A tasting of Chateau Musar and some Left Bank Clarets

In Event Reports, IWFS London Blog by ashepherdiwfs

Back in 2020 we sadly lost Carole Goldberg, one of the stalwarts of the London Branch of the IWFS. Always unpredictable, sometimes challenging, Carole was tremendously enthusiastic about the Society. Over the years she had organised many memorable tastings.

This tasting for London Branch members, held at the Army and Navy Club in Mayfair, was titled “Carole Goldberg Revisited Part 2”, led by Rachel Burnett.

As Executor of Carole’s Will, Roger Ellis suggested that in her honour we should conduct a tasting of some wines from her cellar. The first such tasting was held last year. This was the second, led by Rachel Burnett.

It was particularly relevant for us to taste Chateau Musar, because Carole was an avid fan of this Lebanese wine made by winemaker Serge Hochar.  Chateau Musar wines first came to public notice during the Bristol Wine Fair in 1979, where they were declared “the discovery of the fair”.   Around this time, Carole had her first taste of Chateau Musar and met with Serge Hochar himself. Later in 2015, Carole held a tasting of these wines for us, conducted by Gaston Hochar, Serge’s eldest son.

In each vintage, the proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan differ and the grapes are selected from different vineyard sites, so while remaining distinctively identifiable, its character varies from year to year.

We tasted Chateau Musar from the years 1980, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999. It is fair to say that they were beyond their peak, but all drinkable, with life still left in them.

We were reminded of the back story of the 1980 wine, one of the worst years of the war in Lebanon. Every year from 1977-1990 when the war ended, Serge Hochar managed to produce excellent wine under nearly impossible circumstances.

The Bekaa Valley vineyards, from which all the grapes were sourced, lay in the no-man’s land between the Syrians and Israelis. The truck drivers transported the grapes out of the Bekaa to the winery at the coast 100km away, avoiding the latest killer checkpoints.

1991 was our favourite, a year in which Cinsault was predominant.

1996 was ageing, but nevertheless worth tasting.

1997 was showing concentrated aromas and flavours.

1998 was another vintage where Cinsault was predominant. This was smoother and softer than the 1997, and long lasting, another favourite.

1999 was more a Cabernet Sauvignon year. This has just a few years to go.

Oz Clarke once described Chateau Musar as “too wild, too exotic for Bordeaux”. So, by way of comparison, we followed on by having three clarets from the 1990s to round the evening off, all drinking well.

1995 Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, 5ème Cru Classé Pauillac

1996  Chateau Lafon-Rochet, Saint Estephe, 4ѐme Cru Classé

1996  Chateau Langoa Barton, St Julien 3ѐme Cru Classé.

All in all, a splendid tasting.

Rachel Burnett and Roger Ellis