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Chateau Musar, vintages 2000 and 1998

I have attempted some 5 to 6 vertical tastings on Chateau Musar so far, and each tasting is as exciting and never disappoints. Three questions always stand in mind. First, how can they grow the grapes at 1000 metres? Second, Why is the wine so much Bordeaux in style, particularly the older ones? Last but not the beat, Why are the mutton tones so unique? So was the first producer in Lebanon to achieve organic certification for its vineyards in 2006. Most are located in the Bekaa Valley, between two mountain ranges parallel to Lebanon's Mediterranean coastline. Vines have been cultivated here for at least 6,000 years: the Phoenicians (seafaring ancestors of the modern Lebanese) were instrumental in bringing grapes and wines from Byblos across to all of the areas around the Mediterranean.

Flanked by snow-covered mountains and nestled at 1000m (3,000 feet) above sea level, the serenely beautiful Bekaa Valley is blessed with 300 days of sunshine a year, fresh mountain breezes and an average temperature of 25°C (encompassing snowy winters and hot summers). Remote and unspoilt, the Musar vineyards were 'organic' by default before the term came into vogue. All the grapes are hand-harvested by local Bedouins between August and October. In the winery, ambient yeasts do the work of fermentation. The bare minimum of sulphur is used, and the Chateau Musar Red wines are neither fined nor filtered.

Vintages 2000 and 1998 are not the most expensive ones, yet they deliver value and performance differently. The cooler 1998 has an elegant Cinsault dominance; the colour is lighter and more delicately perfumed than a typical vintage. Despite this initial impression, the wine is deceptively powerful with vibrant acidity and fresh, soft red fruit flavours and a very long, spicy finish. Vintage 2000 is vital in primary fruit, tannins and structure in great contrast. While 1998 looks relatively pale and light, this already has relatively mature, classic, sweetly cedary aromas, with smooth, graceful flavours of wheat and raise. In contrast, vintage 2000 starts to reveal the traditional Musar identity, balancing the characteristic sweet spice and dry fruit notes with more evolved elements of leather, tar, tobacco and a hint of game.


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