Lebanon’s most famous red, Chateau Musar, is a Marmite* wine (see below if this means nothing to you) – people either love it or hate it. My wife has quite enjoyed it in the past, but I’ve often been rather disappointed, finding it over-heavy and a little old-fashioned in style. So, as a result, it’s not a wine we buy regularly. But, when some very good friends messaged us recently to say they’d got a bottle and would we like to share it with them, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse and we accepted eagerly. Then, when I learnt that the bottle in question was from the 2001 vintage, I began to get quite interested. Because Musar is a wine that needs time to reach its peak, lots of time. So, at almost 19 years old, I thought this might just be something special – and it was.
Decanted a couple of hours before serving – always a good idea with Musar – the wine showed definite signs of age in the glass with a shiny brick-red rim to it. On the nose, it was clearly a mature wine but still wonderfully lively and fresh and with none of the volatile or alcoholic smells that had put me off in the past, just lovely, savoury, dried fruit and fig aromas. The palate was deliciously soft and harmonious with the same flavours and character I had noted previously and the sensations just went on and on in the mouth – and in the glass over the remainder of the evening.
The grapes for red Musar are a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with 2 varieties native to the south of France, Cinsault and Carignan, all grown in the hot, dry Bekaa Valley in vineyards almost 1000 m (3000 ft) above sea level. Fermentation is in cement vats and then the wine spends a year in oak barrels. The 2001 vintage was finally bottled in summer 2004 but, typical of Musar, not released for sale until some years later when the producers thought it was ‘ready’.
Waitrose Cellars are still showing a stock of the 2001 on their website at £27.99 and more recent Musar vintages are quite widely available, but need time before being at their best. A wine to enjoy (or not) depending on your view.
* for those readers not familiar with it, Marmite is a tangy, savoury spread