Chateau Musar is an utterly unique, beguiling wine from the Lebanon, which could be said to have a cult following in the UK and internationally. Its uniqueness stems, I think, from a perfect combination of old world finesse and restraint, with new world ripeness and fruit. Particularly impressive is how the Musar character – exotic yet classical – comes across year after year, despite marked differences in vintage character and the final blend of the grapes. There is pretty much always Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan, in varying proportions, with occasional help from Grenache and Mourvedre. The keen-eyed will notice something in common with those varieties – they’re all French stalwarts. Serge Hochar, Musar’s main winemaker for the last 50 years, learnt his craft in Bordeaux, and many aspects of Musar’s production are steeped in French traditions.
Serge Hochar has described the 1995 (roughly equal proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan) as his “fireworks vintage”. It’s not hard to see why, when this wine explodes onto your senses. Noting its vigour and youthfulness on several occasions between 2004-2006, I had put my remaining bottles on hold in favour of the 1991 (fully evolved, pale brick colour, wonderfully complex roasted fruit palate). I was very excited to return to the ’95 tonight, with good friends who provided a most excellent Cassoulet to accompany it. Although nowhere near as evolved as the ’91, this is starting to show the red brick colour of age, whilst retaining a vibrant ruby hue in the core.
There are no two ways about it – this wine does have an aroma of nail polish (that trademark Musar volatility), yet what might be offputting or even faulty in some wines just seems to gel here. Perhaps it’s because of the panopoly of other scents rising up from the glass. There’s a meatiness, mixed with exotic fragrances and sweet spices, prunes and dates. We just kept on inhaling and inhaling, hardly daring to unleash this monster on our palates. My first impression when I finally did take a gulp was the wonderful lifted nature – excellent acidity, mixed with generous, ripe fruit. You barely notice the oak, so silky smooth is the texture. There is a satisfying fullness and richness, with everything in perfect balance, yet every moutful teases and presents another aspect – sometimes more cooked fruits, then parma violets and then again something more of the farmyard. And of course, this is a wine that lasts and lasts long after you put the glass down – although it’s so moreish that I was picking it back up, soon enough.
Musar ’95 is still only a teenager (The Hochars would concur, I’m sure) – I will be stashing the precious remains of my case as far out of reach as possible and look forward to even more exhilaration in 5-10 years time.