War and wine have had a long and uncomfortable co-existence with France's most famous wine regions plundered during World War II and other regions, such as Alsace, having changed its borders from German to French at the end of World War I, along with Italy's Sudtirol (South Tyrol), which was part of Austria prior to World War 1, to name but a few of the many examples.
The landscape is changing again, this time further east where things are looking heartbreakingly unsettled. Despite which, wine continues to be produced in active war zones, one of the most famous being the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, home to Chateau Musar. That country and winery continuously produce a steady stream of impressive wines, particularly maverick reds, made from unconventional blends that taste every bit the combination of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern. The delicious flavour has a bitter sweet twist along with a commanding and impressive structure that, despite the following example being called 'Jeune' (young), it positively asks to be cellared and aged for enjoyment in the future, hopefully when the world is a calmer place. We can but live in hope.
Here are my four top wines of a far longer list tasted over the past week.
Wines of the week
2020 Chateau Musar Hocher Jeune RRP $43.99
Musar Jeune has all the decadence of Middle Eastern flavours of dried figs and ripe plums with layers of spice from its unconventional blend of red grapes. The trio in this blend are Cinsault and Syrah from the sunny Mediterranean south of France and Cabernet Sauvignon from the maritime south west. The Hochar family, which owns Chateau Musar, has a long affiliation with France and continues to make great wines in its high altitude location in Lebanon today.
2022 Big Sky Te Muna Pinot Noir RRP $39.99
The 2022 Big Sky Pinot Noir is fresh out of the winery and is approachably good drinking now with layers of cherry, red plum, savoury, earthy flavours of dried mushrooms and a light hint of oak on the nose. This is a beautiful wine from a tricky vintage in Martinborough and shows that good viticulture and winemaking can express a great wine region, despite the difficulties that Mother Nature sometimes provides. Good drinking now and over the next three to four years.
Mumm Central Otago RRP $60
Toasty, dry and intensely savoury, this new sparkling wine comes from Central Otago, where Pinot Noir rules the vineyard roost with 80% of the region's grapes. This wine reflects that as it is a blanc de noirs, which means it is 100% Pinot Noir, with no skin contact, hence it is a white sparkling wine), made in collaboration with Champagne Mumm and Pernod Ricard chief winemaker Jamie Markell.
2016 Taylors The Pioneer Clare Valley Shiraz RRP $200
Here is a wine that is starting to reveal layers of black olive and black dark fruit characters with savoury layers that I associate with tertiary development from ageing. A soft, rounded, smooth Shiraz with great structure that begs to be decanted now or stashed in the cellar to enjoy in 20 years' time. I tasted this great wine with winemaker Adam Eggins and Justin Taylor of Taylors Wines at an impressive online tasting this year. More to come on the new Taylors range.