The two Raconteurs thought we were done, but we had a lucky thirteenth unlisted wine to taste at the Fine Wine Source. Neither one of us complained and this was a wine that both of us had heard of, but had never tried and no time like the present. We had quite a whirl-wind geography lesson from Burgundy and the Medoc to Napa Valley, then off to the Loire and finally to Lebanon. The Bekkaa Valley (Beqaa Valley) is the center of the wine trade, as it accounts for ninety percent and it is also the center for Arak, the lovely, but potentially lethal anise flavored liquor that is the favored drink in the country. The oldest winery there is Chateau Ksara, which was established by the Jesuits in 1857 with plants brought over from the French colony of Algeria. The original vines were Cinsaut, and later other wineries followed with Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and by whites of Ugni Blanc, Clairette and Chardonnay; and the indigenous varietals Obaideh and Merwah. While the valley is considered ideal for wine production, the country was originally under the rule of the Ottoman Empire and their Sharia Law, which basically condemned the use of wine except for religious purposes. After the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the end of World War Two, the Middle East was carved up and the French were awarded a Mandate for Syria and Lebanon. The French finally left the mandated areas and eventually there was a Lebanese Civil War which began around 1975, with over a one-hundred-thousand fatalities and about a million people that left the country, the Christians became a very small minority and the wine industry can only really rely on export markets, as the local market has basically dried up.
Chateau Musar was founded in 1930 by Gaston Hochar and may be the most famous Lebanese winery on the international scene. Gaston Hochar developed his winery after traveling in Bordeaux. In 1959, Hochar’s son Serge took control of the vineyards, having returned from Bordeaux where he was studying enology. The vineyard suffered during the Lebanese Civil War (two vintages were lost or damaged), and Hochar began to look beyond the domestic market. The wine began to gain recognition after Michael Broadbent MW wrote about them in Decanter magazine in 1979 and by the time the war ended in 1990, just a tiny fraction of Chateau Musar was sold locally. The winery produces several collectable wines that are long-lived. Chateau Musar Red is their flagship wine and is regarded as the most important wine in their portfolio, and it is also regarded as the most important wine of Lebanon.
Chateau Musar Red Bekkaa Valley 2013 continues to be made in their traditional manner, which requires seven years before it sees the light of day in a retail environment. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Cinsault (and this particular vintage the blend was equal for all three varietals) from vines planted from 1930 and later, on gravel soil over limestone, with the average age of the vines around forty years. The different juices undergo a long fermentation in cement vats for about six months after the harvest. The individual juices are then transferred to French Oak for one year of aging. After about two years from harvest, the individual juices are then blended and placed in cement tanks for another twelve months. The wine is then bottled and stored in their deep, dark stone cellars on their sides for four years. The wine is bottled unfiltered and unfined for maximum flavor. The winery recommends standing the wine up, the night before serving, to allow the wine to settle. They also recommend the use of prongs for opening bottles older than fifteen years of age and have even created a YouTube page for their instructions. This was a beautiful drinking wine and the Cinsault was the prominent wine of note with red fruit and dark fruit, and plenty of spices with cloves, cinnamon, vanilla and licorice. The wine had a very nice long count in the finish. Totally drinkable now, or wait another ten or more years and I think the flavors will be totally layered and complex. Wonderful with a nice Armenian lamb dinner, if I can make a hint to my Bride.