When Gaston Hochar decided to reinvigorate the fine wine industry and increase the quality of Lebanese wines in the 1930s, he planted what have since become some of the most famous vines in the world. His son Serge (who trained with Emile Peynaud), and grandsons Ralph and Marc have continued his work.
The Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Cinsault blends that comprise the top Chateau Musar wine have been produced every year since then except for two when civil war proved too much to overcome. The war forced them though in 1972 to find an overseas market – and they did. That’s when Britain welcomed and ‘discovered’ these wines.
The Cabernet gives the wine carpentry and structure while the Carignan offers spiced fruit. Cinsault makes sure the wines are beautifully perfumed – the scent is what has been making Lebanese wine famous for 1000s of years. These wines have long macerations of up to 5 weeks and then gentle extraction until 6-9 months when they are put into oak barrels (up to 1/3 new oak) for 10-14 months. There are usually 25,000 bottles made per vintage.
The Chateau Musar 1996 is a medium cherry-garnet red, hazy with medium legs. We were surprised it’s not fully terra cotta as it’s 19 years old. It’s an unfined and unfiltered wine, so the hazy quality is to be expected but it had no negative effect on it. There was very little sediment to speak of.
Clean and fully developed, it’s got high toned and intense aromas of cherry kirsch, red plum, strawberry, clove, herbs and tobacco.
Completely integrated and with soft tannins, the wine is dry but with a sweet’ish profile, medium plus acidity and flavours of more dried strawberry, dried cherry and cranberry with plum, sweet tobacco leaf, red licorice, clove and cinnamon. A dried herbal element emerged after a short time – sage and dried rose. The finish was good but did diminish in the glass over a couple of hours.
Balanced alcohol, married tannins and fruit, silky, still bright and stunning, this wine is on the lighter side. A WSET Very Good Plus.
If you have any, don’t decant, drink now or enjoy for 3-5 more years. Thanks for sharing, Marta!