Chateau Musar: Bekaa Valley at Table, Donkey, Stick

In my last post I highlighted 2 Chicago wine bars worth going out of your way for, Vera Chicago and Autre Monde in Berwyn, Table, Donkey and Stick in Logan Square is another one. It is a hike to get to for someone like me who lives much further south in Streeterville, especially when it is raining heavily during rush hour. I think I broke my own personal record for money spent on a cab versus how far I needed to go. But I managed to make it this week for Terroir Tuesday that partner and sommelier, Matt Sussman, puts together each week. Matt has an eye and a nose for putting together intriguing, thoughtful lineups, either of hard to fine wines or producers getting a lot of buzz in the somm community.

The lineup this week from Matt:

“Most of you need no introduction to the truly unique wines of Chateau Musar. And you may not have another opportunity to drink this deeply into this fantastic producer.We will have a normal quantity of the 2002/2004/2007 Rouge to pour BTG, but the rest of the wines are extremely limited. As a result, we are offering the whites and older reds as a two flight package for $40 (and we will accept reservations for the flights).

Flight One
1989 Chateau Musar Blanc
1992 Chateau Musar Blanc
1999 Chateau Musar Blanc
2006 Chateau Musar Blanc

Flight Two
1974 Chateau Musar Rouge
1993 Chateau Musar Rouge
1999 Chateau Musar Rouge

BTG
2002 Chateau Musar Rouge – $11/glass
2004 Chateau Musar Rouge – $11/glass
2007 Chateau Musar Rouge – $11/glass

Well, I for one, did need an introduction. The wine world is so immense sometimes. I love the fact that TDS goes out of their way to make wines accessible that ordinarily are either hard to find or out of reach price wise.

Chateau Musar is one of the oldest and most storied producers in Lebanon and the only producer to continue business and grape growing during all the wars. Historians, archaeologists and oenologists, consider the countries of the eastern Mediterranean, western Asia and northeast Africa, The Levant.

levant

The Levant includes Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey. Chateau Musar’s grapes are grown in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon which is the epicenter of grape growing since ancient times.  Lebanon (4,036 sq/miles) is a little smaller than Connecticut (5,543 sq/miles). The Bekaa Valley is in the northeastern part of the country bordering Syria.

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From Musar‘s website, “Lebanon’s Western Bekaa Valley, a shallow, fertile basin, running between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges, has been home to the vine for 6,000 years. Vineyards were commercially exploited here by the sea-faring ancestors of the modern Lebanese, who introduced viticulture to Greece, Egypt and Italy. The Greeks named them ‘Phoenicians’ after the purple dye (‘phoinikèia’) they made from seashells. Famed for being able to revive their cities rapidly after destruction, the Phoenicians inspired the legend of the Phoenix. The region’s wines are mentioned many times in the Bible (as in Hosea 14:7), and Cana, where Christ turned water into wine, is near the southern port of Tyre. Baalbek, originally devoted to Phoenician fertility god Baal, is also the site of a vast Roman temple to wine god Bacchus. French in origin, the Hochar family (pronounced ‘Hoshar’) arrived in Lebanon with the crusades and have remained there ever since.”

The Phoenicians living in what we now consider modern-day Lebanon,  were a maritime culture and they traded and disseminated knowledge of wine throughout the region. (1550BC- 300BC) The Levantine itself is really the birthplace of wine and viniculture.

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Temple of Bacchus – Baalbek

The Roman Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek at the foot of the Anti-Lebanon mountains is a world heritage site and one of the best preserved temples in the world.

Now we get in the tardis and move forward to the 1930s when Gaston Hochar established Chateau Musar.  The winery took over the Mzar castle in Ghazir for production.

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Ghazir Lebanon

The history of Chateau Musar1930 Gaston Hochar establishes Chateau Musar plants his first vineyards, after returning from Bordeaux. 1941 Major Ronald Barton (of Château Langoa-Barton), stationed in Lebanon during World War II, befriends Gaston Hochar, strengthening links with Bordeaux and influencing the Musar style. 1959 Serge Hochar becomes Chateau Musar winemaker, while completing his winemaking studies at the University of Oenology in Bordeaux, under the tutorage of Jean Riberau and Emile Peynaud. 1962 Ronald Hochar (Gaston’s second son) takes over the financial and marketing aspects of the winery. 1977 Serge Hochar finalises the “formula” for Chateau Musar Reds. 1979 Michael Broadbent ‘discovers’ Chateau Musar at the Bristol Wine Fair, hailing the 1967 vintage as the “Find of the Fair”. Chateau Musar opens its UK Company to develop its sales into the UK market and thereafter into Europe. 1984 Decanter magazine nominates Serge Hochar as their first ‘Man of the Year’, recognising his dedication to producing superb wines throughout Lebanon’s Civil War (1975-1990). 1994 Gaston Hochar, Serge’s son joins the winery, to later become its managing director. 2003 Ralph Hochar, Ronald’s son joins the UK office in charge of sales in the on-trade. 2006 Chateau Musar obtains its first official organic certification for some of its vineyards.

Serge Hochar died in January 2015. Eric Asimov in his obituary gives some insight as to why  Chateau Musar was so strongly attached to a Bordeaux style of winemaking.

Gaston Hochar, studied grape growing and winemaking in Bordeaux and in 1930 planted his first grapes in the Bekaa Valley, an eastern region near the Syrian border.Lebanon at the time was a largely Christian country under French control, and the French army was a major early customer for Musar’s wine. One young French officer, Ronald Barton, of the acclaimed Bordeaux estates Langoa-Barton and Léoville-Barton, was stationed in Lebanon and proved highly influential to Musar.” As a side note, I do appreciate this quote of Sergio Hochar, “Wine is above politics,” Mr. Hochar said in 2012. “Wine is tolerance.””

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Bekaa Valley

The Bekaa Valley is more a large plateau at 3000 ft altitude. It has dry summers, cool nights and consistent rainfall. All the ingredients needed to grow grapes sustainably and as noted above Chateau Musar received organic certification for some of its vineyards.

The wines: we tasted first a flight of whites 2006, 1999, 1992 and 1989.

hochar whites

The whites are made from the ancient and indigenous white grapes, obaideh (high sugar, low acid) and merwah (light-skinned grape). The vines are 100-150 years old and grown at 4000 ft., the soil is gravel with limestone. I liked the tasting of the whites better than the reds. The 2006 was brighter in taste in line with its age but the 89 had all these honey, apricot and lemon notes for me but still very light on the palate. It is kind of amazing to think that in 1989 the Lebanese civil war was going on.

The reds 1999, 1994, 1974.

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The reds are a combination of cabernet sauvignon, the major grape of red Bordeaux, but also of cinsault and carignan, grapes from the South of France. Michael Broadbent fell for them in 1974 and Broadbent is still distributing them in Illinois. Janice Robinson considers the red “distinctively levantine”. Eric Asimov describes the reds as spicy and rich with a distinctive funkiness that many critics labeled a flaw but devotees embraced as soulful.” The grapes in the ’74 Cinsault 33%, Carignan 33%, Cabernet Sauvignon 34%. The ’99 initially was a bit medicinal like blackberry cough syrup and then later as it sat the nose changed to more barnyard and tobacco. 1974, the Lebanese civil war was starting to simmer, wow. The blackberry, chocolate flavours were subtle. It is not every day that I taste a ’74 of any wine.

The one thing is that these wines called out for food and TDS has a varied menu of small to larger plates.

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The bubespitzle was full of Spring greenness.

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Each time I manage to make it to a Terroir Tuesday at TDS I am happy that I did. Sometimes living in Chicago I feel very much that I am living in the midwest. But the Terroir Tuesdays, BTG offerings at TDS are something that particularly at this tasting showcase how big, captivating and intriguing the wine world is and how much there is to sip and learn.

Sources: Chateau Muser website, Broadbent website, Jancis Robinson The Oxford Companion To Wine, Eric Asimov Serge Hochar Obituary

 

 

 

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