Chateau Musar – red and white wines of Lebanon
Imagine a winemaker who’s wine has to age for a minimum of 7 years before it’s released to the public. Madness you might think in this day and age where to hold even a year’s vintage would be considered economic suicide – unless of course, one was a Port or Champagne producer.
That is however, exactly what Chateau Musar does. They age all of their wines both red and white for a minimum of 7 years and sometimes even longer. If they could, they’d hold them even longer but as Ralph Hochar, son of one of the owners explained during a recent winetasting in London, they just don’t have the room in the cellar to hold anymore.
The UK is the biggest market for Chateau Musar because it was where they first started exporting their wines back in the 1970’s. They started by importing their wines to the UK and are still their own importers, which is one reason why their wines are very competitively priced. They are unique in the wine business as they have no public relations machinery, having developed their market through a grassroots campaign which meant plenty of wine dinners, tastings and lots of one to one schmoozing.
Chateau Musar was founded in the Bakaa Valley, Lebanon in 1930 by Gaston Hochar and has always been a family run business. Ralph is part of the current generation although his Bordeaux trained uncle Serge is head of the house and head winemaker. Serge has been the winemaker since 1959 and over the past 50 years he has trialed various vineyard and winemaking aspects but has always remained true to the wine, striving to make the best wines from the land and remaining true to his ‘natural’ winemaking philosophy.
I found myself at the recently renovated
Grosvenor Hotel in Victoria for the tasting. On show, we were able to try various vintages from the most recent 2003 Ch. Musar red back to the 1991 Chateau Musar white. Chateau Musar produce Bordeaux like blends using cabernet, cinsault and grenache for the reds. The whites are made with indigenous Lebanese whites, merwah (believed to be Semillon) and obaideh (believed to be an ancestor of chardonnay).
I like the distinctive nose of Musar’s red wines, often spicy and intense but exhibiting excellent acidity for wines that at their youngest are 7 years old. Below are my notes from the tasting:
Hochar Pere et Fils red 2002: spicy, cedar nose, round tannins with good acidity, distinctive nose but deceptively light in colour as it is a robust wine. Ralph recommended tasting the wine in a black glass so as to not be mislead by the colour.
2003 Chateau Musar red: a ripe and rich wine, savoury and mineral notes with a light structure but blending currants, cherries and spices with a hint of game and a cleansing acidity.
1997 Chateau Musar red: gamey, exotic spices with red current fruits and cinnamon notes, the cabernet giving the wine a pleasing roundness of flavour and fresh acidity
1978 Chateau Musar red: this wine is considered by many to be a classic Musar vintage – still very alive with great acidity, aromas of mushrooms, truffles,leather, tarragon and the forest floor, it was still holding up very well and there were hints of dried cherries and tomato on the palate, excellent structure and freshness.
2003 Chateau Musar white: made from white indigenous grapes, of which there are only 6 in
Lebanon, this wine is made with merwah and obaideh which has been known for over 3000 years. A complex wine, resembling a Graves, like a dry Sauternes with a sweet nose of coconut and tangerine, the palate was startlingly dry – waxy orange peel, rich grapefruit, guava and almonds were all in there. Rich dry and intensely zesty, a real treat to drink.
1991 Chateau Musar white: again a blend of the two indigenous grapes, they experimented a bit with the wine, part of the blend spending 18 months in French oak, giving it a deep golden colour. The nose was sweet with loads of dried guava, petrol and floral notes floating about at the end, it reminded me of Australian riesling. On the palate, rich but sharp with ripe green apple & tangerine notes, passion fruit and more guava, a great food wine and immensely drinkable.
Afterwards, we went to the Reunion Bar in the hotel for bar snacks and cocktails. The bar has just opened and they are featuring champagnes by the glass as well as a delicious list of cocktails. The Manhattan was shaken and stirred just right. There is also a nice selection of bar snacks to go along with the scrumptious drinks. The bar overlooks the main concourse of Victoria Station which makes it a good place to pass the time if you miss your train.
A great night all around, it was great to attend a tutored tasting hosted by Ralph Hochar and learn about the history and continuing winemaking innovations at the winery. The Reunion Bar features Ch. Musar’s wines so you too can enjoy their wines whether or not you happen to miss your train.
Have you ever had Chateau Musar or any other Lebanese wine for that matter? Tell me all about it in the comments section…