Ch. Musar – Lebanese wine & dinner at The Bluebird
Ch. Musar is probably THE wine of Lebanon. I can’t think of any others off the top of my head but if you mention it to wine folk, you’ll get nods of recognition and faraway looks even if they’ve never tried it. Ch. Musar situated in the Bekaa Valley, has survived numerous Middle Eastern upheavals, since it’s founding in 1930, always managing to put out a vintage except for the ’76 and ’84 vintgages when the vineyards were caught in a no-man’s land due to war. And even then, they tried as best they could to bring in the grapes.
Penny at Bluebird has been busy organizing various events for the Wine Cellar at Bluebird there and a couple of weeks ago I attended the Ch. Musar dinner she’d organized. The dinner was held to launch Ch. Musar’s celebration of chief winemaker Serge Hochar’s 50th anniversary of winemaking. His son, Ralph, was on hand to walk us through the tasting with a surprise appearance by Serge at dinner.
The evening kicked off with an informal winetasting in the wineshop before moving on to dinner in the loft of the Bluebird restaurant. Ch. Musar makes primarily red wines but we were treated to their 2003 Hochar Pere et Fils white, an aged wine made from merwah, which is a close relative of semillon. The wine is made to be drunk with a bit of age and isn’t put on the market until after a year after bottling. I quite enjoyed it, ripe baked apples, spicy gingerbread, brioche, complex nose with great acidity. This is a wine that still had plenty of life in it. Penny helpfully supplied canapes to nibble on whilst tasting.
Ch. Musar reds are made from various blends of cabernet sauvignon, carignan, cinsault and grenache. The Chateau also believes in using as little intervention as possible, making wine in the traditional Bordeaux way, using natural yeasts only and no fining. Serge believes that the “sediments are the best part of the wines,” and contribute much to the wine. We sampled the ’06 Mosaic Red, their entry level red – light and fruity, a bit savoury on the palate hints of red fruits and black pepper. The ’02 Hochar Pere et Fils Red, savoury, fresh minerality with violet notes underpinning it all, vibrant raspberries and red fruit on the palate. The ’01 Ch. Musar red was also on show at the tasting and later at dinner. The ’01 was a bit cloudy, garnet colour, very ripe red fruits, raspberries and even red licorice with spicy notes interwoven. Quite spicy and savoury on the palate at first then ripe red cherries, licorice and tobacco. I kept thinking of a good Cuban cigar, Partagas? Cohiba, maybe? Med bodied, lovely, silky body, excellent acidity. I couldn’t wait to try it with dinner.
We then trooped up to the loft in the restaurant and began dinner. Whilst waiting for the first course, the ’01 Ch. Musar white was poured, at room temp! That was a bit of a surprise but Ralph said it was the best way for us to appreciate all the complex aromas of the wine. A blend of semillon and obede (local varietal similar to chardonnay) it was a beautiful golden colour. My notes say slightly honeyed, bit racy on the palate, nose of acacias, chamomile, round and smooth, a bit earthy with a tang of lemon curd on the finish. When the foie gras arrived ( I know, but I dont want to hear it), it was a delicious match. Raisins, dried fruits, savoury sherry qualities, finishing off toasty.
With the main of venison and savoy cabbage the ’01 Ch. Musar red was all licorice and smoky dried fruit. Quite medium bodied, quite fresh but a nice ripeness of fruit that didn’t turn jammy or syrupy. There was also a fantastic coffee finish to it, the tannins working so well with the venison, such a pleasure to eat and drink.
For dessert, a bit of a twist. Ralph had chosen a red, the ’99 Ch. Musar, with our dessert of coffee ice cream, chocolate fondant and salted caramel sauce. Interesting,nice to see a winemaker thinking outside the box. Did it work? Well…..The wine itself was such a delight. Dusty but fresh, lovely raspberries, black cherries, bits of licorice and black coffee, quite minerally and aromatic. A mouthful but oh so good. Voluptuous and full, there was so much going on. I was really enjoying it until I tried it with the desserts. It just didn’t quite seem to fit with the sweetness of the desserts. I thought it was a bit lost amongst the chocolate, coffee and caramel. Those of us around the table, whilst enjoying the dessert and wine thought it would have been better with a cheese plate, great acidity and soft tannins would have been a better match with a savoury treat.
I did, however, enjoy the Chateau Musar wines, natural,traditional winemaking, native varieties and plenty of aging make for some wonderful Lebanese wines. Delicious!
The next dinner is going to be the Ch. Pichon-Longueville Baron, the renowned Pauillac, April 20th. Contact Penny at The Bluebird for further info.