Social Distancing Wine Club: Ep. 1
Photo by: Lucy Beuchert

Social Distancing Wine Club: Ep. 1

1999 Chateau Musar, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
The first edition of what may be a lengthy series about the great wines being drank while in solitude.

For over 40 years, Chateau Musar has been known on the world stage. Hailing from a country not usually considered for their wine, this great estate has a long, rich history. One of the first wineries I fell in love with at the beginning of my career they are wines that, at their best, can go toe to toe with some of the great wines of the world.

The winery was established by Gaston Hochar after a trip to Bordeaux in 1930. His vineyards are located in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. While not considered a fine wine country anymore, Lebanon actually has a very rich history in the wine world, often being mentioned in the bible. During WWII, Ronald Barton (of the great Chateau Leoville-Barton) befriended Gaston while stationed in Lebanon. This friendship and further link to Bordeaux would become a huge influence in the style of the wines. Gaston even named one of his sons Ronald! In 1959 Gaston’s first son, Serge, took over the winemaking while finishing a winemaking degree in Bordeaux. A few years later his younger son, Ronald, took over the marketing and financial side of things. After almost two decades of tinkering and tweaking, Serge finalized the formula for his wine in 1977.

The story of a Lebanese winery cannot be isolated from stories of war and turmoil. Stories have been told of vineyard workers having to do their jobs under very dangerous conditions. Despite the lengthy conflict, and constant unrest, the Hochars have managed to make wine every year except for just two vintages. The onset of the war took a tremendous toll on their local market, and they wisely decided to seek out new ones. This made Serge a constant figure at the world’s various wine events. Finally, in 1979, they found themselves in the spotlight. At the Bristol Wine Fair famous wine auctioneer, Michael Broadbent, “discovered” the wine and declared the 1967 vintage to be the pick of the fair. After this event Musar became very popular in the UK and has since become a cult favorite all over the world. In 1984 Serge became Decanter Magazines first ‘Man of the Year’ for his dedication to making wine throughout the war. They have since become certified organic as well. Serge sadly passed away a few years ago, and the winery is now run by his son; named Gaston after Serge’s father.

Musar is a difficult wine to describe. Notoriously inconsistent from vintage to vintage, but almost always delicious. A peculiar blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Carignan. The closest comparison might be Bordeaux, but the wines are really their own unique thing. The wines are fermented in cement vats and then aged in French oak. They age incredibly well, and with time develop amazing earthy, savory, and animalistic qualities.

The 1999 was truly a treat. The dark and savory notes were lifted by a beautiful brightness and incredible integrity of the fruit characters, even at this age. Think cherries, dried flowers, leather, mushroom, pipe tobacco. All supported by solid acidity, smooth texture and silky finish.

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