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TN: A Chateau Musar Vertical (2003-1966)

So let me start by saying that people generally fall into one of two camps when it comes to Chateau Musar. The first is best described as “WTF is Chateau Musar?”, which is then quickly followed by “It comes from WHERE?!?!?!?” The second is more along the lines of “OMG, I love Chateau Musar!”

Let me quickly admit that I am in the latter camp.

Tonight I went to the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, located within the fabled Ferry Building in San Francisco, where co-owner and “Ferry Godmother” Debbie Zachareas and Rebecca Mahmoud, of Broadbent Selections (the U.S. importer of Chateau Musar), hosted a vertical tasting of this mythic wine.

Now, for those reading this who are in the former camp, let me quickly enlighten you. Chateau Musar was founded in 1930. The grapes are grown in the Bekka Valley of Lebanon, while the winery is located some 17 miles north of Beirut, overlooking the Mediterranean. Not the first place one would normally think of for great wines . . . nor, very probably, the second or third. (Unless, of course, you’ve tasted Chateau Musar, and then, you know.) And yet, Chateau Musar lost only two vintages – 1976 and 1984 – to the Civil War and strife that has racked Lebanon. These are not the problems you run into making wine in the Napa Valley, Bordeaux, or Australia.

Five vintages of Chateau Musar (red) were sampled; all were decanted prior to serving . . .

2003: Ruby-red in color, with that wonderfully disconcerting nose – even in its youth, the wine displays that earthy-airy aspect of a mature Bordeaux, yet there is generous (and for Musar, youthful) fruit and spice on the forward nose; in the mouth, the wine is medium-bodied, quite flavorful, supple in texture, and though quite young for a Chateau Musar, was absolutely charming and delicious. That said, I have no doubt this wine will age and develop substantially with 7-10+ years in the cellar.

2000: For lack of a better description, more classically colored in terms of what one expects from Chateau Musar – translucent, clear, and someone pale red in color (never sounds good to those used to California red wines and their deep, vibrant purple hues; but trust me . . . ), clear and bright; the bouquet is filled with perfumed spice, subtle fruit, earth, spice, and more; on the palate, the wine is medium-bodied (fuller than one might think given the level of color extraction), very flavorful, with elegantly layered complexity, dusty earth, and spice; the finish is long and lingering. As the wine breathed, it continued to evolve and this, too, will evolve over the coming decade.

1990: Pale red, orange at the rim, clear and bright; the bouquet is multi-faceted with hints of red fruits, orange peel, earth, spice, and more – very forward, enticing, and continually evolving; in the mouth, the wine is medium-light body but very flavorful, layered and complex, with a very long finish that showed honey – like dried apricots dipped in honey; unusual to be sure, but quite delicious. At 20+ years, the wine still has life AND potential.

1975: Pale mahogany and red, onion-skin at the rim; initially closed, this wine blossomed beautifully to reveal a wonderful aroma of leather, cedar, pencil lead, blueberry, red fruits, earth, spice, and more; light-bodied, very flavorful (it’s almost as if the lighter in body, the more flavorful the wine is), with a very harmonious mix of flavors, with great depth of character and complexity; the finish is long, lingering, delicate and very tasty. At 35+ years of age, this wine is more than holding its own, and has time to go.

1966: Very pale onion-skin in color, tinged with brick; the bouquet is a heady mix of everything in the 1975 and more! – hints of anise, honey, saddle leather; in the mouth, the wine is elegant, flavorful and complex, revealing more with each sip, and it continues evolving in the glass, carrying through to the long, clean finish. At 45 years of age, this wine is stellar, and showing no signs of fading anytime soon.

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  1. Lebanon, how interesting. What's the price point / availability?

    3 Replies
    1. re: JAB

      Like I said, most people are in the “WTF is Chateau Musar?”, which is then quickly followed by “It comes from WHERE?!?!?!?”

      Keep in mind that Chateau Musar produces several wines. (Think Bordeaux and "second labels," for a moment.) There is a) "Musar Jeune," b) "Hochar Père et Fils," and finally the prestige label, c) "Chateau Musar." All of the wines above are the main/prestige/flagship label.

      To the best of my knowledge, only the 2003 and 2000 are available. That said, the (approximate) suggested retail in California is as follows:

      2003: $49
      2000: $62
      1990: $168
      1975: $247
      1966: $330

      The wines are imported into the United States by Broadbent Selections, Ltd. They are based in San Francisco, and can be reached at 415.931.1725. Additionally, the wholesale company for these wines within California is Epic Wines. Epic can be reached at 831.219.9126, and they should be able to tell you who in Los Angeles carries the wines . . .

      Cheers,
      Jason

      P.S. All the usual disclaimers apply. That is to say, although I know the owners of both Broadbent Selections and Epic Wines - and have for many years -- I have never worked for either of them, nor have any financial ties with either company.

      1. re: zin1953

        I have never seen (or maybe recalled) anything but Ch. Musar. Maybe it's time that I branch out a bit?

        Usually, I encounter the wines with ~ 4 - 5 years on them, but that is probably just the restaurants, that I frequent.

        While this tasting would rank down my personal list, I still envy you. I have only had very good to great wines from Ch. Musar.

        Hunt

        1. re: zin1953

          2003: $49
          2000: $62
          1990: $168

          Flickinger is showing much better pricing on the 2003 (34), 2000 (38).

          1990 ($90 Brown Derby)

      2. Wow!! What a rare tasting experience! Old vintages of Musar can be remarkable. Wonder if current ones go as long?!

        2 Replies
        1. re: Charles Yu

          I believe so, given proper storage, etc., etc.

          1. re: zin1953

            I first learned about Ch. Musar in the 1970's from reading articles about it in Decanter--and
            in the NYC area, the wines were generally available and affordable...I recently received a 1999 and it was excellent with lots of time left on it for future drinking...

        2. Jason,

          Thanks for taking the time for the TN's. I have had many vintages of Ch. Musar, but never a tasting, nor a vertical. I envy you.

          I order it fairly often, and love the light in the eyes of the sommelier, when I do. I have encountered it as a "best buy" on many wine lists, especially in the UK and Europe.

          Appreciated,

          Hunt

          1. Great notes. Musar is my favorite wine to blind people on. I did that with the '66 and people thought it was Rhone, Piedmont or Burgundy with age guesses ranging from the 50s through 80s.

            Back vintages other than the most ancient are available at very reasonable prices in the secondary market, even though the wine is fairly well known.

            1. Here is a writeup on the history of Chateau Musar:

              http://www.cornucopia.net/aboutwol.html

              Must be tough to produce quality wine under the shadow of Hezbollah.

              4 Replies
              1. re: bclevy

                If there is a will, there is a way!! My friend!!
                The French still managed to produce one of the greatest Bordeaux vintage in 1945 under war time condition!!

                1. re: Charles Yu

                  Charles, to be fair . . .

                  There was NO fighting in Bordeaux. The Germans were driven out of western France by autumn 1944. (Indeed, the war was over in April 1945 -- well before the growing season and harvest, let alone the time spent in the chais of the châteaux). AND, with very few exceptions, the Nazis were very respectful of -- one of the *only* things they were respectful of -- vineyards with AOC status. Non-AOC vineyards were often used as parking lots for trucks, Panzers, munitions and fuel; vineyards *with* AOC status were left alone and protected to a large degree.

                  You want to speak of a great vintage under wartime conditions, look to 1943. Château Latour and Haut-Brion were positively brilliant.

                  OTOH, the fighting was much more significant along the Rhine -- the fact that the Germans produced such great 1945s is (personally) more impressive.

                  1. re: zin1953

                    Thanks for the info.
                    Interesting how on the one hand, the Nazis wanted to wrap Paris with explosives and blow it up before it gets into allies hands whilst on the other hand, they showed respect to the vineyards and the Chateaux and kept them intact??!!

                    1. re: Charles Yu

                      THREAD DRIFT . . .

                      The main point, Charles, is that there was no US invasion of Bordeaux (as there was, for example, in the Provence, Rhone, Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace). No hand-to-hand fighting; no tank battles, etc., etc. Were there shortages of supplies, like barrels, eggs, and so forth? Sure!

                      But if, for example, one looks at Italy, at Germany . . . LOTS of fighting *in* the vineyards.

                      True story (which is how I know about the Wehrmacht and AOC-recognized vineyards): in the (broad, generalized) region of the Rhône -- as with *every* area of France -- some specific sites fall within a demarcated area known as an appellation d'origine contrôllée (AOC), while other vineyards do not. The Germans would use non-AOC vineyards, as I said earlier, for Panzer parking lots, munition/fuel dumps, etc., etc. As a result, the then-owner of Domaine des Bernadins, Louis Castaud, pushed and pushed the French authorities to grant the vineyards of Beaumes-des-Venise its own special AOC status (Muscat de Beaumes-des-Venise). It was -- to *my* knowledge -- the only AOC created DURING the war.

                      His daughter, Mme. Renée Castaud-Maurin, told me this story when I was at the estate.

                      Cheers,
                      Jason

                      P.S. If it's any consolation, the Germans *did* turn the Chinese pagoda-like towers of Cos d'Estournel in St.-Éstephe into miniature Flaktürme (flak towers), by installing anti-aircraft guns in them.