Day 3: 2004 Chateau Musar Blanc and Lies About White Wine

The author of this is post is Cory Cartwright, the creator of saignée. Feel free to call him on his bullshit.

This picture is fucking gigantic

Any writing about the wines of Lebanon should include three things as a base. Instead of trying to work them into my post i’ll just be up front with them so i can get to the wine:

1. Some variation of “they grow wine in Lebanon?” followed by a “yes, in fact Lebanon is one of the oldest wine growing regions in the entire world. Lebanon has some 5000 years of winemaking history.”

2. Some variation on the tenacity of the Lebanese wine makers during years and years of strife.

3. Mention Chateau Musar and the Hochar family.

The first one is to make sure that everyone knows that the writer isn’t talking about some up-and-coming wine region whose wines are inevitably terrible. The second one is necessary because well…wine making in Lebanon is more difficult than perhaps anywhere else on Earth. Other places have black rot and hail, Lebanon has war and a population less receptive to alcohol than most traditional wine-making regions. And the third? Most likely because the article is actually about Chateau Musar, even if only in a roundabout way.

Initially this wasn’t even on my list of wines to drink for the 31 Days. When i drank a half bottle last year i was unimpressed with what i thought at the time was a quiet, strange, oxidative, and mildly flabby white wine. Not much to recommend the wine at all. Determined to give the wine one more shot because of the love i have for their red, (it was the wine we reached for to toast my wife’s uncle who passed last year) i opened another bottle and…same thing. Flabby, closed down, shot. Until it started to warm up and then…

Before we get to the end of that, a little background on Chateau Musar. Founded in 1930 by Gaston Hochar in the Beqaa valley of Lebanon and currently run by his sons Ronald and Serge along with Gaston’s grandson, Gaston. Chateau Musar makes just two wines, a red from a blend of (depending on the year) cabernet sauvignon, cinsaut, carignan, grenache and mourvedre and a white from Lebanese varieties obaideh and merweh (they also produce lesser wines with the Hochar et Fils label). The winery employs a minimal intervention philosophy that results in the vintage and bottle variation as well as the volatile acidity in the reds/oxidative style in the whites that Musar is both famous and notorious for.

So back to the wine. Tradition has it that white wines should be served cold, dunked in an ice bath until they chatter your teeth right out of your head. By this time most wine geeks know that this is in fact a lie, and that there is a great deal of variation in how cold a white wine should be served, from chenins and white burgundies which can be a bit warmer, to cheap light vinho verde which can be as cold as you want to sauvignon blanc, which should not be served at all (that is mostly a joke). However I had never had a wine like this one, one that drank exactly like a red. the more it warmed up out of the fridge, the better it was. The closed off, flabby wine with a chill became a deep complex one at room temperature. There was notes of chardonnay mixed with the wax of chenin blanc with slight oxidative qualities, heather and mothballs co-mingling with lavender. On day two it had oxidized more, but it was not yet sherried and it displayed more citrus. It never made it day three.

This is definitely wine that exists on the edge of what wine can be. It isn’t wine for everyone (hell i’m reserving judgement on whether it is for me until another bottle comes my way) but it is certainly a wine to wake you up if you’re bored with the normal. Just make sure to drink it warm.

Follow day by day here:

Next up: A pseudo-science research foundation visits Lou’s Wine Bar in L.A.; or: Where In the World Can I find a Thai Massage and a Glass of Wine at This Hour?

~ by Cory Cartwright on June 21, 2009.

6 Responses to “Day 3: 2004 Chateau Musar Blanc and Lies About White Wine”

  1. Also happens that the merwah, that makes up about 40% of the Musar white, is produced from grapes grown on own-rooted vines…

    Wines made from ungrafted vines are a fascination for me, thanks to Keith Levenberg:

    Seems to me that ungrafted vines and natural wines are natural allies. Sorry about the pun.


  2. Wine from Lebanon. This sounds intriguing. do you think I can get this wine in SLC. I would like to try it. Not a big fan of white wine, but I will give it a go if I can get my hands on a bottle. If I can’t get it in SL, I will wait until I come to San Jose for a visit. Would be more fun to drink it with Cory anyway.

  3. They also make a lovely red for their own negociant level Hochar Pere & Fils. It can be had for $19 and is a killer value and not as severe and freakish as the Grand Vin. Nice stuff.

  4. I need to try that out, as I really dig the grand vin. The red is a love it it or hate it seems. Some people, myself included, find its strangeness appealing, others hate it.

    By the way David Harden emailed me and said “Hochar calls his whites his “first reds” and recommends they be drunked at room temp.” Interesting and i of course agree.

  5. Interesting stuff. I met some of the Hochar family at Vancouver’s Wine Festival, and the White was the talk of the room. Interestingly, they insisted folks tried all the reds first and sampled the white last, as it’s the most complex. Also they recommend drinking it out of the biggest Bordeaux glass you can find, that shit really needs to to open up! At the Wine Bar I run, we do it as a by-the glass often and people find it fascinating. The best description and most spot-on I’ve heard is that it’s like a giant oaky Chardonnay meeting a bone-dry Fino Sherry meeting a British Scrumpy Apple Cider. Love it!

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