Could it be festive thoughts of the Holy Land which led several of the UK’s wine critics to consider Lebanese wine at the same time?
Here is the Telegraph, on 6th Jan; here the Guardian on 8th Jan; and here is the Herald in Scotland on 11 Jan. Hmmm. (There has even been an unrelated programme about Lebanese wine on Radio 4. ) Could it be coincidence? Or could it be that there has been a nice little pr trip, to which CJ and I were bizarrely not privy…
Anyway, virtually every article assumes that the reader knows of Chateau Musar, which, fortunately, I do. CJ possibly doesn’t, but frankly if that was a criteria for consideration in the Sediment blog, our content would be sorely constrained, and we would rank bizarrely high for a wine blog in a Google search for “Tesco”.
The Sediment blog is not really about such expensive top-flight wines. If only. However, unbeknownst to many, there is in fact an entire family of Musar wines. And the real coincidence of this piece is that, over the same festive period, I found myself experiencing most of the Musar range in various places across London, and attempting to get something of the Musar experience without investing in Chateau Musar itself. Or, for that matter, jaunting off to the Bekaa Valley…
The fabulously solid, spicy, smoky Chateau Musar, made by the Hochar family, has survived and indeed been exported throughout its home country’s upheavals. Having tasted this unique wine myself back in the 80s, I invested in a bottle, intending to mature it for the requisite eight years or so. But having kept it for ages, it then “disappeared” when I was not at home. I learnt my lesson, and guard my new cellar “assiduously” as CJ says. However, I can believe, in a spirit of forgiveness, that someone thought a scruffy-looking bottle of Lebanese wine was more likely to be bring-a-bottle party-fodder than anything else.
(And I’m reminded of the chap whose wine was drunk in his absence by builders. He returned to find a note of apology, “Sorry for drinking some of your wine, but we only took the old stuff. We’ve replaced it with new.”)
But just before Christmas, I went to the birthday party of Marion Style, wife of one of Nick Baker’s genuine Groovy Old Men, David Style, and I was actually thrilled to see on each table a bottle of 2003 Hochar Pere et Fils from Musar. This is a spin-off from the chateau, and son Spencer Style had found it available from Majestic for £11.99 (£9.99 each if you buy two). Musar’s a unique, acquired taste, and so this was a daring choice, I thought, for a mainstream gathering, like piping John Coltrane into a hotel lobby.
It was brick red, almost rusty in the glass, like an old port, with the smoky palate of an elderly claret, but a lighter, more downable weight. Absolutely delicious, a good reflection of the Musar style, and something of a bargain given its age.
Then, my own birthday lunch, at the Fulham restaurant, Del Aziz, before a Chelsea match. (Oh, I may not have the knowledge, wealth or cellar of the galactico wine critic James Suckling, but I do have a season ticket at Chelsea, the Lafite of London soccer, whereas he goes to watch Crystal Palace, a modest footballing vin de table.) Marek Black spotted Musar Mosaic 2007 on the winelist, and ordered a bottle “to taste the shell-smoke”, despite my warnings that (a) it was far too young, and (b) it had to be at least the third wine of Musar. (In fact, it’s not even listed on the Musar website. ) It was indeed a pale echo of the Musar taste, thin and bland – and at £21 a bottle, very poor value.
And then, having tasted two members of the Musar offspring, I was drawn by what must have been the only Chateau Musar window display in London. The City Beverage Company has a frontage of which the description “unprepossessing” is a compliment. But behind the coffee and confectionery in the entrance is more Musar than anywhere I have ever seen. (Not having been to the Bekaa Valley…) It has vintages going back every year for the last two decades or so, with the prices upping a smidgen each year; and it has half-bottles, which I have never seen anywhere else, also from some elderly vintages, and all priced in the ‘teens.
It also has rare varieties like Musar Jeune, which City Beverage boss Stuart Edwards (who has known the Hochar family from way back) explained was made from younger vines in the expanded vineyard. (Jeune, which again is not on the Musar website, is the equivalent of Mosaic, an equally young wine Stuart says is only available to the restaurant trade.) And finally, in this bewildering family of young and old, City Beverage has some bottles of 2004 Musar Cuvée Rouge.
Described by the Chateau as its second wine, the back label says that Cuvée Rouge is “made according to the philosophy of Chateau Musar,” an intriguing directive. It’s extremely rare in the UK. Again, it’s not on the Musar website (although there is a wine called Cuvée Musar). And despite its age, this “entry level” Musar experience (as Stuart described it) is only £7.95, just the thing for the Sediment blog.
Sediment likes the idea of “entry level”. It suggests you’re at the same concert, just with a restricted view. But sadly here, it’s not so much a restricted view as a restricted orchestra.
With a paler colour, and no legs to speak of, Cuvée Rouge is a pallid version of Musar; yes, it has that burnt, almost medicinal nose, but it’s low on fruit and doesn’t have a lasting finish. Tolerable with food, it is disappointing on its own.
This is a frankly confusing range of wines, some on the Musar website, some not, but all trading off the name of their magnificent parent. Hochar Pere et Fils can be recommended, easily the best-value introduction to the Musar experience, and more akin to the Chateau’s “second wine”, whatever their website says. But it would be a shame if bargain-hunters drinking the various other labels felt they had sampled what Musar has to offer. The tickets might be cheaper, but you wouldn’t judge Beethoven’s Ninth by a school orchestra performance.