Tasting T2.20 Chateau Musar

I was first introduced to Chateau Musar over 40 years ago. Whilst the story of the wine the company and the heritage were all impressive it was the wine that made the biggest impression on me.

Over the years on my vinous trips around the world I forgot to regularly replenish my cellar with this wine but my memory of it was always good. When I first decided to hold 60 wine tastings for my 60 years, rather than find five other wineries from the Levant or at least Eastern Mediterranean area, I decided to conduct a vertical tasting purely of Chateau Musar.

Phoenicia was an ancient region corresponding to the Levant region of the eastern Mediterranean. This is primarily located in modern Lebanon and coastal Syria. Its period in time covered 2500 BC to 64 BC.

The Phoenicians were the first to cultivate wine professionally and to trade wine internationally. They taught their oenological skills to the Greeks.

In 1930 Gaston Hochar, just 20 years old, returned from his travels in Bordeaux and inspired by the vinous heritage of the Lebanon founded Chateau Musar.

Gaston wanted to tie his wine to the history of those early Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Romans. As his son Serge once said of the Roman temple at Ba’albek ‘This is the only serious temple erected to Bacchus [the god of wine] anywhere in the Roman world. And they put it here, in the Beka’a. Why? Because the Romans and Greeks, the Phoenicians and Minoans, and all peoples who came before them, all knew that the Beka’a is the spiritual home of wine.’ So Gaston’s vineyards were planted in the historical Bekaa Valley.

The wines they produced greatly impressed French officers and Major Ronald Barton, of Chateau Langoa-Barton, who was stationed in Lebanon during World War II, he became a great friend.

The Bekaa Valley is further south than any part of Spain or Italy, so sun is not in short supply. Fortunately for Musar it is also situated at a relatively high altitude around 1,000 metres and has ideal soil, calcerous, gravel and stone to encourage high quality grape production.

The winery however is more than a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the vineyards. Gaston Hochar had to choose a location for his winery that would ensure his premises would be inside the new demarcated area of Lebanon.

Later, Serge Hochar, Gaston’s eldest son trained firstly as a civil engineer then later oenology as a student of Emile Peynaud in Bordeaux. He took over as wine maker in 1959 and spent the next 18 years perfecting his formula for Chateau Musar’s red wine. In 1984 he became Decanter magazine’s first ‘Man of the Year’.

The story of Musar’s survival during the Lebanese civil war of 1975 to 1990 is well documented. There were times when they could only harvest between pauses in the shelling, they could only transit from the valley to the winery avoiding military check-points when it permitted, this could take days. Winemaking could only happen when the coast road was clear and they could reach the winery.

A Family Affair, Serge Hochar passed away in 2014, however his brother Ronald, Serge’s two sons Gaston and Marc, Ronald’s son, Ralph and daughter Elsa all work in the family business of Chateau Musar.

Chateau Musar Red

Seven years in the making, Chateau Musar Red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Cinsault from vineyards in the Bekaa Valley near the villages of Aana and Kefraya.

The soil is gravel over limestone. The vines were planted from the 1930s onwards. As the bush vines are mature (average age 40 years) yields are low, generally between 15 to 35hl per hectare.

The different grape varietals in Chateau Musar Red undergo lengthy fermentations in cement vats at temperatures below 30°C. 6 months after the harvest they are transferred into French barrels (oak from the forest of Nevers) for one year.

The different varietals are then brought together two years after the harvest; the resulting blend is then placed back in cement tanks before being bottled 12 months later.

Each wine is blended to reflect the character of the vintage.

After 4 years’ bottle maturation in the deep stone cellars of Chateau Musar, the finished wines are released. This is now a full seven years after the harvest.

Tonight, as mentioned is a vertical tasting of six vintages of Chateau Musar from 2016 and stretching back to 1997.

In order to fully enjoy tonight’s vinous offering from the Lebanon it seemed only fair to pair it with some wonderful Lebanese cuisine.

A mixture of Houmous with chickpeas and Zhoug, Houmous with Roasted Butternut Squash, Baba Ganoush and Labneh dips accompanied some flatbreads. A definite step up from some previous Houmous we have tried.

A selection of various pastries, Spinach and Feta, Lamb, Spiced chicken and some lovely Halloumi Filo pastries went well with the Spinach Falafels.

The star might well have been the slow cooked Baharat Chicken.

We also had some Chicken Schnitzel with mango dip, which is based on amba a middle eastern mango condiment.

To the wines, first up is..

Chateau Musar 2016

The 2016 harvest showed without a doubt, that global warming is causing higher annual temperatures and at the same time, successive years of low rainfall have resulted in drier soils. Clearly, these factors may affect maturation of the grapes as well as the wine-making process but for 2016, with the much-needed rainfall and almost perfect climatic conditions, there are high expectations for this vintages’ future for decades to come.

Note: Starting with aromas of cassis, black fruits and coffee. Light to medium bodied red with vegetal hints and cherries starting to come through. Beautiful notes of cassis developing from the nose onto the palate. Sour cherries pertinent with strong blackcurrant flavours taking over with fine tannins which are nicely integrating. A light sourness smooths out the light – medium length finish. An extremely good, solid wine from this vintage.

Chateau Musar 2013

The 2013 harvest at Chateau Musar could be summarised in one word – elegance. Rain and snowfall during the winter of 2012/13 was higher than in previous years. April and May were cooler than usual but they experienced a week of intense heat in late August which resulted in high sugar contents of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan – the only red variety that did not react to the climatic changes was the Cinsault which was harvested last.

Note: Intense coffee and vegetal aromas. Dark fruits, black cherries, blackcurrants and plums with touches of cigar smoke. Very savoury aromas on the nose. Tannins are much more pronounced with a medium body bringing out lovely red and black fruits on the palate. Moderate acidity and a medium length finish give a much more concentrated and powerful wine. This will need cellaring for quite some time. A beautiful wine.

Chateau Musar 2008

2008 was extraordinary – no rain in the Bekaa Valley for the entirety of spring and the whole of the summer. In mid-August, a heatwave hit the Bekaa Valley for five days causing all the red grape varieties – Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault and Grenache to reach maturation at the same time. The early stages of fermentation were straightforward but a week later sugar levels increased causing fermentation to take longer than usual due to the richness of the grapes.

Note: Classic Cinsault and Carignan aromas of red fruits with savoury aromas really well integrated. Wet leaves and forest floor from the Cabernet and Cinsault coming to the forefront. A beautifully smooth wine with tobacco coming through on the medium body of this wine. Acidity and tannin working seamlessly together to produce a fantastic finish. An extraordinary wine, can cellar for another 5-10 years and I’d suggest to maybe start opening from 2025. 

Chateau Musar 2003

The 2003 harvest was a unique experience that is rich in both Alcohol & Acidity. After the rainiest winter in 15 years, from mid-April onwards not a drop of rain fell and it became hot and sunny. A 10-day heat wave in May reduced the harvest quantity by about 30%. This was responsible for the concentration of sugar and acidity in the grapes. July and August were not as hot as normal and healthy grapes were harvested with good maturity and ripeness.

Note: Strong aromas of coffee and cassis are back with a bang with 2003 vintage. Intense dried and stewed fruit aromas with slight vegetal hints again. Notes of smoke and forest floor lingering on the palate. This is a very smooth and warming wine, the balance and structure is excellent. Tannins are really well integrated and the wine just sings. A great sweetness of fruit towards the end is a timely reminder that this wine can age as gracefully as any top Bordeaux. Top class!

Chateau Musar 1998

Following a normal Lebanese winter of cold, rainy, snowy weather with several weeks of sunshine, the cooler 1998 has an elegant Cinsault dominance; the colour is lighter and more delicately perfumed than a typical vintage. Despite this initial impression, the wine is deceptively powerful with a vibrant acidity and fresh, soft red fruit flavours and a very long, spicy finish.

Note: Beautiful aromas of forest floor, mushroom and intense stewed fruits. So smooth and easy, a terrific wine. Medium bodied with perfect balance and structure. Tannins are seamless and integrate well with leather and herbaceous notes. It is rounded out with a medium – long finish and just drinks beautifully. If you have any then open and drink up because this is excellent.

Chateau Musar 1997

A fairly normal winter followed by a fresh spring with no hail or frost. Summer was mild with a very cloudy and fresh August and sunny September. These perfect conditions allowed the grapes to mature slowly at a pace rarely achieved. Good acidity with good tannin levels results in a wine of classic structure with long ageing potential.

Note: Rich and powerful. This is full of forest floor, stewed fruits and leather. The power is on point and adds a depth of flavour that is not present in the ’98. Again balance and structure are perfect. There is not much more I can say it is just beautifully elegant and strong. Linear with exact notes and aromas. Medium bodied wine with perfectly integrated tannins, acidity is still present and gifts a lovely long finish. Show stopping.


Chateau Musar has an incredible story and therefore it is no surprise that the wines match up to these lofty heights. A truly unique experience and one that I will not forget. I will keep the conclusion to the point.

This estate makes some incredibly impressive wines year on year. No one else in the world makes wine like this and they are not expensive. I implore all of my readers to go to your local wine store (preferably independent!) and see if you can purchase a bottle. Try and get the oldest you can and make sure it is at least over 10 years old before you open it. The result will be incredible.

We did also try a 1989 on this night that a friend of my fathers had for many years. 1989 was an exceptional vintage as the civil war was still raging around them. The winery was hit on several occasions and the deep cellars used as air raid shelters. It is a wonder how they managed to produce a wine at all. We were not sure how it was stored but it turned out to be absolutely fantastic… imagine what a great vintage properly stored would be like at 30+ years old?!

The scores:

2016 – 90 points

2013 – 91 points

2008 – 92 points

2003 – 94 points

1998 – 95 points

1997 – 97 points

So close and clearly the older the better in the case of Chateau Musar. All wines outstanding and absolutely worth it!

Thank you for reading and we’ll see you next week with an Up from The Cellar tasting!!

David & Harry

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  • Claire CA

    Interesting read and very happy about Musar . One thing I noted is that the design of the label has not changed….Has it always been this style? Look forward to opening a bottle with you some time . Best wishes Claire

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