I have a deep and abiding love for Château Musar, so much so that I’ll accept its myriad of idiosyncrasies any one of which would cause me to reject another wine outright. This Bordeaux inspired oddity, with its distinctive blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan, divides opinion more than any other wine I can think of. Some, like me, love its ferocious acidity and its feral flavours, whereas others criticise its volatility and its Brett infestation.
Although I have not yet really started to drink my vintages from the nineties, I have always found that the integrity of the corks in bottles of earlier vintages has been somewhat variable to say the least. Because the hardships that the Hochar family has faced, and overcome, in its desire to make one of the world’s great wines are so far beyond the usual trials of weather and vineyard disease, I can never understand why they would have chosen to seal their elixir with such moderate quality corks. I have to assume that it was the only option available during such a horrible period in Lebanese history.
As you can see, the cork in this bottle of 1988 Château Musar was a case in point. It almost looked as though the upper quarter had been attacked by the cork equivalent of woodworm, whereas the remaining section had deteriorated as a result of seepage. This bottle had the lowest level of the twelve in the case and was ullaged to its mid-shoulder. Needless to say, I didn’t have high hopes, but 1988 is my favourite vintage of Musar and I never pass up an opportunity to drink it.
Whilst Musar always needs to be decanted to allow it to open fully, I decided against it this time, despite the crust it had thrown, as the level suggested that oxygen already had had plenty of time to do its worst. The wine was a very mature looking medium brick red, and was as clear and bright as the large amount of colour compounds forming a heavy crust inside the bottle would lead you to expect. The nose showed warm, sweet spice – cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper – along with volatile red currant and pomegranate fruit and a soft earthiness. The palate was initially sweet, with an almost chocolatey/cocoa richness, that lead into fresher pomegranate fruit and cinnamon and nutmeg spice flavours. Drying out certainly – the last vestiges of cherry fruit were fading into lighter, tarter pomegranate flavours – but it was still vibrant and long with a feisty warmth from the (14%) alcohol on the finish. The usual huge Musar acidity and not insubstantial tannins were still pretty much balanced by bright red fruit.
Definitely not a great bottle, and I’ve had better examples of this vintage reasonably recently, but given the state of the cork and the degree of ullage I’m surprised that it was even drinkable, never mind worthy of writing about.