25 Years in 25 Wines: 1999 – ’66 Chateau Musar
I knew that the most memorable wine of 1999 was a Chateau Musar but could not remember the vintage. The host of the dinner reminded me it was, in fact, the 1966. Considering that is my birth year…well, enough said, an ironic reminder that my memory may be on the fritz.
Anyway, in August 1999, my friends, Rich Schlackman and Evie Talmus had a few folks up for a casual dinner to a house they rented for the month in Sonoma. Among the guests, of who I can recall, were Jeanine Burke, Paul Costigan, Joe Billman, Dave Wallack and Jake Schlackman, who was nine years old at the time. The only wine I remember from that night is the ’66 Musar, a testament not only to its glory but also to the amount we drank. Everyone with the exception of Paul, who lived nearby, crashed out on one of the couches. I didn’t head back to the city until the next evening.
Seventeen years later, this dinner has become an annual event with 60 guests, plus or minus. Rich’s colleagues in the political consulting world overtook the wine industry types by the second year. They want to talk wine with me and I want to talk politics with them.
Rich decides on the theme though there have been years when he has been texted en masse during the dinner with suggestions for the next one. A few of the original people from the early days have moved away but still try to make it when they can. Others fly in from as far away as Melbourne.
Anyway, several years after the first dinner, Rich had a small Musar dinner at his house in San Francisco, which was epic. Musar, the grand cru of the Middle East, can age as well as a first growth Bordeaux. I wrote about it after the proprietor and winemaker, Serge Hochar, tragically died last year.
Even if it were not from Lebanon, Musar would still garner a lot of acclaim. I think about the first time I noticed it at Astor when it was relegated to the shelves in the back of the store, sandwiched between Yarden from Israel and Privat from Romania, near the jug wines. Hardly anyone knew what it was back then, other than the staff, and as it was the only Lebanese wine, there was no other place for it to live.
I bought the ’87 for Hayes & Vine in ’94, and then the ’89, too. Occasionally, we’d pour them for something like $15 a glass. While they had more age than other wines and were delicious, I’ve since realized that they had way more time to go.
I’ve been fortunate enough to try a lot of Musar over the years and there is nothing like it. The closest comparison would be maybe some of the older wines from northern Piedmont in that the acidity is key to its ageability. This is true of all wines but with Bordeaux and Brunello the tannins seem to play a bigger part. An old Musar, like an old Spanna, can still have piercing acidity, which in turn, helps preserve the finish. It is the one wine I know that everyone will forgive for volatile acidity, probably because it has so many other things going on. It is rustic but refined and has the soul of an area that has been at the crossroads of religious strife.
The ’66 Musar we tried that night was stellar. I’ve had other vintages that I’ve enjoyed as much but what makes a wine memorable is not just the wine itself but the circumstances surrounding it and on both accounts, it hit the mark and I have no doubt inspired many wine dinners and tastings for all who were there that weekend in 1999.