Various wine merchants; £20+ (usually in case format)
In a change to the norm on this site, this is a write-up of a tasting I attended the other night. Most of these wines can’t be bought on the high street, or even through the Wine Society – Chateau Musar tends to move to the ‘secondary’ wine dealer market pretty quickly.
Musar is the pre-eminent Lebanese wine house – it’s been around for decades but only really made its mark in the UK in the 1980s. Through vicious civil war and local turbulence (most recently as a neighbour to the horrors of the Syrian conflict), the Hochar family have kept making their wine in a style all of their own. I wrote very briefly about the 2005 in my Wine Society show roundup last year.
There is huge variation between vintages in terms of the winemaking and blend of grapes – although always from a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan – which made a ‘vertical’ tasting (i.e. from multiple vintages) a fascinating experience. See below my notes, starting with the most recent, and therefore most readily available, years. I’ve ignored price in terms of how I score on this occasion, as most of these wines are very difficult to source anyway.
2002: Feels very alcohol-heavy; perhaps still a bit too unsettled and exuberant. Lots of dark red fruits with a savoury, herby mid-palate. Fine and silky but rather too out of balance to be really enjoyable throughout. 14/20
2001: Quite varied colour – good ruby core but an orangey-brown at the edges. The nose is far more delicate than the 2002; not nearly as powerful or overwhelming. Cherry, plum, red apple on the attack with gamey and olive notes towards the finish. Feels very well crafted. Very good indeed. 18/20
2000: This one will divide opinion. Feels like it has aged in fast-forward, with lots of secondary / tertiary notes. Some black fruit but very barnyardy, with savoury flavours all over the place. Quite a ‘serious’ wine; certainly not one for quaffing. I liked it but many others found it a real struggle. 15/20
1999: Again, this divided opinion in the room. Quite uniform in colour and clearly the most ‘stable’ wine of the night, with less volatility and acid than the more recent vintages. Had an unusual, unctuous treacle / golden syrup note alongside subdued black cherry and dark plum notes. Obviously high-quality, but I actually found it quite monochromatic in comparison to the more ‘engaging’ (/unstable!) 2000 and 2001. 14/20
1998: A huge contrast to the 1999. Very light and ephemeral on the nose – fragrant, almost flowery. A touch of tomato leaf and earth (Rhone-like?). On the palate there is fleshy fruit – thick cherry jam, plum, raspberry, redcurrant. Huge acidity with a long, perfumed and delicate finish. Hard to pin down but I found the closest overall parallel to be a Martinborough Pinot Noir. Apparently this vintage had a higher-than-average proportion of Cinsault, which could explain the variation. Overall, a very alluring wine. 17/20
1995: The low point of the evening, although one or two people raved about it. Just a very odd wine all round, even though Musar themselves proclaimed the 1995 vintage ‘outstanding’. The nose felt slightly oxidised, with browned apple and animal / meaty notes. The attack has very little up front but then gives way to very sharp, acidic candied plum and apple notes. The finish is sharp and tangy, but quite short. Not a particularly pleasant experience, this one. Possibly a bottle issue? 12/20
1994: Definitely the highlight. Hugely intense, alive with vitality and totally fruit-forward. Probably the most ‘Bordelais’ nose of the night, with blackcurrant, cigar box, spice, some gamey notes. Beautifully integrated tannin on the palate – very fine but just enough to remind you they’re there. Bright and ‘shiny’ cherry, raspberry and strawberry, alongside mocha and a touch of bitter orange. It has a real zing about it and is utterly bewitching; you wouldn’t believe this is 20 years old from taste alone. 19/20
1989: An oddly subdued wine to end the evening on, certainly compared to what immediately preceded it. Clearly showing some signs of age – very pale and brown to the point of almost yellowing at the edges. By far the most subtle and refined wine of the night, with spice and dried fruit notes (fig, prune, raisin) on the nose, and delicate raspberry and cherry on the palate. Surprised that there weren’t more ‘secondary’ notes – actually just feels like a slightly dried-out version of a young wine, rather than the complexity of a mature wine. This might be the destiny of the 2001. Clearly has a lot of life left in it, but probably too pricey to justify buying now at well over £60 a bottle. 15/20