gentleman with discerning taste is the company’s option of creating bespoke—custom-designed, custom-made—collections for clients: Just as a gentleman of means can go to London’s famed Savile Row to be outfitted with a bespoke suit, such a gentleman can go to Richard Brendon to commission a bespoke suite of British bone china and crystal. And for the modern man who otherwise would use tableware by Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn, setting his table with a Richard Brendon bespoke collection speaks volumes without uttering a single word.

 

 

One Glass For All Wines–the new, versatile wineglass by Jancis Robinson and Richard Brendon

The All-Wines Wineglass

by Jancis Robinson and Richard Brendonthe wineglass designed to complement all wines!

 

Finally—fi-na-lly—there is a wineglass that can be used—correctly and successfully—for drinking all styles of wine, from red, white, and rosé table wines, to Champagne and prosecco, to Sherry, Port, and Madeira, to Montescudaio vin santo. And the making of that one, über-versatile wineglass required the collaboration of two of the most highly regarded personages in the wine trade: Jancis [No, not Janice] Robinson, the world’s foremost wine critic (so much so that she is a cellar advisor to Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and sits on the Royal Household Wine Committee); and Richard Brendon, prominent British designer of bone china collections and a rising star in the rarefied realm of wineglass design.

 

But laughing all the way to the bank—and banquet—are young, fashionable, wine-drinking men the world over who enthusiastically seek out easy, effortless, elegance, and who have awaited, for untold generations, a savior-glass so that they no longer need feel socially condemned because they do not have cupboards stocked with 8s of 10 different styles of wineglasses; no longer have to hope and pray to inherit stemware; are elated to know that less glasses means less dishes; and now have a one-for-all, all-in-one wineglass that simplifies the already-complicated world of wine. What less could a boy ask for?

 

When Brendon—confidently, but deferentially—approached Robinson with the suggestion of a collaboration on a line of wineglasses, he had not considered that Robinson, a self-proclaimed, no-waste pragmatist from Northern England, would immediately edit his idea down to a one-glass collection. But when one has been around the notoriously esoteric, trendy, hyped-up wine industry for decades—since the 1970s in the case of Robinson—one manages to learn a thing or two. And one thing Robinson—Oxford University-educated in mathematics—seems to have learned is that wines, like fractions, have a common denominator, thus making them more fundamentally alike than dissimilar. So why all the fuss about specific glasses for specific wines—especially in the 21st century where less is more, simpler is better, and everyone is trying to de-stress and un-clutter?

 

But the need for a versatile wineglass is nothing new. After all, when attending a wine festival, for example, one is given a pouch-bib with one glass that must serve for sampling all wines. So why did it take this long for someone in the industry to get the brilliant idea to do the seemingly obvious: Make and market an all-wines wineglass to the general public?

 

To the untrained eye, to behold the Robinson-Brendon glass is to see a wineglass that looks—from a distance at least—like any other modern, Riedel-inspired, long-stemmed wine glass. But to hold the glass, and then to drink from it (after inhaling the aromas contained therein, of course), makes for a singular epicurean experience.

 

In the height of the designer jeans craze, 15-year-old brunette beauty Brooke Shields, in one of the era’s most provocative television ads, coyishly queried and answered, “You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing….” A similar sensation, so it seems, must have inspired Robinson to insist upon a wineglass so thin at its rim that it imparts a sensation almost like drinking wine out of thin air….

 

The glass,—the central figure and pièce de résistance of the Jancis Robinson Collection, a 5-piece wine suite comprised of a long-stemmed, all-wines wineglass; a stemless water glass, its tulip shaped bowl directly informed by its wine counterpart; a wine-bottle-inspired decanter with glass stopper for old, mature wines; a generously proportioned young wine decanter that encourages wines to aerate and is large enough to accommodate the contents of a magnum bottle; and a water carafe, which is the old-wine decanter sans stopper—like all the pieces in the ensemble, is mouth-blown and handcrafted of lead-free crystal by some of Europe’s finest glassblowers, following centuries-old traditions. (The glass’ stem, for example, is not a separate unit that is attached to the bowl. Instead, it is one contiguous element of the sublime whole). But even they had to initially struggle to achieve Robinson and Brendon’s directive to handcraft the world’s thinnest, most refined wineglass. Though sleek, the wineglass is durable, sized to fit into standard dishwashers, and, because of its lead-free composition, resistant to those unsightly “clouds” that tend to descend upon glasses over time. And priced at around $60 per glass and available in sets of two and six, this exquisite wineglass is well within the reach of many a modern gentleman.

 

The Jancis Robinson Collection by Richard Brendon was officially launched at Harrods of London on July 1, 2018. It is available online at www.RichardBrendon.com . Bartholomew Broadbent, wine expert and son of the world-famous Christie’s wine auctioneer Michael Broadbent, already swears by Robinson’s new all-wines wine glass, declaring it the finest in the world. And when Broadbent speaks, the world of wine bends its ear.

Glassmaking

Chateau Musar–the world’s best wine!

Chateau MusarChâteau Musar—the world’s best wine

 

There is no such thing as “the world’s most beautiful woman.” But if there were, she would certainly be the incomparable Naomi Campbell. Likewise, to declare a “world’s best wine” would be shamelessly subjective; but if a wine were so lauded, Château Musar would undoubtedly be the one.

 

According to the foremost experts, connoisseurs, and purveyors of fine wine, Château Musar is arguably the world’s greatest wine. And it has a cult-like following—in a notoriously trendy industry—to prove it. Experiencing the wine can be so moving, so profound, that people first introduced to it have been known to shed tears. And since each bottle is subtly unique—even within a single vintage—tears have been known to beget tears with the opening of each subsequent bottle. That is because to taste the wine is to awaken dormant memories—some happy, some sad, some beautiful, some painful—of life itself: a late-afternoon walk in an enchanted forest to gather mushrooms with Grandfather; sitting, disillusioned, on a cliff overlooking a tumultuous sea; the intimate scent of a one-night lover; parched soil at the moment it is moistened by a shower of rain; a kitchen table piled high with baskets of fresh game, ripe fruits, herbs and spices, and vegetables in preparation for a scrumptious feast. “Aroma,” more so than “bouquet,” would more aptly describe the wine’s fragrance, for it resonates more as “savory” than “fruity” or “floral.”

 

Surprisingly, Château Musar does not hail from one of the venerated vineyards of one of the esteemed wine regions of one of the world’s great wine-producing countries such as Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and Chile. Instead, Château Musar is from the Levant, the Biblical land of Cannan—specifically from the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, albeit a valley that has been home to vineyards for over 2,000 years and wine-drinking peoples for seven millennia. But not surprisingly, like the great luxuries and mysteries of the fabled East of yore, Château Musar—since 1979, but especially since 2000—has taken the West by storm.

 

History of Château Musar

In 1929, after studying medicine for one year in Bordeaux, France, Gaston Hochar (1910-1972), the scion of bankers and traders, realized—to the initial dismay of his father—that wine, not blood, was his passion. So, upon returning to his ancestral Lebanese homeland, where it is believed the Hochar family (pronounced “Ho-shar”) has lived for some 800 years, he entered the wine business in 1930, which at the time in Lebanon was an avocation for farmers, not a vocation for the bourgeoisie. But because Gaston possessed a penchant for things elegant, he set out to transform Lebanese winemaking into a thing sublime: He, for example, became the first Lebanese to market his wine in bottles rather than in casks. Soon, he become the sole official supplier of wine to the French officers’ mess across the Levant. (The French army had been posted in the region since World War I.)

 

In 1930, Gaston Hochar established the Château Musar winery (www.chateaumusar.com ) in Ghazir, Lebanon, 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of the capital city of Beirut, where it is said the Hochars have lived for 200 years. The vineyard, however, was situated in the sunny (300 days per annum), fertile, Bekaa Valley—known in Classical antiquity as Coele-Syria—at 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) above sea level, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Beirut. Bekaa Valley, Lebanon’s most important agricultural region, is located between Mount Lebanon to the west and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains (the mountain range that forms most of the border between Syria and Lebanon) to the east. Seventy-five miles long and ten miles wide on average, the region boasts a Mediterranean climate of wet, oftentimes-snowy winters and dry, warm summers. The region also boasts a terroir perfect for viticulture. Gaston, it is said, allowed terroir—even if in conflict-prone mountains—to dictate the location of his 180-hectare vineyard. But when it came to the situ for his winery, he insisted upon land securely within his ancestral homeland of Lebanon.

 

The name “Musar” derives from a 400-year-old castle-turned-convent called “Mzar,” where the winery was first housed. Gaston changed “Mzar” to “Musar,” a name that he thought would be easier to pronounce in both his native Lebanese and abroad. The winery’s first vintage came in 1933.

 

[ Upon his death in 1972, Gaston Hochar passed the winery on to his two sons: eccentric, creative Serge (1939-2014); and conservative, methodical Ronald. In 1959, Serge, while completing his winemaking studies at the University of Oenology in Bordeaux, becomes Château Musar’s winemaker (though, on account of his demonstrated gift at viniculture, he had begun overseeing the company’s wine production from 1954 at the tender age of 15), while Ronald in 1962 begins heading up the company’s marketing and finance departments, thereafter, in 2015, becoming the company’s chairman. Today, Ronald’s son Ralph leads the company’s social media activity as well as sales and marketing for France and Southern Asia. ]

 

For almost 50 years, Château Musar enjoyed a relatively provincial existence, selling most of its product domestically. Under the stewardship of brothers Serge and Ronald, however, the company began its foray into international marketing—promoting at trade shows, entering international tastings, forging relationships with foreign chefs and restaurants, etc. But Château Musar’s proverbial “big break” came in 1979 when, at the Bristol Wine Fair, Christie’s wine auctioneer extraordinaire Michael Broadbent and esteemed journalist Roger Voss selected a 1967 Château Musar Red as the “discovery of the Fair.” And the rest, as it is said, is history. And, in many ways, it is the company’s decision to market its wine internationally that ensured it survival.

 

From 1975 to 1990, Lebanon was gripped by a religious-political civil war that pitted the country’s Christian, Jewish, and Muslim populations against each other, the conflict further complicated by interventions and shifting allegiances from Syria and Israel. By the time the war finally came to an end, Lebanon’s pre-war population of three million people had witnessed a death toll of 120,000; one million people had migrated; and 76,000 were displaced, most permanently. The war had a devastating effect on life in Lebanon, its wine industry one of the many casualties as Lebanese people—people with an ancient winemaking tradition—stopped drinking even locally produced wine on account of the abject hardship that took center stage in the theater of war. Most Lebanese wine producers simply ceased operations.

 

But bon vivants have a way of making sure that life remains beautiful—regardless. And Serge Hochar was the quintessential bon vivant. As such, amidst years of bombings, blockades, and invasions, Château Musar not only survived, it thrived. During those war-torn years, only 1976—the year after the war began—saw no wine production: The precious grapes were left to wither away on the vines. And the mysterious 1984 vintage, made from grapes harvested one month late because of the war and pressed five days after harvest (instead of immediately after the typically three-hour drive from the vineyard to the winery), was not offered at market seven years after the harvest, but was instead uneventfully cellared, where it quietly aged into a remarkable wine that was, according to March Hochar, Serge’s son, finally released to the market 30 years later in 2014.  (Only two truckloads, representing ten percent of the harvest, were allowed past the checkpoints on the road to Damascus—the road connecting the vineyard and the winery.)

 

Serge Hochar was convinced that it was fate that allowed Château Musar to emerge relatively unscathed from those trying times: No employees died at the hands of the war; the winery was able to ship its wine to its international markets whenever roads, airports, and ports were operational; and the winery’s bunker-like, 5-story-deep cellars—located in the Christian heartland  and containing enough inventory accumulated before and during the war to see the company through a 20-year war—was only slightly disturbed.

 

Thus, it was Château Musar founder Gaston Hochar’s elegant (but also fortuitous) decision in 1930 to bottle his wine—which served to later facilitate the international marketing of it—that would enable his winery, 45 years later, to weather the woes of war. So, on that fateful day in 1979 when Château Musar was declared the stand-out wine of the Bristol Wine Fair, the winery had long been poised for the celebrity and prosperity that would ensue.

 

The Wines

Privileged to a six-month-long fermentation process in cement vats; aged for one year in barrels made of French oak from the forest of Nevers; expertly blended before being returned to cement vats for an additional year; then, three years after harvest, bottled then bottle-aged for four years before its release—seven years in the making—onto the market, Château Musar Red is the winery’s eponymous protagonist, its “primo vino,” its “ne plus ultra.” And it is upon Château Musar Red that the winery’s fame, fortune, and international reputation rest. By 2000, the wine had begun its rise to fame in the United States. Celebrated New York restaurant Terroir Tribeca has a designated section named “All Hail the Almighty Château Musar.” Château Musar’s various wines—Château Musar [red, white, and rosé], Hochar Père Et Fils [red], and Musar Jeune [red, white, and rosé]—are today exported to over 55 countries around the world, so much so that when Serge Hochar suffered an untimely death in December of 2014, he was mourned by practically every significant wine publication. And at a retail price of about $55 for the winery’s top-of-the-range Château Musar, the wine is considered one of the best-priced exquisite wines in the world.

 

Yes, the Broadbent-Voss declaration at the Bristol Wine Fair in 1979 did open the door to Château Musar’s international success as a winery. But at the end of the day, the wine had to speak for itself. And it is Serge Hochar’s philosophy of winemaking and commitment to producing authentic Lebanese wine with minimal human intervention that has ensured Château Musar’s success for the better part of a century. Today, Château Musar is a source of Lebanese pride, a national icon. What Chanel or Dior is for France, Château Musar is for Lebanon.

 

By 1954—while in his mid-teenage years—Serge Hochar had already established himself as a child prodigy of winemaking, his father allowing him to serve as principal blender of that year’s Château Musar White. Then two years later, in 1956, Serge blended the winery’s Château Musar Red. In those days, under the leadership of Serge’s father Gaston, the winery’s winemaking methodology reflected that of the day, every effort being made to introduce science, technology, order, and standardization to the process. But when artsy Serge assumed full leadership of Château Musar’s winemaking in 1959 at age 20, he began implementing a philosophy that was decidedly natural and non-interventionalist—à la laissez faire wine. And by the 1960s, the winery was on the path of distinguishing itself as a producer of living, evolving, bottle-unique wines: Red wines are fermented in cement or cement-lined vats, regarded as the most neutral material during the formative stages of wine; only the winery’s white wines—in order to achieve the desired clarity—are fined; wines are filtered only for the purpose of removing obviously extraneous materials; oak barrels are comprised of only 10% new wood since the winery’s mission is to produce wine that tastes like wine, not like wood; minimal amounts of sulfites are added only so as to ensure the stability of the wines while in transit; etc. The result is wine that is an authentic, nuanced, unadulterated expression of lands and hands that give it rise.

 

Precisely why Château Musar (red, white, and rosé), unlike most other unfortified wines, endures for decades—improving all along—is unknown. Grapes, it is said, are exceedingly impressionable fruits, the wine they produce influenced by things big and small, tangible and intangible. Perhaps, then, the Hochar family’s will to produce a living wine amidst the death of civil war has helped to imbue the grapes, and thus the wine, with tenacity and longevity. Likewise, the rocky soil of the villages of Aana and Kefraya, home to the vines of Château Musar, engenders a deep-rooted desire to survive, collaterally imparting character to the grapes and the wine they yield. Though time has not yet revealed when Château Musar is at its optimum, experts recommend that the wine (red and white) be drunk after 15 years, at which point it begins demonstrating its potential for the evolution of secondary and tertiary notes. While no bottles of the inaugural 1933 vintage exist, bottles from several pre-Serge Hochar vintages have been preserved within the cool, dark recesses of the winery’s cellar. “I tasted a red 1952 last Christmas [2017], and although it was produced by my grandfather [Gaston] with a different approach (i.e., he did fine and filter the wines at the time) to my father’s [Serge] noninterventionist philosophy, the wine was very lively, complex and continued opening up for 3 hours after decanting,” said Marc Hochar, head of marketing and sales. It is believed that the initial oak-aging acclimates the wine to minimal exposure to oxygen. And after about 50 years, bottles are reconditioned and outfitted with new corks, thereby preparing the vintages for additional decades of aging. But such methods are not singular to Château Musar. So, for the time being, the lifespans of Château Musar Red, White, and Rosé remain a delicious mystery. Since the 1960s, however, it is the company’s policy to sell only wines produced pursuant to Serge Hochar’s noninterventionist methods, beginning with the Château Musar White of 1954 and the Château Musar Red of 1956.

 

Château Musar Red

Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Cinsault are blended to make what is oftentimes declared the “world’s best wine.” According to Gaston Hochar, managing-director of Château Musar and grandson of his namesake founder of the company, the Cabernet Sauvignon gives the wine its structure, while Carignan provides body, with the Cinsault imparting elegance and finesse. The wine is blended to reflect the overall character of the particular vintage. In its youth, Château Musar Red is dense and richly textured with indications of baked and dried fruits. As the wine ages, however, it acquires tawny hues subtler notes. The company still proudly offers Château Musar Reds from the 1950s. Because the wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered, it should be allowed to stand upright for 24 hours before serving, thereby allowing the naturally occurring sediment to settle. Decanting is recommended. The wine should be allowed to breathe for several hours before being served at 18°C. Château Musar Red is beautifully paired with lamb, game, roasts, and mature cheeses.

 

 

Château Musar White

Two ancient, indigenous, Lebanese white grapes unite to create Château Musar White: Obaideh, from the chalky, stony soil of the foothills of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains; and Merwah, from the calcareous gravels of the seaward side of Mount Lebanon. Seven years in the making—after fermenting in French oak barrels for nine months before being blended and bottled at the end of the first year, then bottle-aged for six years before release onto the market—the wine is in its youth yellow-gold in hue, mildly oaky, and rich and creamy in texture, though dry. As the precious liquid ages in the company’s cellars at Ghazir, it attains tawny hues and mellow, spicy notes. Like its red counterpart, Château Musar White ages beautifully for decades, the company proudly offering bottles dating as far back as 1954. This complex wine, sometimes compared to dry Sauternes or mature white Graves, is best served after breathing for several hours. Decanting is recommended. Best if presented “cellar-cool” (around 15°C), Château Musar White makes for an exquisite complement for foie gras, pâtés, seafood dishes, and spicy foods.

 

Château Musar Rosé

Since specific grape qualities are required so as to ensure an elegant combination of the varietals, Château Musar Rosé is not made every year. When made, however, at its foundation are the two native Lebanese white grapes—Merwah and Obaideh—the origins of which go back 5,000 years to the era of the Phoenicians, and the Cinsault red grape. The grapes are pressed together, the juice fermented and aged for six to nine months in barrels of French oak. The wine is bottled a year after harvest and released onto the market two years later. Château Musar Rosé is a still, softly oaked tribute to the “blended” rosés of Champagne, a style much admired by Serge Hochar. In its youth, Château Musar Rosé is a gentle salmon-pink in color, with a smooth, balanced, velvety texture. Its refreshing aroma and flavor suggests of citrus, almonds, wild herbs, and peaches. As the wine ages, it takes on a tawny hue, with hints of spice. Château Musar Rosé should be allowed to breathe for several hours before serving at cellar temperature (around 15°C). The wine pairs perfectly with seafood, Provençal dishes, nuts, and olives.

 

Epilogue

In a dozen years—in 2030—Château Musar will celebrate its centennial year, the company’s iconic status predictably intact. And it is likely that the “formula” finalized by Serge Hochar in 1977 for making Château Musar Red, the wine that has come to be called “the world’s best wine,” will still guide Hochar family winemakers—now in their fourth generation—in the making of the quintessential Lebanese wine that elevated not only the winemaking of the Levant, but of the world.

Crayfish and Snaps Feasts of Sweden–One of the Simple Luxuries of Life!

Crayfish and Snaps Feast of Sweden

There is in Sweden a beautiful tradition where, each year in mid-August, Swedes feast to their hearts’ content on two of the nation’s most beloved and iconic products:  Swedish crawfish and Swedish snaps (“schnapps” in German).

Whether the feast takes place at a grand dinner table in one of Skåne’s stately castles or manor houses, or outdoor atop picnic benches (guests under those circumstances kept warm by heat-lamps), the etiquette is the same.  The table will be set with place-settings for each guest, consisting of a dinner plate upon which will be placed a bib, of fine cloth in formal settings, of disposable plastic in casual environs; a salad-sized plate, situated to the upper-left side of the dinner plate (where a bread-and-butter plate would normally be placed), into which crawfish shells should be deposited; a nutcracker placed to the right side of the dinner plate upon a dinner napkin, for use, if necessary, in cracking the claws of the crustaceans; a shellfish fork, placed to the immediate right side of the nutcracker; and a little shot-glass, placed to the upper-right side of the dinner plate, for snaps.  Absent from the table-setting will be knives, dinner forks, and water glasses. The event can perhaps be best likened to a Maryland crab-and-beer feast.

Once guests have taken their seats, large communal trays, piled high with steaming-hot, claret-colored crawfish, will be brought to the table and set at its center. Led by the host, guests stand and sing the Swedish national anthem. And once they are again comfortably seated, the host dons his bib and places his dinner napkin onto his lap, signaling the commencement of the feast.

Using communal tongs, guests place the desired “first-round” quantity of crawfish onto their respective plates and begin eating.  One by one, crawfish are picked up by the hands, the head-portion separated from the body in a twist-pull movement.  Once the head-portion is separated, it is conveyed, open-end-first, to the mouth of the diner, whereupon the contents of the fish’s head are sucked therefrom and eaten. Slurping is acceptable—and expected—but it should be done with as much discretion as possible. The remaining head-portion is then placed onto the designated shell plate.  The claws are then removed from the carcass in a twist-pull action; cracked, if necessary, with the nutcracker (otherwise by the diner’s teeth); and their contents are extracted with the aid of the shellfish fork if necessary. As is the case with the head-portion, the shells of the claws are also deposited onto the shell plate.  The succulent, flesh-filled tail-portion is twist-pulled away from the rest of the carcass, its relatively soft shell-covering peeled off with the fingers before the flesh is conveyed to the mouth and eaten. The remaining portions of the crustacean are then deposited onto the shell plate.  Thereafter, another crawfish is picked up, and the process is repeated, seemingly ad infinitum, during the hours-long feast.

On occasion, throughout the feast, a diner will propose a toast—whether lauding the host, to health, as thanks for a beautiful summer, to a gentle winter, etc.—each diner indulging by emptying his shot-glass of its contents, then, in unison, declaring, “skoll!” which in Swedish means “health!” As fast as glasses are emptied, they are refilled….

Periodically, shell plates will be removed from the table and replaced with fresh ones, or they will be emptied and replaced.  Additional trays bearing mounds of piping-hot crawfish will also be brought to the table.  At Swedish crawfish and snaps feasts, the exhaustion of the guests always precedes that of the food and drink.

At the end of the feast, bibs are removed, the table of cleared, and fresh napkins and fingerbowls containing warm water with lemon “wheels” floating atop are brought to the table for diners to refresh themselves.

The feast is one of Sweden’s most delightful traditions, and every gentleman should schedule a trip to Scandinavia so as to experience the tradition at least once in his lifetime.

 

Volume Two of Wayne James’ Manly Manners Trilogy is now Published

Former senator and Senate Liaison to the White House Wayne James has just released the much-anticipated volume two of his Manly Manners trilogy, and the literary critics are lauding it.The edgy-but-elegant trilogy gives guidance on everything from how to eat caviar and open a bottle of Port with a feather, to how to suggest an enema before engaging in anal sex, to how to distinguish a blazer from a sport coat. Manly Manners is already being touted as “the new Bible on masculine behavior.”  James, also a lawyer, fashion designer, historian, and art collector, has been writing the 1,800-page, three-volume treatise since completing his tenure in the senate in January of 2011.

The premise of volume two, entitled Manly Manners:  The Cultivation of the Inner, Spiritual Gentleman, is that ethics must be at the foundation of etiquette; and that upholding good manners must be good men. Volume two guides the reader towards achieving inner peace and equilibrium, thereby increasing his inclination towards gentle and genteel behavior. To that end, the book delves into topics that are not typically included in traditional books on manners:  how to gracefully deal with the emotional upheaval of a heartbreak; what distinguishes “love” from “lust” and “in-love”; what differentiates a job from a profession or a calling; how to identify one’s genius, and what are the best ways to avoid midlife crisis; how to survive “frenopause”; what to expect in inter-generational, same-sex marriages; and what distinguishes a “man” from a “gentle man,” a “genteel man,” and a “gentleman,” for example. The book’s mission is to build gentlemen from the inside out—to make men internally happy. “It is harder for a man to be polite and helpful to others if he is fundamentally unhappy in his own life,” James said.

“In order to write volume two, I needed solitude and quietude.  So, I set off for Italy, where a Tuscan friend lent me his family’s grand Palladian villa, set amidst vineyards and olive groves, to enjoy all to myself,” James said. “There, for one full year—actually, for thirteen months—I envisioned myself writing what I would tell a son or nephew or student who was about to depart for distant lands, perhaps never to return. The volume is a veritable ‘master’s class’ on ‘class’ as well as on modern men’s spirituality. The book also contains what I regard to be the masculine wisdoms. I wrote it from my soul—from a place that has allowed itself to be touched by youth and adventure, disappointment and triumph, life and love. My mission with volume two is to give young men a crash-course on what has taken me over a half a century—a lifetime—to learn.”

Published by the iUniverse division of Penguin-Random House, distributed by Ingram Books, and with a glowing foreword by Baron Peter von Troil of Finland and Sweden, Manly Manners:   The Cultivation of the Inner, Spiritual Gentleman (ISBN:  978-1-5320-2818-2) comes on the heels of the critically acclaimed volume one, Manly Manners:  Lifestyle & Modern Etiquette for the Young Man of the 21st Century (Nov., 2016; 840 pages), declared by BlueInk Reviews, “one of the 21 best indie books of 2017”; “ornately mannered prose,” says Kirkus Reviews; and “Emily Post…would likely tremble in her petticoat at some of the subjects James takes on,” says Claire Foster of Foreword Clarion.

Volumes one and two of the Manly Manners trilogy are available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook formats at bookstores worldwide and online at www.Amazon.com , www.BarnesandNoble.com , and www.iUniverse.com .  Volume three is scheduled for a fall 2019 release.

When Sugar Daddies and Boy-Toys Marry–each other

Anyone who has ever tried marriage will be the first to say that it is no “piece of cake.” And some marriages, because of their composition, are more challenging than others. A gentleman entering any such union should be prepared to work extra hard to ensure its success.

 

Trans-generational marriages

A trans-generational marriage is a marriage where there is a significant age and/or maturity disparity between the two parties. When an older man is dating a significantly younger woman, he is, for the most part, regarded as a “dirty old man” and she, a “gold digger”—until the couple is officially married. Thereafter, he is simply regarded as an older husband and she, his young wife—unless, of course, he is extremely wealthy, in which case the young wife retains her pre-nuptial characterization, only intensified. In the much-less-visible cases of significantly older women dating younger men, such women are regarded as “cradle-robbers” or “cougars,” and their young men are viewed as gigolos—until marriage, at which point the women are labeled as “nymphomaniacs” and their young husbands, “opportunists.” Where the older women are exceedingly wealthy, their post-marriage status reduces to “fool” and their young husbands’ are elevated to “shrewd.” But regardless of the scenario, the institution of marriage tends to impart an overall degree of dignity, no matter how minute, to such relationships. In many societies today, men are not able to marry each other. So for the most part, when an older man forms an intimate union with a younger man, their relationship tends to be described by outsiders as one between a “sugar daddy” and his “boy-toy.”  And in the jurisdictions where same-sex marriages and unions are legally recognized, the sugar daddy/boy-toy characterization tends to continue into the marital phase of the relationship, though with an elevated sentiment—especially when the older man is not exceptionally wealthy and/or the young man not exceptionally beautiful.

When an older person marries a younger one, the onus is on the older person to make concessions for those age-consistent characteristics of the younger spouse that may present challenges in the marriage. In trans-generational relationships, the older spouse is at once parent and spouse, and the younger person is both child and spouse. The fact is that the older person has already lived through the stages being experienced by the younger; and just as the older spouse, in his younger years, should have had the opportunity to experience life, so should the younger. To do otherwise would be the equivalent of telling a pre-teen that he should not eat candy because sugar is bad for his teeth, or asking a teenaged boy not to masturbate. The major challenge of trans-generational marriages is that neither spouse is fully prepared to deal with the maturity level of the other spouse. But between the two, the greater responsibility for accommodation falls upon the older for the reasons presented above. Very few older spouses, however, are confident or self-assured enough to endure the emotional challenges that are likely to arise in trans-generational marriages. A good beginning-point for tackling such challenges, however, is for the older spouse to revisit his life when he was the age of his younger spouse. (See above, “The Social Evolution of a Gentleman Within His Lifetime—An age-line”). The ability of the older spouse to empathize with the younger spouse is crucial to the success of the marriage. And the younger spouse must be willing to sympathize.

Though relationships evolve, the impetus for many trans-generational relationships is sexual attraction and an admiration for the vivacity of youth on the part of the older spouse, and financial security and respectful admiration on the part of the younger spouse. But it is oftentimes those very things that can complicate such relationships, for the longer the marriage endures, and the older the older spouse becomes, the less sexually compatible he becomes for the younger spouse. And the more financially secure the younger spouse becomes in his own right, the less relevant the financial security provided by the older spouse becomes. So, like a candle burning from both ends, such is the nature of many trans-generational relationships. And while the financial security issue tends to be less divisive where there is true love between the parties, the sexual incompatibility issue tends to intensify with time: A 20-year-old is more likely to find a well-preserved 45-year-old sexually attractive than is a 55-year-old likely to regard a well-preserved 80-year-old as sexually attractive.  And if the younger spouse is anything like the older spouse, when the older spouse is in his 80s, the younger spouse will be sexually attracted to people 20 years younger than he/she—people in their 30s, not people in their 80s. The solution in such circumstances, therefore, is for the older spouse, again, to make the accommodation, thereby allowing the younger spouse to satisfy some of his sexual needs outside the marriage. And the older spouse should also do all within his power to maintain his physical appearance and mental health. It is the responsibility of the younger spouse, however, to ensure that his extra-sexual relationships do not intrude upon his sexual, emotional, and spiritual commitments to his spouse; his extra-sexual relationships cannot rise above the level of hedonistic sex (See chapter, “Sex in the 21st Century—No Holds [or Holes] Barred!”) if the integrity of the marriage is to be preserved and nurtured. In addition, recognizing the dignity of marriage, it is incumbent upon the younger spouse to ensure that his/her interest in extra-sexual relations be openly discussed with his/her spouse (The older spouse should be quite capable of comprehending that interest since it was those very trans-generational sentiments that led to the formation of his/her marriage.); that there be mutual agreement; that the extra-sexual relationship be handled with utmost discretion and respect so as to preserve the dignity of the marriage and that of the older spouse; and that the extra-sexual relationship never take precedence over the duties and responsibilities of the spousal relationship. In cases where mutual agreement cannot be achieved, the younger spouse must honor the wishes of the older spouse since sexual incompatibility in the later years of marriage should have been anticipated at the formation of the marriage. Such is the proverbial marital bed made by trans-generational couples, so the youngcer spouse must be prepared to lie (no pun intended) in that bed. The moral of the story, then, is that trans-generational marriages, though not impossible, are exceedingly complicated. And very few people possess the level of maturity required to commit to and maintain happiness throughout such unions. It would behoove a gentleman, therefore, to exercise extreme caution before entering a trans-generational marriage or union.