Chateau Musar, that extraordinary Lebanese winery with vineyards deep in the Bekaa Valley, boasts an almost fanatical following. Indeed, two of Musar’s most devoted admirers were my esteemed predecessors — Messrs Waugh and Hoggart — thanks to whom our Wine Club partner, Mr Wheeler, has been wafting Musar under the beaks of Spectator readers very successfully for 20 years.
I’m delighted to report this offer is as enticing as ever and marks the first time that the latest vintage of Musar’s grand vin, the 2011, has been offered to anyone, anywhere.
The 2008 Chateau Musar White (1) is a remarkable wine produced from un-grafted old vines grown in vineyards planted almost 5,000 years ago. A blend of 65 per cent Obaideh (an ancient forbear of Chardonnay) and 35 per cent Merwah (ditto of Sémillon), it’s fermented and aged partly in oak and partly in stainless steel. The result is a gloriously golden-hued wine with hints of peaches, blossom, citrus and spice on the nose and a deliciously creamy, lemony and slightly savoury finish in the mouth. If it’s like anything it’s like a fine white Rhône. £22 down from £25.
The 2014 Musar Jeune Red (2) is an equal blend of old vine Cinsault-Syrah with an added splash of Cabernet Sauvignon. There’s no oak to speak of and it’s designed for uncomplicated and immediate drinking. It’s fresh, vibrant, fruity, soft, succulent and smooth with plenty of ripe red and dark fruit and a whisper of spice. It’s hard not to gulp down, so easy-going is it. £11 down from £12.50.
The 2013 Hochar Père et Fils Red (3) is a slight step up in complexity. Made from low-yielding, single vineyard fruit planted at 1,000 metres above sea level, it’s a familiar blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon aged in oak for nine months. It’s deliciously rich and spicy with silky soft tannins and an abundance of ripe dark fruit. It’s very stylish for the price and certainly hints at the power of the grand vin. £13.25 down from £16.25.
The Hochar family of Chateau Musar only release their grands vins when they deem them ready to drink — which is anything up to six or seven years behind the vintage. This is the first time that the 2011 Chateau Musar (4) has been offered. An equal blend of Cinsault, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon, it was bottled in 2014 after gentle maturation which included a year’s rest in French oak. It’s full-flavoured and powerful but has that inimitable Musar sweetness. It’s wonderful stuff and will delight lovers of the estate. £22.50 down from £27.50.
The 2002 Chateau Musar (5) was one of Simon Hoggart’s favoured vintages of Musar and, on its release in 2009, he applauded in these pages its ‘immense power’ and its dark plum and damson fruit, hints of liquorice and its toasty, spicy finish. The wine has softened and mellowed considerably since Simon tasted the wine but all the aforesaid elements are there and I like to think he would have knocked it back with abandon. £25 down from £29.50.
The 1998 Chateau Musar (6) is a blend of the estate’s usual three grape varieties, albeit with more focus on Cinsault than usual. It’s nearing the end of its days, but it still packs a punch for what was one of the lighter Musar vintages. There’s a complex mix of flavours — mulberries, blackberries, coffee, chocolate and spice — and that typical underlying Musar sweetness and earthy, leathery gaminess. It’s soft and mellow and although the finish fades a little, it still gives enormous pleasure. £26.50 down from £32.
The mixed Musar Collection has two bottles of each of the wines and the Musar Vintage Experience has four bottles of the three grands vins. Delivery, as ever, is free.