Posted by: tomciocco | March 13, 2014

LIONHEARTED LEVANTINE LOVELINESS: LEBANON’S MUSAR

Let’s face facts – the beautiful, highly cultured and beautiful tiny nation of Lebanon hasn’t been an easy place to do business for many decades, but if your business is viticulture and winemaking, you’ve got a REALLY tough row to hoe, pardon the pun. Or don’t.

The poor little nation of Lebanon has been wracked with the terror and privations of war for far too long, but despite being in the center of the furnace that is the turmoil in the Middle East, the canny and industrious Lebanese have always found a way to not only survive but thrive. Think about it for a moment – if you’ve got a business selling cars or carpets or card tables and your location in Beirut or Tyre is threatened with bombs or extortion, as difficult as it might be, a proprietor in such a business has the option to go to ground or just move. But if your livelihood is winemaking what the hell can you do?

And such issues are not just theoretical concerns for Chateau Musar and the few other Lebanese wineries that have the stones to continue this most noble of pursuits. The folks at Musar have endured harvests as Israeli jets roared over their vines, all the while waiting for the bombs to fall, as well as weathering threats of destruction of their cellars and vineyards by teetotal radicals like Hezbollah, and have made it through it all without ever missing a harvest.

The site of the Hochar family’s Chateau Musar is found in the high, upland Bekaa Valley at elevations of over 3,ooo feet above sea level in poor, gravelly mountain soils that are showered with hot sunshine during the day, and with chilly, breezy temperatures overnight. Because of the long connections with France, Musar’s vineyards are planted to a bevy of French red grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, and French white-fruited vines like Viognier and Semillon as well as rare native Lebanese white varietals like Obaideh and Merwah.

This evening’s wine is actually Musar’s “second label” red bottling, and though it is overshadowed by the magnificent and very long-lived flagship red, this cuvee` is no slouch and need make no apologies to any wine anywhere. The grape blend that makes up this bottling is a slightly odd one: 50% Cinsault, 20% Grenache, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Carignan, making it, at least on paper, a French Southwest meets Languedoc blend but with a much more elegant profile than either of those two regions typically offer owing to the Bekaa Valley’s much cooler terroir.

So if you didn’t even know that the Lebanese produced wine, this particular wine for me is the place to start to get to know what goes on in this ancient winemaking region. And in the course of pulling the cork on one of Chateau Musar’s wines, you’ll also be supporting some of the bravest and most dedicated winemakers anywhere in the world. Period.

I served this really sophisticated and distinctive wine with a first course of fried kibbe, which for the uninitiated is a sort of spiced, deep-fried bulgur wheat and lamb “meatball” stuffed with pine nuts, onions, more meat and yogurt. The main course was a homey stew of chick peas, leeks, tomatoes, spices, etc. set off with a pile of plain fluffy white rice.

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Chateau Musar “Hochar” Rouge 2007

Garnet with blackish brown overtones. Complex and sophisticated nose of red currants, blueberry, fig paste, pine sap, Mediterranean herbs, butterscotch, sandalwood, leather and wood smoke. The body is fine and gossamer but still firmly dry and structured with layered, juicy flavors of cherry, salted plums, dates, roasted chestnut, vanilla bean, black pepper and licorice root. The wine finishes with a polished complex character. A great value.

 

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