Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tasting Chateau Musar – May 25, 2008

A cool spring Sunday evening in Toronto turned into a really cool Sunday evening in Toronto when I got the opportunity to meet and break bread with a real “philosopher of the wine business”, none other than Decanter Magazine’s first ever Man of the Year (1984), Serge Hochar of the Lebanese winery Chateau Musar.

Many of you might not realize that Lebanon (and other wineries in the Middle East – i.e.: Israel) make up the Very Old World wine category (Biblical even). Serge’s father, Gaston Hochar, founded Musar in 1930, he was a banker and businessman who grew leery and tired of the banking business after the First World War, “many people didn’t pay back the money” Serge said. In 1958 Serge took over from his father “with no knowledge of nothing”. His first vintage was the 1959, which he claims is still his best, though by no means does that mean the rest of the vintages he has made have been dogs. Serge is just on of those few parents that can make a choice between his children.

Musar’s red wines contain three grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Cinsault, but contain a different percentage of the grapes each year and go through a combination of oak, tank and bottle ageing for 8 years before release (case in point: the current vintage released a few weeks ago at the LCBO is the 2000). The wines have very few winemakers’ manipulation tricks done to them, no chapitilization (addition of sugar), no acidification, no fining or filtering. Serge’s philosophy: “When you’re a winemaker you have the luck to work with something that is alive and you should never kill it.”

On this night I got the opportunity to taste 5 vintages of the Chateau Musar reds: 2000, 1999, 1998, 1991 and 1981 with an average alcohol between 14 and 14.5% and all are being presented to the LCBO for consideration. Two of these wines really stood out to me. The 1998 showed a great smooth almost sweet palate with muted raspberry and cherry elegance. But the real find on the table was the 1981. Serge said, “as Musar gets older it grows younger” – very Obi-Wan Kenobi, but he’s talking about the evolution of the tannins in the bottle. This wine seemed younger on both the nose and palate, than the 1991 and showed more finesse than any other on the table. Darker than the ‘ 91, and seemingly much fresher, great fruitiness, drier sweetness (if that’s at all possible as a descriptor) than the 1998 and ever changing with each sip. There were sweet herbs, soft fruit and tertiary flavours from the barrel. I asked for 3 refills and got 3 mouthfuls – the wine was in limited supply but big demand from all assembled. All wines retail from $54.95.

A week or so later I had another Musar opportunity when fellow wine writer Konrad Ejbich invited me to his home to taste one of his favourite wines, the 1978 Musar, which he bought in 1986 for $16.95 a bottle. A sublime and exquisite experience in wine tasting, so many different flavours and smells, enough to almost overwhelm the senses; if not for my natural human nature to be inquisitive, I felt the need to try and define exactly what we were tasting and smelling. Like two geeks pouring over the latest video game, Konrad and I spent a good half-hour throwing out descriptors and relishing this 30-year-old bottle. After we proclaimed its brilliance Konrad asked, “you know what’s even better?” there was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, “the 1977. I’d share it with you but it’s my anniversary wine (the year he and the missus were married) and my wife and I open one every year to celebrate.” What a great tradition and what a great wine to have it with … proving these wines from Musar – like a good marriage, truly can stand the test of time.


oldriojababy said...

hi We are moving house shortly and I have come across 3 bottles of Chateau Musar, one 1977,1981 and 1991. Should we drink them now or are they OK to keep. We bought them in 1994 and thought we had drunk them all - but to our surprise we found these 3. Just as a matter of interest, what price could we expect to pay nowadas for these?
Also we found 2 bottles of Chateau Tayac la Rauza Cur Bourgeois Margaux 1993 AND a bottle of Vintage Port Gould Campbell 1975! Oh and a 3 litre bottle of Pol Roger Champagne. Good find?

Wine Tasting Guy said...

Very interesting post. I've tried a few vintages of Musar and found them to be thin and too acidic. Nice to read about your experience. I look forward to trying them again.

I also look forward to hearing your thoughts on Israel wines. I'm not sure that any winery in Israel has drinkable wine as old as those from Musar, but the wine industry in Israel has really exploded of late.

Michael Pinkus - Grape Guy said...

Oldriojababy ... all of these wines are good finds - especially the Musar and the Port should be very good too.