1998 Chateau Musar- Lebanon, Bekaa Valley (4/29/2017)
Darker translucent ruby hue with garnet hints. Seriously evocative nose of floral blueberry, acrid schist, rocks, and meat. Layers of red currant, beef blood, sweet cassis, soy, tar, and sauvage notes coursing across the tongue with freshening acidity and tamed but firm tannin. Lovely finish of bright red fruit gripped by blood and rock. Nineteen years young and still going strong. Killer pairing with rare beef over arugula sprinkled with balsamic and parmesan. (92 pts.)
Indeed I do and I am looking forward to trying it soon. I hear it is a great vintage of Musar. I had no real expectations regarding the '98 and was quite pleasantly surprised. So far the '98 and '04 have had terrific showings.
If you like the '98 & "04 then I’s assume that you’re liking the Musar vintages that I find to be more elegant. I’ve had a few vintages of Musar and find that they often fall into three “styles” for me. Of the vintages I’ve had…this is where they tend to fall for me.
The florals and red fruit are absolutely consistent with my impressions, and I totally agree it’s going strong and will only get better.
Regarding the classification, I largely agree with Kirk (and he’s certainly tasted Musar more broadly than I have). I do have a few augmentations/refinements. Another dimension to consider is where they are in the aging curve. My working model of Musar aging (born of discussing with other Musar-o-philes, as well as Bart Broadbent and Marc Hochar), is that Musar’s have three phases of life, the time of which can vary by vintage and by bottle.
I. Youth/pre-inflection: Although secondaries are there (brett, oxidation, savory earth), the wine is dominated by primary fruit, and most closely resembles a Bordeaux with a little age. The fruit is recognizable. This typically lasts from 10 years ('95) to 20 years (~'99)
II. Mid-inflection/adolescence: The primary fruit is dropping out, but the tertiary fruit hasn’t taken over yet. This can lead to wines tasting deceptively light - as the '99 has been doing recently. The inflection point varies wildly by vintage and bottle, but usually happens around 10-15 years and can take 5 years or so to really pass through.
III. Post-inflection/Tertiary intensification: The primary fruit is gone, and has been replaced by a sort of fruit-illusion that I’ve been referring to, somewhat mystically, as ‘tertiary fruit.’ My wild/crackpot theory that you should definitely not take as truth, but that at least explains the sensory aspects, is that the non-fruit aromas (VA, Brett, Acetaldehyde, acetic acid, and tertiary umami development) create the illusion of fruit, which then intensifies with age.
Empirically, older Musars tend to be more intense / powerful than younger Musars, which is why we usually taste them in reverse-chronological order.
I’d add '99 here - a very powerful vintage upon release, now maybe a bit subdued because it’s undergoing inflection (primary fruit dropping out, tertiary fruit still nascent).
I’d also add the '87, though I’ve only tasted it once, last year.
The '02, '05, and '07 are all still pre-inflection.
The '89 and '90 are post-inflection
Within this category, I think there is a spectrum of weight/intensity. The '91, '94, '95, '04,—and I’ll add the 1972—all seem somewhere between Bold/Powerful and Elegant/Pensive (I’ve been calling these “Classic”). By contrast, the '88, '98, '00, and '01 are all in the more Elegant / Burgundian side. All of the above except for the '04 are post-inflection. It’s worth noting that the lighter vintages like '98, '00, and '01 were past inflection at a much younger age than the '99.
Weird/Unique/Off Vintages of Musar: 1982, 1984 (a super-rare vintage), 1996, 1997, 2003
I haven’t tasted the rare '84, but I second Kirk’s observation on the '82 (I love it, but it’s weird/reductive and highly variable). I’ve tasted the '96 only twice (once with Kirk), and my impression has been that it’s in the same camp as the '94 and '95, just a bit more subdued, but I say that tentatively. I’ve only tasted the '97 once (again with Kirk) and it seemed atypical on the light/thin side. The '03 was atypically dark, muscular, almost raisinated.
One thing to keep in mind with so-called “off-vintages” is that very often they integrate and become more complex or intense with age. As Marc Hochar says, if you don’t like it now, wait 5 years.
What do you all think? I’d love to know whether this makes sense to anyone else, because for me this classification seems incredibly slippery. It’s certainly fun trying to pin it down though.
Wow! Such great replies. Many thanks. There is a great deal of information in this thread and it will take a while to digest it all. By the looks of it I like the more elegant vintages. But I have my eye on an '02…
To add to Kirk’s comment about 1984. It was the vintage that “wasn’t made” but actually was in small amounts and is super rare. Crazy good and why it wasn’t sent out for sale I have no idea. I’ve got a couple bottles of it and have had it once. IMO one of the great Musar’s.
We had a Chateau Musar tasting in Boulder Colorado last week. Marc Hochar led the tasting. We had the 1997, 2003, 2005 and 2008 rouge (~1/3 Cabernet Sauvignon, 1/3 Cinsault and 1/3 Carignane) and the 1998, 2001, 2006 and 2007 blancs (a blend of Obaideh and Merwah). For me this was a very interesting tasting. I had never had the whites before.
The 1997 had a very distinctive and bright note of mint to it that I found a bit off putting.
The 2003 seemed very mature, smooth and mellow. Marc said this was a vintage where the Carignane was more pronounced vs the other vintages.
The 2005 had a chalky nose and nice resiny, sappy quality to it. A long finish too. Marc said this was a more Cabernet dominant vintage.
The 2008 had a floral nose and a fair amount of structure to it. Marc said this was a more Cinsault dominant vintage.
I like the 2005 and 2008 a lot more than the other two. I have had several bottles over the past few years of the 2004 Musar and have enjoyed it quite a bit.
The whites grow at an altitude of ~4000 feet and are indigenous varietals. The winemaking here is more in line with a white burgundy or a bordeaux blanc with noticeable malolactic and oak.
The 1998 Blanc was for me, the only white that seemed mature. It was similar to a white burg, but different too. Hard to describe, but it was the most complete wine of this group.
The 2001 smelled a bit sulphury and oaky to me.
The 2006 was definitely seemed more mature vs the 2007 with noticeable creaminess from the malolactic fermentation.
The 2007 was just released and had a beautiful smell of acacia flowers. Became much better with air over time.
The whites to me were interesting wines, but they need to be cellared for a long time to show their best. I am at a point where I am not buying whites to hold for 20+ years.
Musar has a few prominent (and intentional) traits that would be considered faults in most New World wines:
VA-ethyl acetate (nail polish remover, acetone) - this is common in Amarone, many Italian reds, and other wines with raisination (ripe Napa Cab for example - due to bird-pecked grapes).
VA-acetic acid (balsamic vinegar notes) - Musar generally doesn’t show this while young, but it can come out with age. This is also common in other wines, including more traditional/oxidative full-bodied reds.
Oxidation / acetaldehyde (bruised apple, fig, apple skin) - This is common on older wines, but Musar tends to show notable oxidation on release due to the winemaking process.
Brettanomyces - 4-ethylphenol (dog fur) and 4-ethylguiacol (clove) - This is a hallmark for Musar, and is common in many classic styles of wine (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, all of Italy, et al.)
For me, personally, I’m not that sensitive to ethyl acetate, so I tend not to notice it. For some, it’s the most prominent aroma. I’m pretty sensitive to the other traits I mentioned, but I enjoy them in the context of Musar.
I have my theories on why each of the above is essential, but that’s a topic for another (longer) post.
@JeromeHan You should totally try Musar! If possible, try to taste a a post-inflection Musar (2001, 2000, 1998 and earlier) to get a sense of the transformation that can take place, and give it a fair amount of air (sounds aggressive, but I double-decant 8-10 hrs before drinking anything younger than the mid-1980’s). Many don’t like Musar - I guess it’s high risk, high reward.
There was a lot of unrest at that time, and I’ve been told they only got a small amount of grapes back to the winery before deciding it was too dangerous. It wasn’t commercially released until recently (as far as I know), and then only in tiny quantity.
Thanks for the notes! Your comments on the whites make a lot of sense - the '98 is post-inflection, the '07 still has it’s youthful primary fruit, and the '01 and '06 are in the middle of their transformation.
Serge Hochar talked about this with Levi Dalton on the IDTT podcast. I believe the grapes were extremely delayed in making their way back to the winery, more so than usual, and a messy, VA-producing fermentation started in the trucks. They decided it was too off-putting to release until very recently, and generally recommend a lot of air time before drinking. I’ve heard it transforms from something noxious to something wonderful, though maybe the initial noxious state is lessening with age. It seems like recent notes describe something more traditionally Musar-like than what Serge described several years ago.
Agreed - I picked up a few bottles as well. I’m always hesitant describe a vintage as an “off” vintage. For example - @Kirk/@Doug, have you had any of the '94 recently? My last bottle (which had potentially been heat damaged from driving through Utah and CO during 100+ degree summer weather), was more expressive, and more like the '95, than any of the previous bottles. Maybe it was just a good bottle… or maybe the '94 just needed more time? I told Marc this and he laughed - he said whenever he thinks a vintage is not his favorite, he waits 5 years and his opinion is often reversed.
Rajiv, I think that experience was more about getting a good bottle than aging. The '94 is by far the most variable vintage I’ve seen because of the poor quality corks they got that year (and Kirk can comment on this further because he’s had a lot more '94 and a lot more Musar than I have). It’s very sad because the best bottle I had of '94 was a similar style to '95 and at least equal quality, possibly even slightly superior.