Chateau Musar 1993
Having recently reported on the 1993 Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Moelleux Première Trie (a rare second appearance for a wine in my Weekend Wine slot, as I also featured this wine back 2013), this week I turn to another from the 1993 vintage, the 1993 Chateau Musar.
And why Chateau Musar, when I have so many bottles from the Loire Valley and Bordeaux piled up waiting to have their corks pulled, you might ask. Well, I will come to that in a moment. First, given that (to my great surprise) Chateau Musar has never featured in my Weekend Wine slot before (cue sounds of Musar fans fainting in shock) a few words on this famous estate are probably warranted.
Chateau Musar was founded in 1930 when Gaston Hochar finished studying in Bordeaux and returned to Lebanon; he had barely disembarked the plane before he began planting his first vineyard, in the Bekaa Valley. It was under the direction of Gaston’s son Serge Hochar (1940 – 2014) that the winery received international acclaim. Having also studied oenology in Bordeaux Serge was not only an excellent viticulturist and artisanal winemaker, but also a consummate salesman and a great ambassador for his country (while his brother Ronald was more of a numbers man who tended to shun the limelight). It was at the 1979 Bristol Wine Fair that Serge’s new wine came to the attention of Michael Broadbent, when Serge poured the 1967 and 1969 vintages.
Michael went on to describe the 1967, in the January 1980 edition of Decanter magazine, as “one of the two top wines of the fair.” It was a defining moment for the winery; before the year’s end the Hochar family had established Chateau Musar (UK) Ltd in order to develop the UK market, and soon the bottles were on British shelves, even in Liverpool high street wine merchants, which was where I first encountered a bottle during the late 1980s. By this time Serge Hochar had already been named the first-ever Man of the Year by Decanter magazine, in 1984, a recognition of his fortitude and the persistent high quality of his wines during Lebanon’s Civil War.
From this moment onwards I was a regular (if slightly sporadic) buyer of Chateau Musar, tucking away vintages from 1978 (nothing wrong with a little back-filling) onwards. The 1990s saw a few noteworthy successes, most notably the 1994 (I am sure I still have a bottle or two of that tucked away somewhere as well) but as the years passed I began to drift away from the estate and its wines largely in favour of chasing rarities from the Loire Valley. I never had an issue with the style, with its sometimes rather warm flavour profile, and more often than not its trademark volatility (which at least made the wine easy to pick out in blind tastings). It was just that it isn’t possible to drink everything, and my tastes and interests had shifted elsewhere.
So why Chateau Musar, and why now? Well, I was moved to pull a bottle (as it turns out I have – or rather had – five of them tucked away) by this wine’s anniversary, as it celebrates its thirtieth birthday this year. And it was one of a number of candidate bottles I pulled from the cellar to take to a dinner in Bordeaux on the theme of ‘3’. In the end I rejected it, as well as the 1993 Huet mentioned above, and opted for the 1973 L’Archiviste Rivesaltes instead. In truth, however, whichever bottle I had chosen I think it was destined to pale into insignificance alongside the other wines poured at that dinner, which included 1983 Château Margaux, 1983 Château Palmer, 1953 Château Calon-Ségur and 1943 Château Laville Haut-Brion.
In the meantime, I very much enjoyed drinking the 1993 Chateau Musar at home, a wine which has greatly improved for having been left alone for three decades (indeed, it makes me question the wisdom of my decision to stop buying it). In the glass it now displays an overtly mature hue, a pallid red, with a pink, bricking rim. This is complemented by a quite wonderful nose, convincing with themes of spiced pomegranate, pink peppercorns, sage, warm redcurrant and liquorice, later moving into hung game with a balsamic twist. It has a high-toned Musar hint, but nothing more apparent than this on this outing. The palate is just divine, textured with the tightly woven sweetness of age, but with the finesse of silk taffeta, elegantly defined and carrying the same gently spiced nuances as the nose, layering with peppered orange and macerated red cherry, infused with a lightly minerally seam of crushed chalk and powdered tobacco, and delicate acidity, making for a fabulous composition through the middle. Holding on to this silky texture into the finish, long, lightly warming and peppery, this is a great showing for thirty years of age. Chapeau! The alcohol on the label is 14%. 94/100 (4/9/23)
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