The List




The List


Chateau Musar

The gentile world of fine wine can seem at times to be far removed from the troubles and turmoil of the world at large. The grand chateaux of Bordeaux may have survived innumerable wars and even a revolution, but they have been tranquil places for over half a century now, as have most, if not all, of Europe’s wine regions.

Spare a thought, then, for the Hochar family, owners of Chateau Musar in the Lebanon, who have long been producing unique wines of considerable class and elegance whilst civil war has raged all around them.

The vineyards, which are planted with a mixture of the obvious (cabernet sauvignon, grenache), the less obvious (cinsaut, mourvedre) and the downright obscure (carignan) are situated in the Bekaa Valley, whose altitude and surrounding mountains prevent the vines from experiencing the more extreme conditions prevalent in this part of the world. The soil is mainly gravely and well drained, with a limestone base.

Although the estate produces a white and a second red wine, the one in which we are interested is the showcase Chateau Musar red, whose character precludes simple comparisons to the great reds of Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhone.

The exact composition of the wine varies with each year, which means that there can be distinct differences in flavours and textures between vintages. What does remain constant, however, is Musar’s age-worthiness; the hefty tannins and teeth crunching acidity mean that it needs at least ten years in the bottle before drinking, and will benefit from a great deal more.

The 1995, which is beginning to drink well now, but will improve over the next twenty years, is a hefty beast of a wine. The nose itself is a shocking (for the new Musar drinker at least) combination of glue-like aromas combined with a more typical scent of strawberries and summer fruit. A sip reveals notes of ripe plum, liquorice and coffee, all held together with strong tannins and ending with a very powerful finish that does not fade for minutes.

There is real substance here, but not in the same way as a great claret or Burgundy; it is of a more exotic kind that is less reserved, and perhaps a little less constrained by convention, but is certainly not showy or nouveau riche. It is a wine that does not ape others and it does not need to, because, as the Hochar family know, Musar is a singular experience, and one easily worth the eminently affordable price tag.