Chateau Musar has achieved legendary global status, it is considered the first wine of Lebanon; nonetheless it is truly prodigious in its own right. Moreover, the story of Musar is rich in history, while the wine itself offers a blend, flavour profile and bravura quite unmatched by any other wine. If you have had it before you probably loved it, or at the very least were impressed by its uniqueness: if it has never passed your lips it certainly has to be on your wine bucket list.
Lebanon’s Western Bekaa Valley has yielded vines for 6,000 years. The valley itself is a fertile, sunny basin, with an altitude of 1,000 metres, running between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges; sited 25 miles east of Beirut and inland from the Mediterranean Sea. These aspects are considered to be ideal for viticulture and were commercially exploited by the Phoenicians, the ancestors of the modern-day Lebanese; the sea-faring vintners responsible for introducing viticulture to Egypt, Greece and Italy and of course for the legend of the Phoenix fabled for their ability to rapidly raise cities from the ground.
The Hochar family are of French origin (pronounced Hoshar) and arrived in Lebanon with the Crusades. In 1930 Gaston Hochar founded Chateau Musar at the tender age of 20, after returning from a jaunt to Bordeaux. In 1941 Major Ronald Barton, owner of Chateau Leoville Barton the famous classified growth, met Gaston, tasted Musar and fell in love with it, creating close links to Bordeaux that remain today. Serge Hochar, Gaston’s heir apparent went to study oenology under the tutelage of the world famous pioneer of modern Bordeaux practices Emile Peynaud. On his return he avowed to his father that “I want to make the wine my way, I want it to be known world-wide – and I want you to quit!’… In 1959 he became Musar’s winemaker. He passed the next 18 years perfecting the formula for Musar and was rewarded in 1979, when Michael Broadbent discovered the wine at the Bristol wine fair, declaring it as the ‘Find of the Fair’. In 1984 Decanter nominated Serge as the very first ‘Man of the Year’, a truly remarkable dedication.
The wine is made predominantly from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and to a lesser degree Carignan, Grenache, Merlot and Mouvedre, although this varies every year to best reflect vintage variation. Musar’s prevalence for Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux winemaking practices have led many to describe it broadly as a Bordeaux blend, while the unique addition of Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache and Mouvedre has evoked stylistic comparisons to Rhone wines: in my opinion it straddles both, making is it truly inimitable. Their 180 hectares are managed with minimal human interference, all of their wines are made naturally and they were the first in Lebanon to attain organic certification in their vineyards. The wine spends nine months in cement casks and then a year in French oak, after the final blend the wine spends another nine months in vats before being bottled.
Chateau Musar displays concentrated red fruits of cherry, raspberry, combined with cassis and blackcurrant derived from the Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is hugely aromatic, with intense coffee bean flavours, leather, and toast, notes of brettanomyces reminiscent of Rioja and lovely savoury flavours of soya and meaty umami. The wine retains good acidity and very ripe rich tannins, maintaining a lovely vibrancy and full mouth feel. After ten years the wines take on a herby character, akin to tea leaf, along with baked fig, mature leather and hung meat. After twenty years the wines develop mushroom flavours, I recently tasted the 1970 vintage and it displayed the most extreme porcini mushroom flavours I have ever experienced. Musar has wonderful bottle age potential and rises in price quickly after ten years to above £500 per case; vintages from the 80s cost above £1,000 per case, while those made in the 70s and 60s rise above £3,000 and £5,000 respectively; the 1956 trades above £15,000 per case and makes Musar truly collectible. At £18.90 per bottle (including duty and VAT) this is incredible value.
Chateau Musar 2007, 6×75 – £82.50 IB or £113.40 incl. duty and VAT
2007 was a good year for the Cinsault which displayed red berry and concentrated cherry fruits, reminiscent of Amarone. As the Cabernet Sauvignon rested in vats, it showed intense coffee bean aromas and ripe fruit, typical of a warmer vintage. Nearly 7 years on, upon its’ release in the spring of 2014, the wine is showing impressive aromas of blueberries, ripe blackberries, cherries and plum fruitcake. The palate is initially soft and round with primary fruits of blackberry, plum, red cherries and pomegranate with some chocolaty spicy notes in the background. It opens up with mouth filling berry fruit and delicious notes of concentrated dark fruits and molasses. It really begins to impress in the mid palate where it holds its’ intensity and structure effortlessly all the way to the end. The alcohol is well integrated with elegant but youthful tannins – it is a well-balanced wine with good underpinning acidity and a compelling structure. Winemaker tasting note
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