We're often asked, "What's your favorite wine?"
Not a fair question, really. So much to choose from.
If pressed, however, our favorite red wine comes from Chateau Musar in Lebanon.
The wine is sumptuous... the ultimate lamb wine.
Musar is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan, grapes cultivated by the family in their Bekaa Valley vineyard.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the youngest and perhaps the world's favorite Bordeaux grape. Cinsault and Carignan, however, are not Bordeaux grapes; they're from the warmer Mediterranean climate of the Rhône Valley.
Musar's red blend tastes like it ought to cost hundreds of dollars. Instead it rings in at around $50-60 in the United States, in the year of its release.
On the palate it boasts bright fruit notes and acidity, with considerable structure and an earthy, spicy darkness expected in the best European wines. The finish goes on for days.
Musar wines can be aged almost endlessly, and the winery keeps library bottles dating back over 75 years. Connoisseurs report that each bottle of Musar is unique, and that each bottle ages at its own pace.
The wine is made in the face of adversity.
Musar's winemakers embrace qualities others dismiss as flaws: acidity, and XXXX
Beyond the vicissitudes of weather and climate, Musar faces mind-boggling difficulties. At harvest grape clusters are tossed into trucks that must be driven west across Lebanon to the winery, located in Ghazir (near Joni on the map below), just north of Beirut.
One year the journey took days, not hours.
The vintage was slow to respond, but respond it did. As they all do.
In a country beset with civil war and violence, where fundamentalist adherents to Islam frown upon alcohol consumption, the challenges can be monumental. The Bekaa Valley is dangerously close to Syria and is now home to thousands of refugees fleeing the forces of the Islamic State and the dictator in Damascus.
Fortunately Lebanese society is quite diverse, with many Christians and mainstream Muslims, and over the past three decades Chateau Musar has led a renaissance of Lebanese winemaking, a regional tradition stretching back 6 millennia. Where thirty years ago there were only 5 wineries, today there are more than 50.
A history marked by family, and transcendence
Gaston Hochar (pronounced HO-shar), a Lebanese native of French origin dating to the Crusades, planted his first vineyards in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley in 1930. His son Serge Hochar, trained as a winemaker in Bordeaux, assumed leadership of the operation in 1959, until his passing in 2014. His sons carry on the tradition.
One night during the 15-year Lebanese Civil War that began in 1975, Serge feared losing everything. So he sat outside amid the explosions with an expensive old bottle of Musar, knowing it might be the end.
Fortunately for us, it wasn't, and despite the war Musar missed only one vintage, and exported nearly everything, building an international following that remains fiercely loyal.