Israeli wine in snowy Berlin: some nice ones!

Just about to post notes on Burgundy 2009 and – for some early pre malolactic samples – 2010. But before this, an Israeli intermezzo, brought to you from snowy Berlin. On 2 December 2010 at the famous Berlin wine bar Rutz Weinbar, thanks to Martin Zwick who invited me there to taste some top wines from Israel, which has been getting much press in recent years. This was my first time tasting these wines, many thanks to Hohey Salzman of ZAG Wines, who has been representing these vineyards in the German market. Many thanks also to Yael Gai of the celebrated Yarden Golan Heights Winery, who gave me a copy of Daniel Rogov’s very readable and useful Guide to Israeli Wines. In that guide, you can read that 2008 is a fine vintage, while 2007 and 2006 are not quite as good. That general outlook made sense when I tasted in Berlin but some exceptions to the rule. In any case, once again, just because wines are made in a generally hotter climate (of course there are microclimates and higher elevations in certain parts of Israel) does not mean that vintage character is lost. It just is not as pronounced as in, say, Burgundy! Here goes, reds tasted before the whites.


The Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005, with 90% Cabernet, 6% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, clocks in at 14.5% alcohol. It is good if unexciting. Certainly has varietal character. Far better is the Cabernet Franc 2007, with 85% Cab Franc and the rest Merlot. It is agreeable and fresher, and even though it has more alcohol, I feel it less. The upscale Black Tulip 2005, with 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot, did not excite me as much. Finally, the White Tulip 2009 with 70% Gewurztraminer and 30% Sauvignon Blanc, was a bit of a caricature. Very varietal in nature, lacking the subtlety of the finer Gewurztraminers I love in Alsace, such as the Albert Mann Vieilles Vignes Furstentum Grand Cru 2002 I had the other night. But I suppose this is OK; call me Alsace biased ;-).


The ‘entry level’ wine Blend des Noirs Tag Katom 2008 I liked most. With 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 25% Grenache, a New World 15% alcohol blend that works for its purpose: chocolate like flavors, pleasing fruit, ok nose, perhaps just a bit of heat but the chutzpa is there. I was not that impressed with the higher end Fringe Pro 2007 (blend of Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Grenache) which was a bit too overdone for me, with what seemed to be also some funk. Better was the Fringe Full Wine 2008, a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Syrah, although this too seemed to be un peu maquillé, with some drying tannins, but overall better.


The Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, at 100% and just under 14% alcohol, seemed to lack full phenolic maturity, and so did the Alma 2008, which blends almost equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a bit of Cabernet Franc, although the Alma is better, with better sap. Their best wine to my mind is the Dalton Reserve Shiraz 2007, made from an Australian clone, but with 5% Viognier, inspired by Cote Rotie bien sur. Very nice nose, fruit and intensity, good palate albeit just slightly drying tannins on the finish. Excellent job with their Canaan White 2008, this mix of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat is a fun and easy going white, very well made.


I particularly liked the quality of the wines from this producer. The basic Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 was fresh and full bodied, a good integration of alcohol at 15% although just a bit drying on the finish. The Shiraz-Cabernet 2006 is at least as good although shows nary a hint of typicity: 10 months in US oak, with an even more fruit forward character and almost sweet on the palate. Not oriented towards finesse but certainly flattering! Their best came from Yiron 2006, dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (62%) with just over 30% Merlot and the rest Syrah. Aged 16 months in French oak, this shows a fine nose, far more complex, with ashes coming perhaps from the Cabernet and a meatiness from the Syrah. A bit reduced, it needed time in glass – about 30 minutes – and it was delicious. Excellent. The Viognier 2008 is also very nice, the 15% very well integrated, but could it use just a bit less new oak?


A legendary producer. The Mount Hermon Red 2009 was a very pleasant mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Syrah, at 14.5% alcohol, this goes down smooth and exudes fruity flavor. Nicely done! Although the Syrah 2005 showed a hint of nail polish reduction, that blew off. This wine is 14.5% alcohol and was aged 18 months aged in oak of which 25% is new. I like the peppery aspect here, shows good varietal character in a New World sense. A pleasure. More character is to be found in the Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. Aged for the same time, but I found more substance to this wine, more character. Very nicely made, but is there just a bit of heat on the finish? Three cheers for the Chardonnay 2007, which does not taste like it has 14.5% alcohol. It is fresh and agreeable, a very well made wine.


Their Cabernet Franc 2007 was my favorite, almost all Franc but with 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. I found it very pleasant to drink, somewhat warm but rather sexy, too. Although a higher end wine, their Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 I found much more austere, not very giving. Give it time? Finally, their higher end Enigma 2007, a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc and 17% Merlot was just OK for me; I found a bit of funk which detracted.

I did not get a chance to taste the Vitkin wines, unfortunately, but look forward to trying more Israeli wines, perhaps when I return to the US.

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