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Chateau Musar * Lebanon’s Premier Winery

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Wine Dinner at Edmunds Oast

When Edmund’s Oast puts on a wine dinner, they usually sell out within 24 hours of the announcement. This dinner, showcasing Chateau Musar wines sold out in 12 hours. Now, the unaware may wonder what the big deal is. After all, Lebanon is not top of mind for most when one considers the world’s wine hotspots. But until you have tasted the wines of Chateau Musar, you may wish to hold off judgment.

This post is not an in-depth parsing of these five wines. If I have something to say, I will, but for the most part, leave that up to others. However, I do want to share with you the “how” of their top tier wines. The craftsmanship deserves some attention, as it is significant to what earns these wines their claim to fame in the world of wine. Additionally, when I go to wine dinners, I want to enjoy and experience the wine as part of the pairing and how well the food enhances the wine or visa versa. And this dinner is a testament to the joyous marriage of wine and food and the ultimate enjoyment of those partaking.

Chateau Musar

Chateau Musar – Background

  • The Hochar family has been making wine for the past 89 years which began under the direction of Gaston Hochar. In 1959, his son, Serge took over to transform the winery from making traditional Lebanese table wine to international quality wines based on his training in Bordeaux.
  • The Bekaa Valley is the agricultural heart of the Middle East and home to Lebanon’s winemaking region including the vineyards of Chateau Musar.  Wine grapes have been grown here for 6,000 years.
  • Their winemaking process remains as natural and non-interventionist as possible. Wild yeasts create fermentation, rather than cultured yeasts being introduced to the wines. Only a minimal amount of sulfur is used, and the wines are not fined or filtered.
  • All of Chateau Musar wines are blends.

The Wines

Chateau Musar produces three tiers of wines. The top tier Chateau Musar Red, White, and Rosé; then the single vineyard Hochar Père et Fils Red which is a joint effort of father and son; and lastly, Musar Jeune Red, White, and Rosé which are young, unoaked everyday wines. Our dinner included five wines from the top tier; The 2014 Rosé, the 1999 & 2010 Red and the 1991 & 2009 White.

Master Sommelier Max Kast became a somm because of his first experience with Chateau Musar wines.

Dinner is Served

The dinner began with an aperitif, L’Arack de Musar, Lebanese anise, and fennel flavored spirit. Think Pernod or Ouzo, and that is L’Arack. The flavor is delicious but also quite powerful. Anything more than a sip and your palate could have been toast for the rest of the meal.

First Course:
Grilled Radicchio Salad with Ham, Tallegio & Soft Boiled Egg
Chateau Musar Rosé 2014

The Musar rosé is the most unique and unusual rosé I have ever tasted. First, the method used to make this wine is the rarest of the four methods; blending. The main components are the Lebanese indigenous white grape varieties Obaideh and Merwah. Around 5% of the Southern Rhône grape Cinsault (red grape) gives the wine its subtle color.  It is fermented and aged for 6 to 9 months in French oak barrels (which is also a unique feature of this wine as rosé usually sees no oak aging). The wine is bottled a year after the harvest (versus six months) and released for sale two years after that. The later is the third major unique feature of this wine, as rosés are usually released the spring after harvest and should be consumed within a year. This wine breaks all the rules from blending to oak aging to bottle release.

Wow, it sure did pair well with the Grilled Radicchio Salad.

Chateau Musar

Probably the most striking thing about this wine was it’s nose and flavor profile. The predominant aroma was fresh tomato, and the dominant flavor was of stewed tomatoes. This was a first for me. I am not sure that I would enjoy this wine as much as a cocktail wine. It definitely needs food. So served along with this salad, it was the perfect pairing.

Master Sommelier Max Kast shares insights with some guests.

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Second Course:
Confit Duck Leg with Farro, Root Vegetables, Khao Soi Curry
Chateau Musar Red 2010 & Chateau Musar Red 1999

Chateau Musar

Once again, the winemaker at Ch. Musar is charting his own path with their premium red wine by blending Bordeaux and Southern Rhône varieties to make this signature wine. Bordeaux grape Cabernet Sauvignon lends black fruit flavors while the Southern Rhône grapes Cinsault and Carignan contribute fragrance (violets; pepper) and supple spiciness.

Each wine begins with a lengthy fermentations in cement vats at temperatures below 85°F. Six months later they are transferred into French oak barrels for one year. Two years after harvest, the varietal components are brought together and then placed back in cement tanks before being bottled 12 months later. Each wine is blended to reflect the character of the vintage. After four years’ bottle maturation in the deep stone cellars of Chateau Musar, the finished wines are released a full seven years after the harvest. They are thus making their current release their 2012 vintage.

Chateau Musar

This Duck Leg Confit was out of this world and perfect with these two red vintages. I went back for seconds and had to sit on my hands to keep me from licking the platter. We drank the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault; Carignan blends side-by-side to be able to compare the nine-year-old vintage against the twenty-year-old vintage. Both were truly amazing and surprisingly succulent. But I was absolutely shocked by the 1999 vintage and its freshness and fruit flavors that were still so prominent. Perhaps even a bit more so that the younger vintage. But where the 1999 vintage really showed off was in its velvety and lasting texture.

I have to say that these two wines were the star of the show. I look forward to seeing how they continue to age.

In Lebanon, the fish course is after the meat course which puts the white wines after the reds.

Chateau Musar______________________________________

Third Course:
Roasted Wahoo with Kohlrabi Tzatziki, Radish, Tomato, Cucumber & Herbs
Chateau Musar White 2009 & Chateau Musar White 1991

Chateau Musar

It will not surprise you to know that their white blend is a unicorn in a forest of horses. Not only because of the unique and ancient grape varieties used; Obaideh and Merwah that are indigenous to the mountains of Lebanon. But once again it is also the bottle aging and release date of seven years after harvest. Most white wines are released one year after harvest.

A 28-year old White Wine

Here we had the exceedingly rare opportunity to drink the 1991 vintage considered an excellent year for this wine. Given its limited availability, our hosts had to keep a close eye on this wine as there were only three bottles that had to be shared with all 35 guests. We drank it side-by-side with the 2009 vintage; an old wine for a white in its own right.

Chateau Musar
This is a solid filet of Wahoo, slathered with Kohlrabi Tzatziki.
Radish, Roasted Tomato, Fresh Tomato, Cucumber & Herbs on the side.

At this point in the dinner, I would like to tell you that I was furiously taking notes and recording each emotional response to these incredible wines and how they paired with the fish. But that would be a lie. I am overwhelmed. What I can tell you is that in the same way that the rosé should be enjoyed with food, these white wines should as well. On another evening, I had the opportunity to sip the 2009 vintage on its own without food. I enjoyed it. I really did. But, in my opinion, it shines so much brighter as a food wine.

Blown Away

The fish was delicious, but I was blown away by the combination with the Tomato, Radish and Cucumber side dish. The fish and the side on the same fork, followed by a sip of either wine and you hit my “tastebud g-spot.”

The 1991 vintage deserves a separate mention as it too was a real treat. Not only was it a caramel color, but it also had a toasty caramel, white port-like quality to it that the 2009 vintage did not yet have.

Chateau Musar
Check out dinner mate and new friend, Missi protecting the last sips of the 1991 White, the 1999 Red, and the 2010 Red. And yes, the wine you see in the glass… that is the 1991 white wine.

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Dessert Course:
Tiramisu Cake – Almond Mousse, Dark Rum, Coffee, Sponge Cake
Broadbent Malmsey Madiera, 10 year

While Chateau Musar does not make a dessert wine, the US importer/distributor does bottle their own Madiera. So with the extraordinary Tiramisu cake, they paired their Broadbent 10 year Malmsey Madiera. What an absolute delight. Over the moon. Over the moon.

I feel like I just relived the dinner and I am stuffed with delicious food, mesmerized by these unicorns of wine and smiling from ear to ear after spending an evening with family and friends.

Going to wine dinners is such a treat and a great experience for anyone who enjoys wine. This dinner was extraordinary. Not only for the wine and food but also the captivating storytelling by Master Sommelier Max Kast. You can tell that Chateau Musar is his baby. He made the experience like going to the theater.

Thank you to Max and Broadbent Selections; and to Sommelier Sarah O’Kelly, Chef Bob Cook, Pastry Chef Heather Hutton and the staff at Edmund’s Oast.  Oh, what a night!


That is all for now.

Cheers,

rick


Be sure to shop by the Mug Shop for a touch of humor.

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