Friday, November 25, 2005

Chateau Musar, 1988

I have not bought Chateau Musar for a long time for several reasons. First, it is hard to find, and when you do find it, it has become increasingly expensive. Second, I have heard stories that it is not what it once was. Also, I have been influenced by a number of people who seem to know wine who say they just don't like it. Finally, there are many people who say that it is now made in a different style -- the old style was highly eccentric and best drunk after years of aging. (Interestingly, the price was still on the bottle -- $14.99.)

For those who don't know, Chateau Musar is a wine from Lebanon. It has a rather fascinating story -- all through the troubles in Lebanon, they continued to make Musar except for 1976 and 1984. (Also, none was made in 1992, but this time this was because it was a bad vintage.)

It is made mostly of Cinsault and Cabernet Sauvignon, and also a little of Carignan, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Merlot. It is aged in French (Nevers) oak. The 1988 was clearly made in the old style and was exactly the kind of Musar that I know and love.

People sometimes complain about too many wines tasting the same. It would be unfair to make the criticism of Musar. Some people hate it; some people love it, and everybody agrees that no other wines tastes like it. (Heitz from the Napa Valley is another wine that is unique!)

I drank it tonight without guests -- just Iran and myself. I did it this way because I worried that it might have gone off and I did not want to offer a bad wine to guests. Besides, once I opened a bottle of Musar that was simply perfect, and one of my guests claimed that it was off, but he failed to appeciate the eccentric style of this wine.

As I swirled it round the glass, I noticed that it was lighter in color than I would have expected -- it looked more like a Pinot Noir, but it was not showing its age with that tell-tale brick color around the edges. My worries about its being over the hill were not well founded. The bouquet was very berry-like with the scent of herbs. As I tasted it, I wondered at the complexity of this wine, the fruit suggested that it would have been happy waiting to be drunk for several years. The oak was obvious, and it also had a caramel, burned taste that I found most attractive.

I can imagine the person seeking another technically perfect California Cabernet hating this wine, but for me it was something completely different. I have a wooden case in my cellar with a vertical collection of Musar, and I am now down to 10 bottles. Tonight I resolved to fill the two empty slots.

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