The Story of a Wine Icon

Lebanon’s Château Musar is held in a particular blend of affection and high esteem by so many wine lovers. Their excellent wines, particularly the red estate wine, simply known as Château Musar, is a wonderfully refined and always delicious fine wine, with an extraordinary capacity to age and a distinctive style all of its own. What’s more, when placed against the best wines of Bordeaux, to which it is often compared, it offers remarkable value for money. Quality, price and longevity make it a staple of many collectors’ cellars.

But it is the romance of Musar’s story that adds enormously to the fascination. Founded in 1930 by Gaston Hochar in the 17th century Mzar castle in Ghazir, it became a commercial business when Gaston met Ronald Barton of Bordeaux’s Château Langoa-Barton in 1941, during World War II. And war has continued to be part of the Musar story, as Serge Hochar would say, “in Lebanon, difficulties are our habit. We are addicted to difficulties!” He and the Hochar family continued to make wines regardless of the bombing and shelling suffered by Lebanon through many years of bloody conflict.

Some criticise Musar’s wines, but that is failing to understand these idiosyncratic wines, where a certain Sauvage quality to the aromas and flavours is the essence of the exotic, spicy, other-worldly fascination of Musar when properly aged and drunk in perfect condition. It’s another part of the fascination for one of the world’s most loved and respected wine estates, that enduring fascination leading to global coverage, including my own report from a visit to Lebanon and Musar several years ago.

The Story of a Wine Icon

A new book, released by the Académie du Vin Library, is a celebration of this iconic estate, dedicated to Serge Hochar who died in an accident in 2014. It’s a fully illustrated book running to over 200 pages that brings the history of Musar, the Hochar family and, indeed, Lebanese wine to life. The edition has coffee-table plushness and style, but the content and depth is that of a high-quality text-book with many contributions from wine world figures who knew Serge and know the wines well, plus a full set of tastings notes for vintages from 1954 to 2013 by Jancis Robinson, Michael Broadbent and others. Published by Steven Spurrier’s Academie du Vin Library, the book is priced at £30 and is available from

The Wine

I have also recently tasted the latest red wine from Musar, another superb wine that continues the legacy of Serge and previous generations.

(2020) Musar famously releases it's wines only when they think they are ready to drink, typically seven years after vintage. So this is the latest release at time of review, a blend of Cinsault, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon from very old vines grown at over 1,000 metres altitude in the Bekaa Valley. It seems to me to be an outstanding Musar, filled with gently lifted aromatics of kirsch and blackcurrant, all framed by a graphite and cedar notes of  serious, savoury and Bordeaux-like character. In the mouth the sweet, ripe fruit is enveloping, but the wine has such fabulous concentration and supple, firm structure at its core, all polished tannins and gastronomic acid-balance, the pure, sweet fruit persisting to the elegant, very long finish. A wonderfully impressive young Musar this, irresistable now, but capable of substantial cellaring too, Musar tending to transition from something like Bordeaux, to something closer to Burgundy, over decades.

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