Saturday 2nd March 2019: "A Vertical Tasting of Chateau Musar" with Lyn & Dave in Henfield
Just three months after they very successfully hosted our 2018 AGM, we again got together at Lyn & Dave's in Henfield, this time to enjoy a Vertical Tasting of Lyn's favourite wines...
1. Musar Jeune Blanc 2014; Bekaa Valley, Lebanon; 30% Viognier, 40% Vermentino and 30% Chardonnay; 14% abv; bought from Nickolls & Perks for £12.25
The Musar Jeune white represents a new direction in style for Chateau Musar – it was first produced in 2006 to express the vibrant flavours of grapes from young Bekaa Valley vines. The 3 grape varieties – 30% Viognier, 40% Vermentino and 30% Chardonnay are an eclectic blend of French and Sicilian varieties (none of which are found in Chateau Musar White) were harvested in August 2014 and fermented in stainless steel vats between 19 ºC and 22ºC, followed by blending, cold stabilisation and bottling in early 2015.
2014 will go down in Lebanese viticulture history but not as might be expected as much for its vines or wines but for the weather! It has been the only year where records and indeed memories, show that the mountains in Lebanon failed to turn white with snow! In December and January there was no rain, no snow and no cold weather. February and March were also very dry and it seemed as if the winter was an extension of summer 2013. April, May, June and July, where buds open and flowering occurs were perfect for the vines but with one very important element missing for summer survival – water. By early August, vines were starting to suffer badly but luckily the white grapes just survived the crisis. Chardonnay was the first to be harvested on the 4th August with a yield of 18 hl/ha, Viognier was next on the 13th with a yield of 25 hl/ha and Vermentino on the 16th with 18 hl/ha. The vines used for the Musar Jeune White are from our organically certified vineyards and come from 2 different vineyard terroirs: Chardonnay and Vermentino are grown on limestone based soils while the Viognier comes from vineyards with silty soils.
The Viognier and Vermentino of 2014 displayed wonderful aromatic qualities and fragrance and the Chardonnay had a rich oily texture and a floral nose. This vintage is concentrated with good acidity – full of herbs with white fruits of pears and white peaches on the nose and palate. This is a crisp, mineral well-structured wine that shows complexity and verve.
Serve gently chilled with mezze, tapas, seafood and Mediterranean cuisine. A perfect food wine, or simply enjoy with toasted almonds and olives.
2. Chateau Musar White 2009; Bekaa Valley, Lebanon; 66% Obaideh, 34% Merwah grapes; abv 12%; purchased from Hailsham Cellars for £25
Chateau Musar white wines are truly unique, produced from some of the oldest vineyard sites in the world dating back to 5,000 BC, although it was the Phoenicians, the great maritime race of the Mediterranean, who first ‘introduced’ Lebanese wine to a wider audience. Indigenous ancient grape varieties Obaideh and Merwah, reputedly the ancestors of Chardonnay/Chasselas and Semillon are still cultivated from un-grafted vines on original rootstock. The vineyards on the seaward facing slopes of Mount Lebanon and the foothills of Anti-Lebanon were planted between 50 and 90 years ago and are at 1,200 metres above sea level – few vineyards of this calibre and history remain in the world today.
The 2009 is a blend produced from 2/3rd Obaideh and 1/3rd Merwah and was fermented and aged partly in oak barrels for 9 months and partly in stainless steel vats, with temperatures ranging between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius. Obaideh is high in natural grape sugars and low in acidity, yielding wine with a creamy texture and flavours of honey and lemons – Merwah is a light skinned grape variety with light citrus and nut flavours, and blended together they make a distinctive white wine with excellent ageing potential.
2009 was a truly memorable year in the Bekaa Valley and a vintage of two halves – before and after the rain! There was a deluge of rain in late September, unprecedented since records began in 1870. The late ripening indigenous white grapes Obaideh and Merwah began arriving at the winery on the 15th and 21st October respectively, the former halved in yield but superb in quality, with low PH and high acidity, qualities shared by the Merwah.
The Chateau white of this year is a deep golden colour with honeyed aromas, full of tropical fruits; pineapple, banana with warm, toasty buttery notes. The palate is rich in ripe yellow fruits, quince and apricot with the pineapple flavours following through. It also has dried fruits and almonds with oak ageing characters. This is a powerful vintage full of yellow fruits and honeycomb; there is a fine balance between the oily texture and fresh acidity. Cellared well, it will keep for decades.
Between the Whites and the Reds Lyn served a snack of an excellent Black Olive Tapenade on Blinis...
3. Chateau Musar Red 2011; Bekaa Valley, Lebanon; equal proportion blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan; abv 14%; bought for £23, now priced at £30
The harvest of 2011 posed one of the most challenging experiences in wine-making at Chateau Musar over the last 20 years, as it was one of the most untypical years in Lebanese history.
The year began with a cold January but with insufficient rain. February proved similar with March being sunnier but April and May produced the really big surprise with a level of rainfall to match January, February and March combined! The main result of the rain was very late maturation, with flowering occurring 25 days later than usual and this delay continued over the maturation period and up to the harvesting day. Our first Carignan was harvested on the 22nd September and then on the 23rd it rained for three days from the 23rd until the 25th September with the Carignan and the Cinsault not yet harvested. The Carignan resisted the rain but the Cinsault was more affected. The harvest was finally completed on the 13th October, which with the exception of our 1983 vintage, was the latest in our company’s history.
The 2011 vintage is our traditional blend of approximately one third each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan. The bottling took place 3 years later in 2014, after the wines spent a year in French Nevers oak barrels.
Released in the spring of 2018, the Chateau Musar Red of this year is a dark blood red colour with a rich, fragrant fruit nose; mulberries, black cherries, plums with a hint of mocha. The palate is very intense and concentrated, it’s full of volume and characterised by forest and black fruits with elegant spice. The tannins are soft and juicy and it has a lengthy finish.
Chateau Musar Red 2011 is a vibrantly powerful vintage and cellared well it will keep for decades.
4. Chateau Musar Red 2009; Bekaa Valley, Lebanon; equal proportion blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan; abv 14%; bought for £24 from Mr Wheeler, now priced at £28.50
2009 was a truly memorable year in the Bekaa Valley and a vintage of two halves – before and after the rain! This vintage will go down in history as the year of the two day September deluge – unprecedented since records began in 1870. Conditions until mid-September had been exemplary – no rain or snow fell for the first three months of the year but surprisingly the rain and snow came back at the end of March and gave the blossoming vines a much needed moisture boost – the soils were also in much need of this moisture after a couple of months of dryness. Low humidity in May, June and July promoted excellent vine health and the weeds that also thrived in these conditions were manually removed – this was our only hard work during this time. Sultry conditions at the end of the summer brought the harvest on quickly and the red grapes began arriving on the 2nd September, Cabernet Sauvignon followed by Carignan with Cinsault last on the 7th and 8th. With low PH and high acidity and sugar, the grapes held exceptional promise. After the September rain fall, the remaining red grapes were harvested and were juicier than usual, showing a full bodied structure and a very fragrant nose.
The Chateau Musar of 2009 is the traditional blend of approximately one third each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan. The blending took place 3 years later in 2012 and the wines spent a year in French Nevers oak barrels. The Cabernet Sauvignon in particular flourished this year, from flowering to dominating the final structure and taste of the wine.
Released in the spring of 2016, this vintage has a deep scarlet colour and a nose of blackberries, Assam tea, dark chocolate and mulled berries. On the palate there are rich black and red fruits, especially blackcurrants, cherries, damsons and figs with warm cinnamon spice and a hint of mint. This vintage is also characterised by a smoky, earthiness. The tannins are well integrated, there is good acidity and a long, dry finish.
“Musar only releases its grand vin when it’s ready to drink – there are violets and ripe red berry fruit from Cinsault; spice, liquorice and burly backbone from Carignan, blackcurrant, blackberry and silky elegance from Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s ready to drink, yes but there’s no rush” Jonathan Ray – The Spectator Magazine April 2016
5. Chateau Musar Red 2006; equal proportion blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan; abv 14%; bought for £16.50 from Mr Wheeler, now priced at £30
An astonishing year – where to start?
The winter was cold in Lebanon and as has happened in the past, snow covered the Bekaa Valley for more than two weeks, leaving the soil untouched for 45 days due to the resulting mud. When spring arrived, it never ended. In 2006 we only had 10 days of our usual summer climate during the whole summer season with a maximum temperature of 30 degrees in the day and 22 degrees at night. It was an unbelievable thing to witness – as if it was a year from the 1950s when the climate was cooler, the winds more gentle and when nature was balanced ecologically….
However in July 2006, without warning, Lebanon came under siege. The country was affected badly and everybody naturally thought this vintage would be lost but we continued with our harvest even though the conditions surrounding us were very difficult and dangerous. The Cabernet Sauvignon was the first to be harvested in early September followed by Carignan, then Cinsault. Acidity and alcohol levels were high, a complex year developing differently from our usual experiences with grape maturation at Chateau Musar.
Our first impressions following the harvest were that the Cabernet Sauvignon was rich, full of black fruits and spices, the Cinsault a concentration of blueberry and red cherries and the Carignan had great flesh and body. All our red varietals in 2006 appeared to be very fruity and full of character and we were relieved that everything was safely gathered in against all the odds.
The Chateau Musar Red of 2006 is our classical blend of a third each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan. The blending took place three years later in 2009 and the wines spent a year in French Nevers oak barrels. The release date of this vintage however, did not happen as planned! Our policy has always been to release our Chateau reds and whites when they are ready for drinking and this is generally 7 years from the harvest, but in 2013 this wine was far from ready and needed more time. So we decided to postpone the release for one year, then another, then another until we were finally certain that the 2006 was ready for drinking in the spring of 2017.
A beautiful deep, ruby hue with lots of almost confected cherry, blackcurrant and cranberries on the nose with a hint of liquorice. The palate has an explosion of brambly and hedgerow fruits with blueberries and cherries - this is a mid-weight vintage from Chateau Musar with excellent acidity and fine tannins.
6. Chateau Musar Red 2003; Bekaa Valley, Lebanon; blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan; abv 14%; bought for £15 from Mr Wheeler, now priced at £30
The 2003 harvest was a unique experience and two words can aptly summarise it: Alcohol & Acidity – this vintage is rich in both.
After a rainy winter (records show that it was the rainiest year in 15 years), from mid April onwards not a drop of rain fell and it became hot and sunny. In May when flowering started, a 10 day heat wave reduced the harvest quantity by about 30%. This phenomenon was responsible for the concentration of sugar and acidity in the grapes. July and August were not as hot as they used to be in years gone by and certainly not as hot as it was in Europe in 2003.
The harvest started on the 4 th September and the grapes were very healthy with good maturity and ripeness. The fermentation temperature was controlled between 27 and 30 degrees Celsius with 2 pump-overs per day to increase extraction, with a long maceration: about 3 weeks. Malo-lactic fermentation followed immediately and by the end of November, all the wines had finished their malo-lactic and had been racked. Even at the racking stage, we could tell that the wines were reflecting a great year, abundant in tannins, acidity and colour.
The wines spent 9 months in cement vats and then a year in French Nevers oak barriques. The three varietals - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan - which up until then had been kept separately, were very fragrant, displaying highly contrasting aromas. Reflecting the superb ripeness of the grapes, and the concentration of sugar and acidity that make this harvest unique, they were well-balanced and richly-textured, with soft tannins. The final blend rested for another 6 months in vats before being bottled and transferred to the Chateau Musar cellars high in the mountains at Ghazir to begin its journey of maturation and development.
Chateau Musar Red 2003, deep, intense ruby in colour, has a complex, intriguing array of aromas: toasted bread, cigar box, fresh tea, plums and Eastern spices. On the palate, there are mature fruits: plums, figs and cherries with hints of tea leaves and dark chocolate. The wine is intense and gregarious, the first taste releasing complex notes of currants, cherries and spice. The structure is light and airy, blending Musar’s classic fruit flavours with a hint of game and finishing with a cleansing acidity. Our first indications were that the 2003 vintage would be full-bodied, powerful with great length and 7 years later upon release in 2010, we have been proven right: these will be the defining characteristics of 2003.
“Mid garnet. A little marine influence on the somewhat reticent nose. Rather different from many Musars. Sweet start and very vigorous and fun. It already gives masses of pleasure with some milk-chocolate notes and quite a bit of light dry tannin on the end. Excellent drive. Long and dramatically big but with good freshness on the end. 14% alc. • Drink 2016-2035” Jancis Robinson, April 2018 – 18.5 Points
7. Musar Cuvée Réservée 2002; Bekaa Valley, Lebanon; 13.5% abv; bought for £18.75 from Mr Wheeler, now priced at £40-£60
Internationally there are 3 Musar labels, the Château (Gaston Hochar), the Hochar Père et Fils and the Cuvée Réservée, each with a white, a rosé and a red. A 4th label, Rubis, is a young wine for the Lebanese market only. Serge has called the Cuvée a “simpler wine”, without oak aging and released early, and the Hochar Père et Fils “more serious”, aged in oak and released after 3-4 years, but it is the Château Red that is the benchmark, fermented in concrete, aged for 12-15 months in oak, bottled in its 3rd year and then laid down until release, 7 years after vintage. This in itself is atypical; while most wineries are thinking of cash flow and try to get their wine sold as soon as possible the Hochars have millions of bottles ageing gracefully in the cellars of Mzar Castle in Ghazir, and not just the newer vintages, even on release the Château holds back a relatively high percentage of the 600,000-700,000 bottles for further development.
8. Chateau Musar Red 1998; Bekaa Valley, Lebanon; a blend of Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon & Cardignan; 13.5% bought for £18.50, currently still available from Mr Wheeler for £33.50
A blend of the estate's usual three grape varieties, albeit with more focus on Cinsault than usual. It still packs a punch for what was one of the lighter Musar vintages. There's a complex mix of flavours - mulberries, blackberries, coffee, chocolate and spice - and that typical underlying Musar sweetness and earthy, leathery gaminess. It's soft and mellow and although the finish fades a little, it still gives enormous pleasure.
This elegant, fragrant, Cinsault-dominated vintage arose from a cool year. Cold, rainy weather lasted until June (resulting in late flowering); summer was sunny but there was no rain. Picking began on September 9th; maturity was variable but the grapes were healthy and fermentation faster than usual. Intense aromas: very fruity, floral. Full and dry with silky tannins. The best Musar for some years. - Alain Brault, www.vinquebec.com, 17th February 2006. Gamey, raspberry nose; sweet blackcurrant with a medicinal note; lovely soft, sweet fruit. **** www.tonyaspler.com
Lyn & Dave have had their stock of this wine for many years. Sadly the bottle that we tasted was well past its best. As we all know this happens, such is life...!
On a sad note, the owner of Chateau Musar, who pioneered fine Lebanese wines and made wine through his country's civil war, suffered a fatal accident at the end of 2014. Serge Hochar, the driving force behind Chateau Musar in Lebanon, died in a swimming accident while on holiday in Mexico, according to reports circulating widely on the Internet. He was 75 years old.
For Supper, Lyn served an excellent Lamb Tagine (at Mike's request...) accompanied by a Cucumber Salad with Onions & Radishes and a Pear, Walnut, Chicory & Rochefort Salad. We enjoyed a Yarg Cheese afterwards.
It was agreed almost unanimously that the best wines of the evening were the Chateau Musar White 2009 (#2) and the Chateau Musar Red 2003 (#6).
1. Yalumba Reisling 2017; Barossa, South Australia - won by Jackie
2. Incanto Frappato, Baglio Gibellina 2017; Sicily - won by John.