Chateau Musar is the collectible and iconic wine of Lebanon. Internationally recognized as a great wine estate for generations. It remains seriously undervalued. It has the nobility of great Bordeaux that isn’t the sole preserve of the elite.
About the wine
2008 is an example of Hochar’s willingness to effectively age the wine for you before selling it to you. It is a blend of approximately one-third each Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Carignan, grown in gravelly soils at more than 900 meters elevation. These elevations (the white grapes are planted even higher) temper the otherwise Mediterranean climate of the Bekaa Valley, and while the wine is powerful, it’s not overblown or jammy. Grapes destined for Chateau Musar Red are fermented in separate cement vats, racked at about 6 months from the harvest and then aged for around 12 months in French Nevers oak barriques – only a small percentage of which are new each year. The resulting wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan are blended to reflect the strengths and individual characteristics of the year and bottled without filtration at the end of the 3rd year following the harvest. The blending process is an intrinsic part of the wine-making art at Chateau Musar. Component wines of different vineyards are constantly tasted to understand their personality and characteristics – wine-making by instinct. The final blend is aged for a further 3 to 4 years in bottle before being released in its 7th year.
The cedary, cigar box notes get you thinking about Cabernet and Bordeaux, but then you get a healthy dose of spice and floral aromas from the Cinsault, and you’re pulled back to the Mediterranean. The Carignan lends muscle and funk, but the overall structure is lean, not chunky. With 7-plus years of bottle age under its belt, its aromatics have blossomed well beyond primary fruit into something savory and seductive. Decant this wine about an hour before consuming, bringing it up to about 65 degrees, and serve it in large Bordeaux stems. There’s lots of spicy, earthy notes but also an elegance.
About the winery
The wines of Chateau Musar are unique expressions from a country with an ancient wine-making culture, as vines have been cultivated from Lebanon’s high altitude vineyards for over 6,000 years. From around 4,500 BC, the sea-faring Phoenicians (ancestors of the modern Lebanese) distributed their wines and vines throughout the Mediterranean, travelling as far as Cadiz (and possibly beyond) in their robust cedar boats. Their resilience in the face of repeated invasion gave rise to the legend of ‘The Phoenix’. They also invented the alphabet to help keep records of their various transactions. The ancient city of Baalbek in the northern Bekaa Valley, takes its name from the Phoenician fertility god, Baal. The Roman god Bacchus was in turn worshipped here and the temples built in his honour remain among the most perfectly preserved in the world. The region’s wines are mentioned many times in the bible, with the first recorded evidence of wine transactions coming from Byblos (‘book’ in Greek, hence ‘Bible’) an historic fishing port north of Beirut.
Bordeaux is a useful comparison in that Chateau Musar’s founder, Gaston Hochar, was of French descent and studied winemaking in Bordeaux. His son, Serge, who died at age 75 in 2014, also studied in Bordeaux, under famed enologist Emile Peynaud. And yes, Musar utilizes Cabernet Sauvignon to create sinewy, long-lived reds. But the comparison ends there: Chateau Musar is really unlike anything else. Grown in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, near its eastern border with Syria, and vinified just outside Beirut, Musar wines aren’t just a good story – what’s in the bottle is for real.
There was Lebanese made wine during ancient times, but viticulture had been all been abandoned when Gaston Hochar established Musar in 1930. The wines were mostly consumed locally and by French soldiers (as France occupied Lebanon at the time) but in 1975 the decades long civil war broke out somehow they continued to produce wine throughout the conflict, literally trucking their grapes through war zones and, occasionally, using their cellar as a bomb shelter.
About the Region
The Land of Mild & Honey ~ At the eastern end of the Mediterranean bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south, Lebanon is similar to the size of Wales. The ‘Lebanon’ and ‘Anti-Lebanon’ mountain ranges run in parallel with the Bekaa Valley between them. The country’s favourable geographical and climatic conditions have always held abundant promise.
Forming part of the Fertile Crescent where agriculture originated around 10,000 years ago, this area was among the first to benefit from the formal cultivation of grapes. At 34° N of the equator, the centre of the Bekaa Valley is further south than any part of Spain or Italy and as such gets its fair share of sunshine during the summer months. The Musar vineyards are blessed in two ways: they are situated at relatively high altitudes, (around 1,000 metres above sea level) and have just the kind of calcareous, gravel and stone soils that encourage the production of high quality grapes. Vineyards at this altitude benefit from cool night and seasonal temperatures (it often snows on the vines in the winter and summer can be searingly hot) resulting in longer ripening periods. Vines thrive in this pure ‘alpine’ environment requiring little or no intervention to remain healthy.