Tue 09 Jul 2013

A Chateau Musar Tasting: 1977–2005

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I was delighted to host a tasting of eight vintages of Lebanon’s Chateau Musar last month, attended by some 50 Society members. It was a great chance to examine what makes this iconic Lebanese wine so special.

Musar tasting

We were fortunate to look at four of the estate’s most reputed years – 2005, 1997, 1995 & 1993. The wines all showed beautifully.

The currently available 2005 (£20 per bottle) continues to impress me: still in its first flush of youth and with plenty of time ahead, it is such a beautifully complete wine. The 2003 (also currently available for £20 per bottle) had a more subdued nose but a lovely, fleshy, sweet-fruited palate that everyone really enjoyed.

The 1998 was the most surprising wine of the tasting: this has come round well and is drinking perfectly now. It was one of the favourite wines amongst those present. It was nice to hear from Musar’s Jane Sowter that our thoughts chimed with those at the estate’s: ‘We didn’t use to feature it much and it was always overshadowed by the 1997 and 1999,’ she told me, ‘but everyone falls in love with it now.’ It is not hard to see why.

The 1997 provided a fascinating and delicious contrast to the elegant 1998: powerful and bold, it is full of flavour with an attractive spicy note that was pure pleasure to taste. The 1995 bowled me over: an amazing and dazzling wine. The 1993 was also superb, in a more mellow yet structured way.

The final wine was the fully mature 1977, and it was interesting to see this complex, cloudy and leathery Musar divide opinion. Some adored it, while others found its more savoury, less fruit-forward style challenging. Even more so than with punchier modern vintages, personal preference does seem to play a part when tasting wines of this age. Personally, I thought it showed the complex tertiary flavours you expect with a fine, high-quality aged wine yet was still incredibly fresh and lively on the palate.

All in all, a fantastic Musar tasting.

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer for Lebanon

Comments

  1. Stephen Booth says:

    So sorry to have missed this tasting of a wine I have tracked longer than any other, indeed since 1966/7 in Beirut!

    I concur with all of the above having purshased a tasting case containing several of the wines listed above.

  2. Andrew Loughran says:

    I recently opened a bottle of the 1988 which was simply amazing. Colour was a deep rose but this belied the depth of fruit and perfect balance.

  3. John Burden says:

    I count myself lucky that a friend introduced me to Musar when he presented a bottle of the 1977 when he and his wife joined us for dinner one evening back in the 80s. I’ve never lost my affection for Musar red, although I went through some unhappy times with their corks a few years later.

    I was absolutely delighted to have been able to attend this tasting and take a guided tour, as it were, back through various vintages of Musar.

    For those who haven’t yet had the experience, I would urge you to purchase a bottle or two and don’t be too impatient to open it.

    This tasting was the first time since 1999 that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the wonderful ’77 again. My thanks to Pierre and his two colleagues for making it a very special day. Well worth the effort of driving from the West Country to Stevenage!

  4. Paul Robertson says:

    Gosh, I wish I had been there! Still, I have 2 magnums of the 2005 unopened. Do remember his ‘lesser’ wines are also very good and I wish the Society would consider listing the Musar Jeune.

  5. Sir james Spooner says:

    What are the prices for 1993/1995/97/98?

  6. Martyn Bentley says:

    Sorry I missed the event. I have single bottles of the 1991 and 1999; any comments on these? Should I go ahead and enjoy?!! I concur with Paul Robertson above re Musar Jeune

    • Pierre Mansour says:

      Thanks. 1991 should be delicious now. The excellent 99 is going through a “closed” stage at the moment and I’d recommend holding it for another couple of years at least.

    • Mike Stephenson says:

      We are drinking the 1991 at home now and it is ready and very good. We have some 1969 and that is still wonderful. They both need careful decanting because, like most Musar, there is a lot of sediment.

  7. Ian Gimblett says:

    I have a small collection of older wines, mainly pre and early 2000 Bordeaux which I tucked away some time ago as a ‘learning experiment’. Amongst this collection I appear to be priviledged to also have a 1994 Musar?
    The Bordeax samples I have opened so far have been a great disappointment, so it is refreshing to hear through your article that at least one bottle could re-energised my enthusiasm for older wine. Have you any comments or advice on the 1994 Musar? Should I open now and if so is there any care I should take when opening to ensure a ‘memorable experience’?

    • Pierre Mansour says:

      I have looked back at my tasting notes and unfortunately the 1994 is not a vintage I have come across recently. However, I did come across a note that Serge Hochar wrote on the 1994: “One of the most concentrated vintages at Chateau Musar. 1994 was a year of intense heat. The winter was short and mild and was followed by early flowering in spring and a normal summer although we had an unexpected heat wave from August to mid-October.” I would expect the 1994 is ready to drink. I suggest you stand the bottle upright for 24 hours, then open and decant it just prior to serving. Enjoy!

  8. Dr John Oldring says:

    I am very fortunate to have recently had bottles of chateau Musar 1997 and 1998 and to still have some 2003 and 2005 – my first experience of chateau musar was the 2001 which the sommelier in his column on the wine list described as Rioja on steroids which always made me smile -he wasnt wrong either

  9. Geoffrey Newman says:

    I have a good(?) friend who keeps giving me bottles of 2004, which is awful. Can anyone tell me why it was apparently such a bad year?

    • Mike Stephenson says:

      2004 is young but should be ok. The only thing that I can think of is that the fine sediment, that is usually present in all Musar, has been disturbed when the wine was brought to you making the wine cloudy and not nice at all. Try standing the next bottle up, or at an angle, for a week or two and then decanting over a light so you can stop before the sediment runs.

  10. Pete Harmsworth says:

    I have a bottle of the 2000. When would be a good time to drink this vintage?

  11. Neil McDougall says:

    I have a couple of cases of 1999 Musar magnums in storage with you and a case of regular bottles in my cellar. The TWS drinking dates for these are from 2006 to 2014. Surely this wine, from a classic vintage, is only just getting into its drinkability window in 2014? There are a range of glowing reports for older vintages in this report which indicate that these older wines are only now hitting their peaks of greatness. What do you think are reasonable drinking dates?

    • Pierre Mansour says:

      Thanks for your note. Our “official” drink dates are quite cautious and are set to represent the peak of maturity. However, a lot depends on personal taste (do you prefer wines with the fresh, fruitiness of youth or the mellow, savouriness of age). Serge Hochar claims that Musar hits its peak around 10 to 15 years following the vintage, so generally our drink dates reflect this. However, these are regularly reviewed. I tasted the 1999 late last year and it is ageing gracefully and I think will improve beyond 2014, easily to 2020. Magnums even longer (to 2023).

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