Where better to host an evening of tasting wines from the iconic yet cult vineyard Chateau Musar than at Cabotte? Named after the small huts that Burgundian winegrowers have within their vineyards, Cabotte is a sophisticated venue based almost opposite the City’s Guildhall. Its culinary emphasis is on modern French food with some knowingly British influences, while the wine bias is, unsurprisingly, distinctly Burgundian.
A recent weeknight saw a group of fellow wine aficionados make use of one of Cabotte’s private dining rooms for a wonderful tasting of 20 different wines from Chateau Musar. For those unaware, the winery is located some 25km to the north of Beirut in Lebanon where the grapes grow in the Bekaa Valley and benefit both from sun and from elevation. What makes Musar all the more remarkable is that despite its location amidst conflict, vintages have been made every year (with the exception of 1976). Production now typically reaches 20,000 cases annually, but take note, patience will be rewarded: these wines are made for ageing. This was made abundantly clear at our tasting, where the 1998 red and 1991 white, for example, had both truly stood the test of time. Take the red and the best way of describing it would be as a vinous journey across both nose and palate. Imagine taking the best of Burgundy and the best of the Northern Rhone and combining them. Voila, this is Musar 1998! There was still primary red fruit, but also cinnamon and nutmeg elements at one end of the spectrum; balsamic and black olive at the other (for the record, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Cinsault always feature in the blend, although the exact mix varies annually). Onto the white, and this was a beautiful example of how an oxidative style of wine (think sherry) can evolve gracefully. The wine showed elements of mushroom creaminess, honey, nuts and a beautiful finish reminiscent of demerara sugar. Class in a glass. Elsewhere in the Musar range the 2004 rosé showed some beautiful savoury complexity, while the more approachable (and younger) Hochar 2016 allowed the Grenache grape to sing harmoniously with redcurrant and raspberry notes.
Although the evening was largely about Musar, Cabotte really helped make it work. The private dining room was light and spacious, service was effortlessly professional and the food dishes thoughtfully chosen. My starter of raw yellow fin tuna was light yet flavoursome with the lime and ginger helping to draw out the depth of the fish. Lamb was the obvious main to pair with red Musar, even if the meat was not quite as tender as I might have liked. Full marks though for the dessert: a beautifully presented and appositely seasonal pannacotta with strawberries. Conclusions: drink more Musar and make sure that a return visit to Cabotte is booked!