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Château Musar

Château Musar has heritage. Grapevines have been cultivated in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley for over 6000 years and the Hochar family arrived in the region in the twelfth century, although it wasn't until 1930 that Gaston Hochar began making wine, inspired by his travels to Bordeaux and by the long history of winemaking in his homeland.

Musar's winery is housed in the family's 18th century castle at Ghazir, overlooking the Mediterranean, some 25km north of Beirut, but unusually it is over two and a half hours away by car from its vineyards in the Bekaa Valley. The reason for this distance between the two is that when Gaston founded the winery, Lebanon's boundaries had not been set and he wished to ensure that some, if not all, of his estate would be within his newly demarcated country. The name of the site of this castle is M'zar - meaning "a place of extraordinary beauty" in Arabic - and Gaston Hochar adopted this for his new project.

It was Gaston's sons, Ronald and Serge Hochar, who elevated the estate to its current lofty heights. After taking the winemaking reins in 1959, Serge spent eighteen years perfecting the blend for the Château Musar red wine, and his love and dedication to his craft meant that wine was made even during Lebanon’s civil war – with only one exception in 1976, when the shelling was just too heavy to get the grapes to the winery.

Of a similar size to Wales, Lebanon lies at the eastern end of the Mediterranean and it is bordered by Syria to the north and east, and by Israel to the south. The Bekaa Valley sits between the Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges and, although it is further south than any part of Spain or Italy, the high altitude of the vineyards and the calcareous, gravel and stone soils are ideal for producing top quality grapes with almost no human intervention.

Wine lovers fortunate enough to have tasted the wines of Château Musar usually fall into one of two camps: those who are passionate lovers of these inimitable expressions of place and grape, or those who are just plain baffled as to what all of the fuss is about. The perplexion of this second group is understandable as these wines are unique in numerous ways. Unlike any other wine, as it ages red Château Musar might at various points resemble the wine of Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Rhône, and the style of the wine is so far removed from the more commercial, dare we say anodyne, wines all too prevalent today that the uninitiated can easily be forgiven for not knowing what to make of it.

Don't let this put you off. These are well-structured but beguiling wines, rustic and gamey yet perfumed with ripe fruit and exotic spice, and as happy to be paired with the incredible flavours of Lebanese cuisine as they are when served alongside roast beef with all of its trimmings.

Château Musar red is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan, each of which is fermented separately in cement vats before spending around 12 months in predominantly old French oak barriques, before being blended and bottled in the third year after the harvest. This final blend is aged for a further three to four years and is only released when it reaches the age of seven. Château Musar white is made from the ancient native grape varieties Obaideh and Merwah, each of which is fermented and aged in French oak for six to nine months before blending and bottling takes place. The white Musar is then cellared for a further six years before release at seven years old. Made in the style of a rose Champagne, the rose Château Musar is a blend of Odaideh and Merwah with the addition of approximately 5% of Cinsault to provide its delicate hue. It is produced in the same manner as the white Musar, although the rose only ages for two years in bottle before release. All three colours of Château Musar are wines made naturally, by instinct, and all three share an unexpected ability not only to age but to develop and become even more enjoyable with time.

It seems that there can be little better legacy than that left by Serge Hochar since his tragic and untimely passing, both philosophically in the way that he led his life, in the way that he made his wines and in the joy that he brought - and will continue to bring - to so many; and physically in the sublime wines that he has left us and in the estate that will continue to uphold the ideals he held so dear.

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