How to Open and Serve Old Chateau Musar

We love Chateau Musar. Fabulously unique in many ways, one of its biggest attractions has historically been the steady release of old vintages at reasonable prices. But because of this, Musar is often the first old wine people try. And these bottles are delicate. They need special care and attention to get the best from them. If you're not prepared, doubt creeps in. We have seen many bottles rejected without even being tasted, and that's a terrible shame. So we've prepared this short guide to what to expect and how to handle old Musar. However experienced you are, it should help you to get the maximum enjoyment from these old bottles.

The following are the main reasons old Musar is rejected:

  1. The cork appears mouldy, soft, spongy, saturated, or has seeped a little.
  2. The cork breaks, get stuck in the neck, falls in to the bottle or crumbles on opening.
  3. The wine appears cloudy or has a large amount of sediment in it.
  4. The wine appears pale or orange in colour.

None of these indicate a fault with the wine. All are common for a Musar of significant age, and the more undesirable effects can be safely minimised through careful handling. Before we get into that, a couple of words of explanation. 

The Corks

The corks in old Chateau Musar are notoriously fragile. We source all our wine direct from the winery, where it has lain in their cool, damp cellars since bottling. It is not just the wine that has spent many years maturing in this environment, corks age too. As a result, they are often damp (even saturated), may appear mouldy, and can crumble, break, fall into or stick in the neck of the bottle. They also sometimes seep a little, especially after being transported (if you leave them undisturbed for a while, this will usually cure itself). All of this is quite normal for old Musar and no cause for alarm. But you can minimise some of the cork problems by following the steps for opening and serving old Musar described below.

The Wine

Musar is bottled unfined and unfiltered. Over time, it will throw a sediment, some of which will be heavy enough to sink, and some of which will be light enough to disperse through the wine, giving it a cloudy appearance. As red wine ages, it also fades in colour, becoming paler and more orange. Musar is a unique style of wine, and older examples taste different to younger ones. The primary fruit evolves into something more complex, with a lighter, spicier, tangier flavour. It can often take fifteen minutes or so after opening before the wine really comes alive, so do be patient if at first it seems a little closed. As Musar themselves say, 'you might detect aromas of undergrowth, earth and mould as the wine adjusts to its new environment. These facets are transient: remember that the appealing and unpleasant are part of life, the yin and the yang, so be patient.'

Opening and Serving

So how do you get the best from an old bottle of Chateau Musar?

  1. Allow the wine time to settle down, especially after transportation. Remove the foil capsule and stand it upright undisturbed, ideally overnight. This will allow any sediment to sink to the bottom of the bottle.
  2. Approximately half an hour before you are going to serve the wine (and keeping the bottle steady and upright) extract the cork. This is best done with a two-pronged opener (known as a butler's thief or an ah-so). Musar have produced a video with more detail on this.
  3. However careful you are, it is still quite possible that the cork will not come out cleanly. Do not panic. You can try using a combination of a small, handheld corkscrew and a butler's thief to remove as much of the cork as you can. If nothing works, you may have to push it in to the bottle.
  4. The next stage is to decant the wine into something. Ideally a wine decanter, but a jug would also do. You want to pour the wine in one movement so the sediment remains in the bottle. It should gather at the shoulder. As soon as you get near the end and see sediment begin to come out, stop. You can then discard the last bit of wine, which will be full of sediment. If you have poured the wine into a jug, you can rinse the bottle out with cold water and pour it back in (a funnel is helpful) if you wish.
  5. If there are stray bits of cork in the wine, you can use a stainless steel sieve to remove these safely.

You should now have a wine which is as clear as possible (there will always be some sediment dispersed throughout), bright, and ready to enjoy over the next few hours.