Everywhere I turn at the moment I seem to bump into Ralph Hochar of Chateau Musar, not that I’m complaining of course because wherever Ralph goes there’s always a few bottles of Chateau Musar close by.
First up was London International Wine Fair where I attended a tasting with the legendary Serge Hochar who took over the winemaking in 1959. Serge has spent over half a century in charge of Lebanon’s most iconic wine, turning it into an internationally recognised and globally appreciated wine. He became Decanter magazine’s first ever Man of the Year in 1984 and when you hear him talk it’s easy to see why. Full of enthusiasm and passion for his wines, his calm and affable manner draws you in to the Chateau Musar story which is about history, tradition and an expression of Lebanon’s high altitude Bekaa Valley.
All of us at the tasting were happy to listen to Serge talk and answer numerous questions but time was pressing and we had to move on to the tasting which began with Musar 2005 and Musar 1999.
Chateau Musar 2005
Structured, firm tannin with smoky fruit. Obvious Musar nose but this is hard and disjointed at the moment. Hide away in a dark cellar for at least 5 years!
Chateau Musar 1999
Richer, fuller and more developed. Sweet, ripe plum, red berries with supple ripe and integrated tannins. Creamy, enveloping body that is very balanced. Tobacco and leather on the very long finish. Delicious.
Chateau Musar White 2005
Not as oxidative as I expected. Creamy mouthfeel, spicy, lanolin, peach and honey with some smoky oak notes.
We were then treated to a magical array of mature vintages, 1974 and 1980 reds alongside 1986 and 1991 whites. Chateau Musar wines are some of the most age-worthy you are likely to find anywhere and they reward patience with complexity, subtlety and enormous pleasure.
Chateau Musar 1974
This is a beautiful brick colour with a truly evolved nose. Remarkably rich, silky and round palate. The tannins have long since melted to leave a wine that feels like crushed velvet. You could almost mistake it for a mature top flight Burgundy with its elegance and complexity of flavour that seems to float around the senses. Heavenly.
Chateau Musar 1980
A much deeper colour than the 1974, this wine is incredibly fresh still. Classic Musar flavours but this is soft, round and very well integrated. Vibrant with a fresh acidity. This wine constantly changes in the glass but retaining a rich elegance through to the cedar, tobacco and leather finish.
Chateau Musar White 1991
Dark amber colour with a toasty, smoky nose. The palate is very rich and creamy, nutty and balanced. Lightly oxidative intertwined with layers of herbs, marzipan and apricots all held together by tight acidity. Delicious.
Chateau Musar White 1986
A completely different wine to the 1991, this vintage was unwooded hence the much lighter, clear and bright lemon gold colour. the nose is lighter too, almost reticent. In comparison to the 1991 the palate is much more straightforward with a creamy lemon and lightly oxidative touch.
Through the magic of Twitter, Ralph and I discovered that we were both going to be in Hong Kong at the same time. Ralph and the Chateau Musar team were in town as part of Vinexpo, the trade show that alternates between Bordeaux and Hong Kong. I was there as part of the day job and had flown in from Amsterdam via Mumbai, a quick shower and straight in to Stanley for a Chateau Musar dinner with a few Hong Kong enthusiasts.
Serge was also attending and it was a real pleasure to spend an evening in his company discussing the wines and his philosophy on Chateau Musar. Serge is such easy company and it was obvious that all around were not only comfortable in his presence but were positively engaged by his conversation and interest in life in Hong Kong.
This tasting brought another Musar first for me – Rosé. Not just any old Rosé but a 1994 vintage Rosé. We all know that Rosés are supposed to be drunk young so why bother with one that is 18 years old? Well the Musar Rosé is based on the white grape Obaideh, which is reputed to be descended from Chardonnay, and is blended with about 5% Cinsault. The wine is fermented and aged in French oak barrels and ages superbly, like the Musar White. I was astounded at how fresh and alive this wine was. Clear fruit profile, strawberry, citrus and apricot but also herbal and floral. I can’t say that I’m usually a fan of Rosé but this wine intrigued me and I couldn’t resist going back for a second glass.
Finally, I bumped in to Chateau Musar again yesterday. Not at a wine event but at an Indian food tasting of all places. Again Twitter played its part, having met the very talented Asma Said Khan at the London Wine Fair, I offered to try and pair some wine with her cooking. Asma very kindly invited me and a few Twitterati including my winemaking guru Nayan Gowda @vinosity and food bloggers Susan Wilk @ssusu_you and Florian Siepert @siepert, and amongst the wines brought to taste was a Chateau Musar 1998.
I’ll leave the food blogging to the experts but suffice to say that if you ever need somebody to come and cook the most amazing Indian food for a dinner party then you need Asma. Every single dish, of which there were many, was a delight of complimentary flavours and balanced spices. I have eaten widely in Mumbai and Delhi and Asma brought these flavours to the table but took them on to a whole new experience for me. This was fabulous home cooking that fully deserved the fulsome praise that was heaped upon Asma.
I was delighted that my Mullineux Kloof St Chenin Blanc paired extremely well with many of Asma’s dishes but was surprised to see how well Chateau Musar 1998 went with a fish curry. Never would I have dreamed of this combination but the emerging bright fruit of this wine complimented the meaty fish and the softening tannin didn’t react to the gentle spice combination leaving the butteriness of the dish to merge with the wine’s acidity.
I feel very privileged to have shared these recent experiences with Ralph and Chateau Musar. Once you have tried these wines it is difficult not to fall in love with them, their history, their nuances, their age-ability and of course the wonderful characters that are a part of the Chateau Musar family.