Five Decades of Chateau Musar....with Serge Hochar

Shanghai Room, Langham Place Hotel, Mongkok, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Tasted June 1, 2012 by Goldstone with 1,103 views

Introduction

A group from the Hong Kong Wine Society contributed two bottles of each of a huge array of different vintages of Ch. Musar going back to 1966. Our special guests were the ever-wonderful Serge Hochar and his son Marc, who were in town for the Asia Wine Expo. The Langham Place Hotel did an extremely good job managing the wines and the serving (I think we must have got through around 500 wine glasses between 30 of us) and the dinner presented by Ming Court, the hotel's Michelin two-star Cantonese restaurant was fabulous.

Serge was visibly moved by the occasion.... it was pretty special.... although he is a regular visitor to Hong Kong, he had no idea of the depth of appreciation of his wines that exists here.

Flight 1 - Pre-Dinner Blind Tasting of 12 Vintages of Chateau Musar (12 notes)

The key conclusion here was how the ever-changing character of an older vintage of Ch. Musar as it sits in the glass makes it terribly difficult to arrive at a set ranking: we each had an inverted V of 12 glasses in front of us rather like organ stops and the trouble was that nearly each time you pushed the same organ stop it produced a different note! The other point of note was how narrow a spectrum of colour covered 5 decades of wines....it was really tricky even to guess the decade in most cases.

Red
1980 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
92 points
Tasted blind as one of 12 vintages over 5 decades. Small serving. Transparent, light bricking amber colour. Nose is petrolly, nail varnish.....very Musar-ish. Palate is light acetone, white mushroom and black Chinese mushroom, light mouthfeel....Burgundian....lots of iron filings metallic element but not unpleasant....finishing with a very light, perfumed yet powerful resonance. What a great way to start the line-up. My #5, group's #8.
Red
1993 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
94 points
Tasted blind as one of 12 vintages over 5 decades. Small serving. Transparent, bright-jeweled ruby colour. Nose is black and red cherries with that classic Musar eastern perfumed note. Palate is richer than the 1980 and just immediately gorgeous...quite high acidity....temple smoke and sun-warmed cedar shingles....a bit of tomato....a touch of black and bitter Chinese medicine... quietly resonant at the low end of the piano note scale. This proved one of the least volatile wines of the evening......it quickly planted its stake in the ground as #2 for me (group's #9) and maintained it whilst others waxed and waned (.....and waxed again, in some cases) around it...er, except for the superior 1991.
Red
1994 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
90 points
Tasted blind as one of 12 vintages over 5 decades. Small serving. Transparent, much younger purple-red colour than the preceding wines (which turned out to be the 1993). Nose is high-toned, acetone, quite closed....but good! Palate is very cherried fruit and exotic spice market....richer....longer than the preceding wines but rather candied and needs a lot more time. As Serge observed, this is a backward vintage because it was an unusually hot year. Probably amplified at this tasting as it was the one vintage served in Magnum. My #8, group's #5.
Red
1995 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
93 points
Tasted blind as one of 12 vintages over 5 decades. Small serving. Transparent, bright, jeweled but quite young-looking purple-ruby colour. Nose is spirited, alcoholic and seems very young, with very little brett. Palate is....oh gosh, lovely and much more open than the nose suggests.....all the classic Musar elements of cedar forests and old incense-infused chapels but with bright cherry fruit and kirsch....rich, deep and much more mature than its 1994 sibling. At some point it shrugged its shoulders and stood up to another level....perfect for drinking now but will only get better over the next 15 years. Serge observed that they held this back so long that they ended up releasing the 1996 before it. So it is built for the long term. My #4, group's #2.
Red
1969 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
Tasted blind as one of 12 vintages over 5 decades. Small serving. Transparent, distinct bricking edges and a more pronounced amber colour....a really beautiful colour. Nose is older, barnyard, , some horse sweat, patchouli oil, classic Musar incense, damp socks...all somewhat austere if that isn't contradictary. Palate is great acidic attack, and gorgeous....rubber tyres....very light mouthfeel....Burgundian....some iron filings....finishing with a very light, perfumed resonance. Unfortunately, it was a fleeting pleasure....it dropped off a cliff very quickly. My #12, group's #8 (but with two #1s). It would be unfair to point this without caressing an entire bottle.
Red
1966 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
95 points
Tasted blind as one of 12 vintages over 5 decades. Small serving. Very bright-jeweled, transparent ruby colour with no hint of amber......looks young compared to most of the wines. Nose is a drop dead gorgeous.... perfumed and with whisps of opium smoke....this has a resonance even on the nose, which is the mark of a very special wine. Palate is very light mouthfeel and a ferrous element up front but then it segues into liquorice pods and a dilute form of black Chinese medicine ....sweet fruit......a brilliantly dry brick dust powdery tannin finish. This stayed incredibly powerful with even a spoonful's-worth with extended time in the glass. My #5 as officially recorded but was really #3= with the 1978 and the 1995, group's #8 (but with three #1s).
Red
1991 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
96 points
Tasted blind as one of 12 vintages over 5 decades. Small serving. Dusky semi-transparent ruby colour but with a still younger purple-ruby hue at the core. Nose is gosh, lovely high-toned rosewater light perfume with a firmer spine of prune stones in the background. Palate is WOW!....light in mouthfeel but with enormous power....huge depth of complex red/black fruits, temple smoke, a myriad of dry Eastern spices, orange brick-dust powdered tannin finish and a mounting, near-endless resonance inside the head on the finale. Absolutaly thrilling. My #1 and the group's #1, apparently by an historic margin of consensus for HKWS tastings.
Red
2002 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
87 points
Tasted blind as one of 12 vintages over 5 decades. Small serving. By far the darkest in colour....a semi-transparent purple-red. Nose is very young, closed and still oak-dominated with just a touch of black peppercorn. Palate is very, very sweet fruit and Turkish Delight...it tastes just about integrated but craves a good few more years in the bottle to unfurl. As Serge observed, it isn't really yet ready for drinking. His rule is "keep until 15 years old" and this is good evidence. My #9, group's #4.
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Red
1978 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
93 points
Tasted blind as one of 12 vintages over 5 decades. Small serving. Amazing bright-jeweled transparent ruby colour....it must be a 1990s. Nose is reticent......you really have to chase it down corridors to get a whiff of the classic musar elements. Palate is absolutely classic Musar.......complex fruits, tons of exotic dry spices in an Eastern market, broodingly thunderous power rumbling in the background, gorgeous dusky powdered tannins like the dust from old bricks. Lovely! The 1978 is always a consistent pleasure....too bad it was only a small tasting....this one of the wines that would have shown better as a bottle drank on its own over a long evening. My #3, group's #3.
Red
1979 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
93 points
Tasted blind as one of 12 vintages over 5 decades. Small serving. Totally transparent but still very bright and fresh-looking ruby/amber colour. Nose is light and restrained. Palate is light rosewater and liquorice pod...somewhat dilute......but then a huge surge of powerful resonance completely blows you away....just like a very old top quality Rioja. Very complex indeed but not at all showy.....Serge observed that this is probably the year above all in his career when he "played safe" and probably didn't allow the wine the chance to shine enough. My #11 but I don't quite know why I didn't rank it considerably higher (perhaps because it was late in the line-up and I was rushing). group's #12 (but with three #1s). One of the few vintages I don't own.
Red
1981 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
92 points
Tasted blind as one of 12 vintages over 5 decades. Small serving. Darker (one of the darkest) transparent cherry red colour. Nose is restrained, bass-toned and furled like a flag that hasn't opened. Palate is light like the 1979 yet way more complex: it has gorgeous pinpoint acidity, super powdered brick-dust resolved tannins...gorgeous and perfumed...talcum powder.....with enormous resonance inside the head on the finish. I can't understand on reflection why I had this as my #5 and not higher, but is was also the group's #10. I think it's another wine where you need to embrace a bottle on its own for an evening.
Red
1989 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
90 points
Tasted blind as one of 12 vintages over 5 decades. Small serving. Looks by far the oldest wine judging from its light transparent amber colour. Nose is very mature and powdered but past its prime, like a film star in her 70s who would still have been a show-stopper in her 50s. Palate is very sharp, cherry-flavoured boiled sweets that used to take the roof off your mouth as a schoolkid. Finish is all an elegant 70-year old lady's talcum-powdered elegance. A faded beauty. My #6, group's #6......but, aha, revealed afterwards to have been the only wine served from 375ml bottles, hence more aged.

Flight 2 - Shredded jelly fish, Crab meat and Sliced shrimp with urchin sauce (1 note)

This dish was absolutely stupendous and definitely two Michelin stars. Actually I found that it paired better with the extra weight of the 1994 Blanc.

White
1992 Chateau Musar Blanc Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
94 points
Honeyed bright gold colour. Muted nose but of lovely warm summer night's honeysuckle...warm, dewy melon, lots of lovely fresh marzipan....tennis balls. Palate is sharp but not sweet, slightly smoky golden syrup from the tins of my childhood, lots of marzipan, rich, heady and hugely resonant length with an incredible silkiness....gosh, it's so reverberant. As it opens up with extended time in the glass, the really fresh almond and marzipan element predominates and yet still stays in balance. Oh, I'm having a moment.......absolutely sensational. So elegant...... This paired brilliantly with the Cantonese Braised Lobster with Caviar and Steamed Egg.

Flight 3 - Braised lobsters with caviar and steamed egg (1 note)

Another heavenly dish: simple and just perfectly executed. Personally I found that it paired better with the lighter 1992 Blanc.

White
1994 Chateau Musar Blanc Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
93 points
Darker yellow gold compared to the preceding 1992. Nose is richer....peach stone, macadamia nuts, bitter almonds, hints of marzipan.....I could lose myself in this nose. Palate is more oxidative than the 1992 but still only mildly so and with a wonderful honeyed roundness and gorgeous rounded, rolling thunder resonance and reverberance on the finish. Gosh....honeyed and so integrated but clearly with such a long slow evolution of improvement ahead of it. It gets more and more like a Ch. Rieussec........young but stunning. This paired extremely well with the Cantonese Shreded Jellyfish dish and with the Deep Fried Crab Claws in Preserved Vinegar Ginger and Shredded Cucumber Salad. However, on the night I preferred the elegance and grace of the 1992.

Flight 4 - Preserved vinegar ginger and shredded cucumber salad accompanied with Deep-fried crab claw stuffed with shrimp paste in salt and pepper (1 note)

Wow....three great dishes in a row, especially the salad of preserved ginger and shredded cucumber. This was a great pairing with the wine.

White
1999 Chateau Musar Blanc Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
88 points
Medium yellow gold colour. Nose is deep very ripe peach with almond stones in the background. Palate is all a huge powerful full-fronted thunderous finale.......but there is nothing preceding it. Still a baby and needs a lot of time to come into balance so that the frontal elements can emerge and harmonise. Actually, it has closed down since I last drank it with Serge 4 years ago.

Flight 5 - Braised wonton with duck meat (1 note)

I think I was meant to drink the 2000 with this but I decided to reverse the order of the three reds. Actually, this was a very light dish and suited the Musar Blanc better, especially the 1992.

Red
1997 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
89 points
Bright, jeweled transparent cherry-red colour. Nose is classic Musar funk, acetone, nail varnish remover, cherry fruit and semi-ripe strawberries. Palate shows nice bright strawberry and raspberry fruit with a little bit of darker cherry in the background and with hints of incense etc. This is getting there but still needs a few more years to unfurl. Surprisingly, the first time I have drank the 1997 and it was a nice introduction. It paired well with the Braised Won Ton with Duckmeat.

Flight 6 - Stir-fried diced lamb with chilli and mint (1 note)

Hmm, for me the only dud dish of the night and definitely not wine-friendly.

Red
1999 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
91 points
Darker than the 1997 but still a semi-transparent cherry-red. Nose is pronounced oak, vanilla pod, high-toned acetone. Palate is more advanced.....plummy fruit, bright acidity, some incense and nice wafts of a walk through an Eastern spice market. Already has a very heady resonance but still overly alcoholic. This is a great work in progress and I remain convinced that it will become a superlative vintage of Musar in 5-10 years' time. It's like catching up with a teenage niece or nephew you like and looking forward to see who they grow into.

Flight 7 - Fried rice with minced wagyu beef and black truffles (2 notes)

The great thing here was that neither the Wagyu nor the Black Truffle was overdone so it still had a classic fried rice touch to it and reallly balanced well with the younger wines, but even better with the 1997 and 1999.

Red
2000 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
88 points
Bright, sharp-faceted semi-translucent dark ruby colour. Nose is lots of acetone, fresh-sawn plank wood....a typical unevolved Musar but seeming more so at 12 years than normal. Palate is rich, almost porty, tastes much older than you'd expect. A classic example of what Serge observes as the wine being old when it's young and young when it's old. Lacks the power of the 1999.....and some of the promise, I think.
Red
2002 Chateau Musar Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
88 points
See my notes from the same night blind tasting. Very young indeed. Put this away for 7-8 years. I think it will always be a lighter vintage.

Flight 8 - Deep-fried egg and flour pastry, Marshmallow with desiccated coconut and Crispy mango rolls with almonds (1 note)

I was very taken with the Rose.....and even more by Serge's story of its genesis.

Rosé
2006 Chateau Musar Rosé Lebanon, Bekaa Valley
88 points
More almond-gold than rose-gold in colour. Delicate nose of typical white Musar......it's really a white wine with just 3% of Cinsault added. Nose is high-toned: delicate and perfumed......rose water! Palate is waaay more complex than you'd expect from the palate......weight. This is quite delicate compared to the 2003 Rose when I drank it on release with Serge. Actually, the elegance and charm is quite captivating if it stays that way as it ages.....but I suspect it won't. As I transcribe this note, why do I think I'm describing a young Dom Perignon Rose? Ah, Serge explained that he loves Rose champagne and originally made a Musar Rose champagne that the French wouldn't ratify, so when he couldn't call it even Method Champagnoise, he stopped the bubbles stage and stated making an unusual Rose still wine instead. Good wine....greater story!

Flight 9 - Digestif (0 notes)

We finished with a glass of L'Arak De Musar, which, with typical Serge Hochar aplomb is apparently actually a Cognac with just a few anis seeds added during the 4th distillation. Despite its 57% alcohol it is really quite elegant but not for the faint-hearted.

Closing

We should also thank FICO, Ch. Musar's long-standing sole distrubutor in Hong Kong, who helped fill in with some additional wines.

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