Chateau Musar: The World's Most Distinctive Great Wine

10/15/13 -

Chateau Musar occupies a unique place among great wine estates.  Located in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, one of the ancient world's most important agricultural regions, Musar produces natural wines from varieties well known elsewhere (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carignan, Grenache and Cinsault) and native grapes (Merwah and Obaideh, relatives and ancestors of Semillon and Chardonnay).

Planted in the 1930 by Gaston Hochar, the vineyard today is run by Gaston's sons Serge and Ronald and grandsons Gaston and Marc.  The family's connections to France long predate their planting of French varieties: the Hochars are descended from French Crusaders who stayed in Lebanon.  Serge Hochar has been the winemaker since the 1959 vintage, and while the blend which he believes gives the best expression to Musar's terroir changes from vintage to vintage, the basic formula for the reds has not changed: low yields without irrigation, low use of sulfur, fermentation with natural yeast in concrete vats, a relatively short nine months or so in French Nevers oak, bottling without fining or filtration and then a few years of aging in the cellars prior to release.  The winery was certified organic in 2006, affirming the practices maintained throughout its history.

Musar abounds in contradictions: an ancient vineyard planted with both modern and prehistoric varieties; a natural wine from the Middle East produced by a winemaker trained by the great Professor Emile Peynaud at the University of Bordeaux; a wine that has tremendous following and commercial success, yet the Hochars keep fully half their wine back for themselves (and, occasionally, library releases); and a wine that in the glass is nearly impossible to pin down.  Depending on the vintage character and age the red can show the earthy, tarry, brightly acidic character of a great Piedmont wine, or a smoky, gamy Cote-Rotie, or the red cherries of Burgundy. 

Chateau Musar blanc may be even more remarkable.  The character of those can range from a dry minerally wine reminiscent of Domaine de Chevalier blanc, to a slightly oxidized, richer style that recalls a great white Rhône to a truly exotic, honeyed wine that brings to mind Ygrec (the dry white of Yquem).  Jamie Wolff recalled tasting a 1961 blanc that performed as well as a similarly aged Haut Brion blanc!   At a recent tasting in New York Serge Hochar told the story of opening his 1959 blanc for the family's Christmas dinner and giving up on the wine as completely oxidized.  While cleaning up the next day he tried the wine again and it had completely recovered to be one of the greatest Musar blancs in his experience. He believes, and our tastings of the older vintages confirms, that the white can age at least as well as the red. 

Well stored older Musar is very hard to find, especially in quantity, so this is an extremely rare opportunity to sample a wide range of vintages from this brilliant Chateau.  Even more remarkably the 1967, 1969, 1975, 1991, 1993 and 1995 whites, and the 1975, 1978 and 1979 reds, were all bought on release and still in their original cartons when we received them!

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