Around the World in 80 Sips — Lebanon’s Chateau Musar

 

“People will dwell again in his shade; they will flourish like the grain, they will blossom like the vine– Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon,” (Hosea 14:7).

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Image: Entrance to Chateau Musar Winery, Lebanon.

The wines of Lebanon have been famed for thousands of years, as the above verse clearly illustrates. Today, the most famous winery in the nation rests in the fertile, gently rolling hills of the Bekaa Valley, and is operated by the Hochar Family, who arrived in Lebanon during the Crusades. And while most crusaders did little more than murder and plunder, the Hochars contribute to their adopted state of Lebanon their inherent French passion for wine and viticulture. Gaston Hochar opened Chateau Musar in 1930.

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Image: A map featuring Lebanon, so small that the name of the nation is abbreviated.

Sandwiched in between the ever-embattled nations of Israel and Syria, Lebanon is a tiny state about a third the size of Maryland, with the Mediterranean on her western bank. Beirut is her capital. Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, which was dissolved after The Great War, Lebanon fell under the occupation of the French, and in 1943 was granted statehood. A fifteen-year civil war, fought between 1975 and 1990, left 120,000 dead, and found Syria’s military in a state of occupation that would last until 2005.

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Image: Screenshot of New York Times daily briefing from Friday, May 13, 2016.

The Republic of Lebanon remains embroiled, and the beautiful, ancient land boasts a strange juxtaposition of serene beauty and violent outbursts. Home to the terrorist organization Hezbollah, the border between Israel and Lebanon is one that is difficult and dangerous to cross. However, as I teach in my classes, we must not define nations and cultures by their worst times, deeds, or people. Rwanda is a country, not a genocide, and the same is true with Lebanon. Though Hezbollah may be what most often makes the news, this ancient nation is rich with history, culture, and tradition.

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Image: The Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.

Lebanon, is a mountainous nation that consists of over six million people, slightly over half of whom are Muslim. Lebanon is known for rich and savory Mediterranean cuisine, with pita and other breads as a staple, and plenty of olives, hummus, chicken and red meat, often heavily herbed or in a heavy sauce. Kebabs are common, and much of the food resembles Greek and other Mediterranean offerings. Lebanon is considered a democratic republic, with an executive branch and a parliament, but takes into consideration the prominent religious populations of the tiny state, mandating that the president be a Catholic, while the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the House a Shiite Muslim.

Lebanon has a rich literary tradition, boasting famous poets, play writes, journalists, novelists, and more. Kahlil Gibran and Arsinee Khanjian are two among the hundreds of writers who have contributed great things to the world of literature from their home state of Lebanon. The nation also boasts rich traditions of unique cultural dances, music that ranges from that played on ancient lutes to modern pop radio play, and creative contemporary artists, especially painters.

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Image: Our bottle of Chateau Musar 2002

The bottle of Chateau Musar that is currently residing in my cellar was a gift from a sommelier friend for my birthday a few years back. Vintage 2002 seems pretty dramatic, but upon visiting The Winery, a wine shop in Omaha earlier today, I discovered that the current vintage of Musar is 2004. The Hochar Family clearly holds their wine back for quite some time, and the result is undeniable. We had a simple dinner tonight of goat cheese and crackers with some dry Italian salami to pair with this bottle of wine. The cork was difficult to remove, and we decanted the wine for about an hour, possibly more like 75-80 minutes. Garnet to brick in coloration, it gave off a powerful nose of stewed plums and barnyard aromas. On the palate, more of those flavors, along with dried fruits, raisings, a bit of leather, and dry earth. Though I’ve had very few of the famous French first growths, this wine was in many ways akin to what I have experienced, an incredible blend with bottle age to mellow it and six thousand years of tradition to make it as complex and interesting as it is unique. As my wife and I sat and conversed, eating our humble charcuterie and keeping an ever watchful eye on the baby monitor, I felt that these things were indeed the perfect pairing for such a gorgeous wine.

 

Lebanon is one of the last places in the world that one might think to look for wine, and yet in all reality it should be one of the first. Wine has been made in that region for more than sixty centuries, and the comparatively young Chateau Musar is producing truly world-class wines that drink far higher than their price point. A significant jaunt from whence I hail in Omaha, Nebraska, this bottle, and this nation’s rich and diverse culture, have nevertheless bumped Lebanon up significantly on my list of places to visit in the future. Perhaps I’ll see you there.

~Mark

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Image: Our dinner, complete with baby monitor and bottle of Chateau Musar.

Statistical information sourced from the CIA WorldFactbook, available at cia.gov.  For more information on Cheateau Musar, visit Chateaumusar.com.

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