Friday, January 09, 2009
1995 Chateau Musar
Region: Bekaa Valley
Chateau Musar is the most famous, and in the eyes of many the greatest, of all the wineries in Lebanon. Though it is not the oldest or the largest estate, Musar has a cult-like following the world over. Since the 1979 Bristol Wine Fair, where Michael Broadbent described the wine as the discovery of the fair, the estate has not looked back. And this despite the civil war that tore Lebanon apart in the 1970's and 1980's.
There is so much information about the story of Chateau Musar, its history, the wines it produces etc. that I will not go into further detail here. A great starting point is the Musar website which has a great number of articles for download. Then there are two interesting articles written by Andrew Jefford that are worth reading as well (The Magic of Musar and Understanding Musar). A quick search on google will produce even more.
If two words could best typify Musar it would be uniqueness and individuality; both of these qualities coming from the man behind the creation of the wine for so many years, 1984 Decanter Magazine's Man of the Year, Serge Musar. After his oenology degree in Bordeaux, Serge took over the winemaking in 1959 immediately putting his own unique stamp on the wines making Musar into what it is today. Even though he no longer makes the wine, he still has an enormous influence on this unique wine.
Not only the situation in which wine was made, and to a lesser extent still is, is unique. The processes used to produce the wine, and the resulting wine are also unique. For a start the wines are fermented in cement vats and not stainless or oak. Then some of the winemaking rules are slightly relaxed allowing the wines to have a certain amount of volatile acidity and, in many cases, brettanomyces. The Musar philosophy is that of respect for nature and ecology which is the reason the wines are neither fined nor filtered. There are no chemical additives with the exception of the minimum necessary dose of sulphur. Natural yeasts are also used during fermentation while the bottles are individually hand filled. Everything to attempt to translate what natures intends.
The resulting product are the wines are of superb quality, albeit in particular Musar style, that have the ability to age and mature for long periods of time. This does not only refer to the red wines, as the whites also have the amazing capacity to age, and are considered by Serge Musar to be his greatest wines. No two vintages are the same, each vintage (or in many cases bottles) has it's own individuality. This makes Musar such in interesting, and valued wine for many wine drinkers.
The 1995 vintage yielded 30% less fruit than normal, although the fruit was of an excellent quality. The assemblage of this wine is Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan in equal portions. This is the first time I have tasted a Musar, something I was looking forward to for a long time. Here is what I thought of it.
Nice red in the core fading to brown. The nose is complex and very interesting; quite powerful with cherry fruit, cedar and a shoe polish element. The palate begins candy-like with sweet, soft strawberry, cherry fruit. As the wine opens up it reveals earthy, tobacco and mushroom characters giving the wine a great degree of interest. There is also an almost leathery meatiness to the wine. Like a iron fist in a velvet glove, the structure beneath the fruit is firm with great acidity and good tannin. A long sour cherry finish completes an amazing wine. All I can say is wow.