In the Shadows of Giants: Château Musar 2010-1999!
Posted on: 06/15/18 1:25 PM
Lebanon’s Château Musar is truly one of the wonders of the wine world, and could be said to have been the first ever ‘cult’ wine, as its followers have a loyalty to it like almost nothing else I’ve ever known. I am an enormous fan – the wines are profound, complex, delicious, and utterly unique. They are hard to pin down as they change a lot from vintage to vintage and as they age. Musar is a wine to delight you and to surprise you, hard to describe but so easy to love.
As well as being an early cult, Musar was also perhaps the first global superstar of a ‘natural’ wine. They never labelled or described themselves as such, but their farming and winemaking philosophies are essentially the minimum intervention that has come to define the movement, many decades after Serge Hochar was ploughing his lonely furrow in Lebanon’s Bekka Valley.
When it comes to this ‘wild’ style of wine, nobody on Earth does it better. Musar often shows level of ‘brett’ (brettanomyces, a yeast that causes meaty/leathery aromas) and volatile acidity that winemakers in many other parts of the world would regard as faults. However, many of the greatest wines ever made, including legendary Bordeaux and Burgundy that sell for thousands of dollars a bottle have significant quantities of brett and ‘VA’. My own view is that sometimes these things can be a fault, but in the right hands and from the right terroirs, they can also produce a magic that others cannot match. Musar and Châteauneuf’s Château de Beaucastel are probably the world’s top two examples.
The headline here is perhaps the release of the brilliant 2010 Rouge and 2009 Blanc. 18/20 is an extremely high score for Jancis Robinson, for whom 19s and 20s are almost unheard of. At this price, I simply cannot see why anyone would not buy the Rouge. Delicious in youth, it will also last for however long you want it to, and give you constant change and excitement throughout.
To make things a little more exciting, we also have some extremely well priced older vintages. These wines have to be tasted to be understood, but while it receives the lowest score of these wines, I highly recommend reading Mark Squires’ note on the 2000 as it expresses something of the wild nature of the wines. You can read him dancing back and forth on the wine, and it reminds me of many experiences I’ve had with Musar- I have regretted none of them!
2010 Château Musar Rouge
Bright ruby. Heady, rich and gamey on the nose. Very hedonistic and accessible on the nose with real density and lifted slight gaminess. An attractive singed character on top of very ripe fruit. Great balance and freshness (but not excessive acidity) on the finish. Very neat on the end. Something rather wild and Romany about this. Already accessible even if I’m sure it will develop even more complex tertiary aromas. 18/20 pts., Jancis Robinson MW
2009 Château Musar Blanc
This is the one wine here that I can’t find a single tasting note for. I haven’t tried it yet, neither have any of the critics, and even if you look it up on cellartracker there’s not one note from anyone in the world yet. What I can say is that Musar Blanc is a thrilling wine, usually quite rich, spicy and powerful in youth, and nutty and complex with age. They are tough to describe as they are unique, and they are extremely difficult to get hold of. My usual policy is to buy one when I see one, and I encourage you to do the same!
2001 Château Musar Rouge
Nuanced by cherries and spice, this is quite delicious. Which wine you like better of this lineup—the 01 or 00, or even the 02, is a matter of taste, perhaps, more than any inherent quality issue, as the styles are rather different. The ’00 is the powerhouse bruiser, the most rustic, while the 2002 is the approachable, easier wine. This is the one in the middle, arguably the best balance of fruit and power. On the downside, this is as gamey and funky as the 2000, but the balance is different, the wine seeming fruitier and fleshier, not quite as austere. Depending on your taste, you may find that a good thing, or prefer the more powerful and intellectual 2000. This is still powerful, I hasten to add, with drying notes on the finish, but the fruitiness melds beautifully with the barnyard notes, and it is nicely supported by the tannin rather than overwhelmed. As with the 2000, this should age well, although the 2000 should age longer, and this will be a wine some will love, and some will find has too much barnyard. Personally, I enjoyed it a lot, and was just imagining how it would work with venison. Drink now-2020. 91 pts., Mark Squires, The Wine Advocate
2000 Château Musar Rouge
This, I think, will be the most divisive of the Musar reds reviewed this issue. It is a more or less an equal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan, aged for one year in French oak and late released only in 2007. The crisp character makes it refreshing and delivers lingering flavors to the palate on the finish, but it also means there is not a lot of fleshiness here, the texture is not particularly caressing and it has a certain austerity that some will appreciate — and many won’t. Yet, it evolved beautifully in the glass and I greatly admired its structure, which should guarantee its ability to age gracefully for a long while in the cellar. If you like the acidity and power, which may cause some to dismiss this as simply too rustic, the barnyard component will be where many people still get off the bus. I liked it more and more as it aired out and came together in the glass, although my love for it never quite equaled my admiration for its good intentions. I suspect many will not warm up to it, so this is certainly one of those times that the score here is a lot less important than the tasting note. Its ageworthiness gives me some optimism that it will come together with more time in the cellar, but it won’t shock me if it does not. It was entrancing at times and it certainly has an upside that few wines in this region have. Five years might do it a lot of good, but let’s be conservative at the moment. Others will be a lot happier with the ’02 Hochar or the ’01 Musar reviewed this issue. Drink now-2025. 89+ pts., Mark Squires, The Wine Advocate
1999 Château Musar Rouge
Pale ruby – quite like Pinot Noir in colour. Not at all weird on the nose, but certainly very savoury – leather, earth, bramble fruit. Beautiful maturity – really medicinal and cedary. For Musar, this is positively conventional – it evokes mature Médoc crossed with mature southern Rhône. Succulent and refined. 17/20 pts., Richard Hemming MW, www.jancisrobinson.com
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