Château Musar, Grand Vin
Château Musar, Grand Vin

Château Musar, Grand Vin

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon 1998 (750mL)
Regular price$89.00
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Château Musar, Grand Vin

It’s always an immense pleasure to offer Château Musar’s mature, truly noble back-vintage wines since they’re not the sole preserve of the elite—but times are changing. The world has become increasingly aware of the magic radiating from this historic Lebanese estate, and Musar’s once-massive library has taken a major hit: From New York, LA, London, and Hong Kong, you’ll find restaurants and collectors hoarding vintages dating back decades. To Musar’s credit, they’ve tried in earnest to strategically trickle out old stock, but there’s no competing with feverishly high demand. Now, these pre-2000 library gems are becoming rarer and more expensive by the minute.

Is this your first encounter with a mature Musar? Worried about its capacity to age? Don’t be. When I recently met up with Musar proprietor Marc Hochar in San Francisco, we started with their newest 2016 release and ended with a rare 1975, which had been double-decanted hours prior to my arrival. The wine was seductive, savory, nuanced, and, quite incredibly, still needed more air. How’s that for an endorsement of Musar’s cellar appeal? I’ve now enjoyed today’s 1998 at three stages of its life and it impresses/over-delivers every time. We can offer up to six bottles per person, and I fully expect our parcel to evaporate within the next few hours. 

Bordeaux is a useful comparison in that Château Musar’s founder, Gaston Hochar, was of French descent and studied winemaking in Bordeaux. His son, Serge, who died at age 75 in 2014, also studied in Bordeaux, under famed enologist Émile Peynaud. And yes, Musar utilizes a healthy dose of Cabernet Sauvignon to create their ethereal, long-lived reds. But again, Château Musar is really unlike anything else. Grown in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, near its eastern border with Syria, and vinified just outside Beirut, Musar wines aren’t just a good story—what’s in the bottle is for real.

Of course, there was Lebanese wine during ancient times, but viticulture had been all but abandoned when Gaston Hochar established Musar in 1930. His first good customers were French soldiers (France occupied Lebanon at that time), but the wines didn’t really catch on internationally until the late 1970s when they were “discovered” at a wine fair in the United Kingdom. At this point, it was Gaston’s son, Serge, making the wine. Having spent well over 18 years perfecting their flagship red, the worldwide acclaim that Serge had worked for came with a bittersweet taste: Lebanon was embroiled in a decades-long civil war. Somehow, the Hochars continued to produce wine throughout the brutal conflict, literally trucking their grapes across warzones and occasionally using their cellar as a bomb shelter. That’s what prompted Decanter to award Serge their inaugural “Man of the Year” title in 1984 and, much later on, a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from a respected German publication. Upon Serge’s passing in 2014, his two sons, along with Serge’s brother Ronald (who was with him every step of the way) and Ronald’s own son, have been running the operations. 

Serge was widely known and loved in the wine community for his charm and his philosophical bent—given what he went through to make wine, he was entitled to his cryptic pronouncements. He was a ‘natural’ winemaker before that was a thing (organic vine work; native yeast fermentations; minimal use of sulfur), and he was also inclined to hold wines in his cellar for many years before releasing them. As he once quipped to the British wine writer Andrew Jefford: “The value of our stock is ten times our annual sales.” 

This 1998  is their classic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Carignan grown in gravelly soils at high elevations to help mitigate the arid climate of the Bekaa Valley. Additionally, some of the vines here date back to the 1930s and all yields are EXTREMELY low. In the winery, the grapes underwent a long, varietal-separate fermentation on ambient yeasts in concrete vessels before being transferred into new and used French oak barrels. The individual varietal wines were then blended together and sent into cement tanks yet again...for another year! The wine was finally bottled, unfined and unfiltered, in August of 2001. Following, they were stored in their cellar for four more years until being released to the public in 2005. However, this tiny library-release parcel didn't leave until 2022! It’s a classic, if not extreme, example of Hochar’s willingness to effectively age the wine before selling it to you. 

Château Musar’s 1998 Grand Vin pours a hazy garnet that moves out to a slight brick orange on the rim—it may look mature, but there is still so much life to be had in this 24-year-old wine! Its aromas will fool you as well: Heady perfume may lead you to think lush and voluptuous on the palate, but there’s only elegance and finesse to be had. You’ll discover sweet redcurrant, black cherry, red and black plums, tobacco leaf, licorice, cedar shavings, cigar wrapper, dusty herbs, and vintage leather that unfurl in beautifully consistent waves. It’s one of the most balanced decades-old reds you can find in this price range! Again, Musar will hint at perfumes and flavors that are similar to classic wine regions of France and Italy, but ultimately it is a uniquely beautiful creature. One thing is for sure: If blind-tasting, one smell will instantly take you to a high-end price range. Yet even with undercover international acclaim and two-dozen years of age, this remains shockingly affordable. That’s the beauty of Musar. Serve in Bordeaux stems after gently decanting (stop before sediment!) for 30-60 minutes and prepare to be blown away by its intricacies. This is one for the ages. Enjoy now and over the next 10-15 years.

Château Musar, Grand Vin


Northeastern Lebanon

Bekaa Valley

Bekaa Valley, which produces the majority of all Lebanese wine, has all the makings of a world-class wine zone: The two mountain ranges that flank the narrow valley reach to some serious elevations and protect the vines from harsh weather from either the Mediterranean to the west or the desert to the east. The altitude of vineyards average around 1,200 meters which allow for wide diurnal temperature swings in what is otherwise a hot, dry, sunny climate.

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