Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Israeli Wines

I have enjoyed Israeli wine immensely during my 4 months here.  Every week I would buy a bottle of wine for Shabbat and review it in the blog.  These are those reviews all in one place with a few adjustment.

I can't believe how far Israel has come in the last decade.  The days of Manischewitz/Magen David syrupy sweet wine which we associate with Judaism are long gone here.  Today, many of Israel's wines rival Napa Valley's, and in terms of Kosher wine, very few can compete.

Covenant, Hagafen, and B.R. Cohn are the only American wines which can rival Israel's, but the amount of brands and varietals in Kosher wine is unparalleled here.  In addition, most of the Israeli wines are not "mevushal," a process similar to flash pasteurization, which renders it fit to be poured by anyone, Jewish or non Jewish in order to remain Kosher.  This means it is relatively easier, in a way, to make good wine here.  The climate is ideal, like in the Napa Valley, with the right combination of sun exposure, rainfall, wind exposure, humidity (or lack thereof), and temperature.

My wine reviews are strictly amateurish.  I know enough to be dangerous, but that's about it.  For the real deal on Israeli wines see Daniel Rogov's wine blog.  Here is simply what I enjoyed, with its heavy emphasis on Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bordeaux style blends.

Yatir Shiraz 2007
Their very best wine is the Forest Blend with the red seal.  I did not end up buying one of these expensive bottles, but tasted someone else's (thanks TBA!). I probably liked the Shiraz even better, because the Forest Blend needs a year or three of aging in the bottle.  As for this one, simply yummy.  Smooth, blackberry, plum-like flavor with very mild spice.  This is a lesser known Israeli wine from the Judean Hills outside of Jerusalem, and it costs a little more, but you can get it from kosher wine websites in America.  It was a 93-94, probably my favorite wine in Israel.
Yatir 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
We did a ton of wine tasting the week we opened this bottle up in the Northern part of Israel. Most were good but not amazing. But on Shabbat we opened a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Yatir, which is my favorite brand in Israel.  Pure, rich, oaky Cabernet, about a 93.  The wine comes from the Negev, believe it or not, but specifically from the Yatir Forest, which has a very high elevation.  I've got to find a way to get some of this brand when I'm back in the U.S.

Barkan 2007 Reserve Shiraz.
It was very, very good, like a 92 or so on the scale.  I have had Barkan wines before.  As one of the first non Manischewitz style Kosher wines, they have been readily available in America for quite some time, but in the past, I could really only call them good for Kosher wine.  They have really improved in recent years, however, and this Reserve wine was very good.  Great body, smooth flavor, but with good Oak and Cherry overtones, almost Cabernet like.  I was very impressed.  It's definitely the best one I have had yet here.    

2008 Psagot Shiraz.  
This was not a winery with which I was familiar, as it is not widely available outside of Israel (though their website says it is sold in the United States).  This was a 91.  I liked it almost as much as the Barkan Reserve.  Its color was especially beautiful--like a perfect plum.  It was smooth and rich with very soft tannins.  It is made in the Jerusalem Hills, and Karen remarked that this was her favorite so far.

Castel 2007 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin
The first is a 2007 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin.  It is supposed to be the best wine in Israel.  It is a heavy red blend similar to a French Bordeaux, made up mostly of Cabernet, but also with small amounts of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cab Franc, and Malbec.  It was quite complex, hard to identify individual flavors within it, but very good.  A few others have suited my tastebuds even better, but the high quality is immediately apparent.  90.
Adir 2009 Shiraz
I had tasted this one at the winery itself so I knew it was good.  89 good, because it could use some aging.  Great spice flavor but not enough wood age for a 90. 


Carmel 2007 Limited Edition

This is one of the top rated wines in Israel, a Bordeaux style blend from Carmel (not your Grandfather's sweet wine).  It was a very good wine with a smoky flavor.  Daniel Rogov gives it a 93, though I give it only an 89 (which is still very high).  The quality was there, and I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure I'm in love with the unique smoky flavor that infuses this wine.

Naaman 2008 Cabernet Franc
This week's wine was one of the ones I tasted during the wine trip and bought, a 2008 Cabernet Franc from Na'aman Winery.  That's the one by the former filmmaker who names many of his wines after rock groups and songs.  This was a big, bold wine, though without too much wood flavor despite a fairly lengthy French Oak aging process.  I think the grape's flavor was so powerful that it over shadows the oak.  That's not necessarily a bad thing at all.  In the movie Sideways, Miles doesn't like what most American wineries are doing with the Cabernet Franc.  Rami Na'aman is doing something very right with it, though.  88 points.

Galil Mountain 2008 Shiraz
With the Seder and Shabbat this week, we had two more Shiraz' to try.  The first was a 2008 from Galil Mountain Winery.  It was very similar to the Dalton Shiraz.  It was full bodied with great spice to it and "berry"ish in flavor.  I'd give it an 89. Later in the trip, when my brother and I did some wine tasting up north, we discovered that they had great Bordeaux blends as well.
                                  Galil Mountain Shiraz Cabernet

Dalton 2007 Reserve Cabernet.  
Karen didn't like it (thought it burned), but I thought it was quite smooth and well balanced  We had the chance to visit the winery with the congregational trip, and this was much better than most of the wines we tasted there.  88.
                                                                            Dalton Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve \'07.

2009 Dalton Shiraz
This was the very first wine I tried while in Israel.  it was the 2009 Dalton Shiraz from the Galilee Region (where most Israeli wines are made).  I give it an 87.  It was good, reasonably smooth and spicy at the same time with hints of raspberry and a good balance of tannin.  Later in the trip we got to visit this winery with the congregation.

Yarden Syrah 2007                                                           
Yarden is widely available in the U.S., and is the top of the line brand of the Golan Heights Winery.  This one was smooth and drinkable, with a very pure Shiraz taste.  Very good, but not amazing, similar to the Dalton and Galil Mountain Shiraz'.  87


Recanati Reserve Shiraz
This was about an 83.  It was a little too sweet and a little too grainy for my tastes.  It actually tasted better the next night after some time in the refrigerator, which is unusual.  Still, you could tell it was relatively high quality, just not quite perfect for my taste buds nor as good as the Yatir, Psagot and Barkan Reserve Shiraz'.

2008 Recanati Cabernet
Only about a 73.  Pretty good black cherry flavor, but it had a hint of carbonation in it and not enough balance of wood, which I prefer in a Cabernet.  May just need to age a little more, but not one of the better wines I've had here.  They have a reserve line which is probably a lot better.

Tzuba 2008 Shiraz
(Tzuba Winery Story), which is in the Judean Hills West of Jerusalem.  All the other wines so far have come from the Galilee Region, where the majority of Israel's wines are grown and bottled.  It is made on a Kibbutz where they have found the remains of 3000 year old wine presses.  They are not in use today, but the idea that this wine is made in the same place that our ancestors were making wine is a spiritual experience in itself,
The actual wine was not quite as cool as the idea.  It was full-bodied, which I liked, and it was even flavorful (think /black cherryish with a little pepper), but it was a bit syrupy, almost like a Port Wine, and I am not a fan of port wine,  The alcohol content seemed a bit higher than usual, as Karen reported feeling tipsy after just a couple of sips and wanted to go to sleep immediately.  68

2009 Teva Shiraz 
This wine is made by the Benyamina Winery, also located in the Galilee.   It was not good.  2009 is too young, but this one doesn't need mellowing with age.  It's just way too watery.  It had a decent flavor, similar to the others, but no body.  It was kind of like wine flavored water.  To be fair, this is the lower end offshoot of the Benyamina winery, and sometimes, you get what you pay for.  I give it a 60.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see you made good use of your four months in Israel and got to taste a nice range of good Israeli wines. Hopefully they whetted your appetite for more on either your next visit or stateside by exploring the wide range of Israeli wines available.

    I would note that in addition to the US wineries you listed, there are others making spectacular wines in California including Four Gates Winery, Brobdignagian (run by Covenant's assistant wine maker) and Shira Wine that produces an amazing Syrah. Of course, Herzog winery also produces some top notch wines!