Yatir Winery – one of the most consistent and top wineries in Israel
We left Midbar Winery, and we drove the 3 kilometers that separate the Midbar Winery (in the outskirts of Arad) from Yatir Winery (in Tel Arad). By now most of the readers of this blog know my deep affinity for all things Yatir, and I was looking forward to tasting all the wines. We arrived a bit late and as such Eti Edri, the assistant manager, was holding down the fort and keeping the guests from Finland happy as we showed up a few minutes behind the time. Thankfully, we caught up with the crowd and we were able to watch Eran Goldwasser in action.
Say the name Eran Goldwasser and I cannot help but remember how the late Daniel Rogov called him one of the very the top winemakers in Israel. The winery is state of the art, it was state of the art in 2002 and it continues to add to its technology. The picture to the left shows the immaculate state of the tank room where the wine must/juice goes into after being crushed outside and pumped into the tanks. When the red wines have gone through the desired fermentation the wine is pressed with the press you see behind Eran. For whites they are either pressed immediately and then left to lie on their lees in barrel or in the tanks themselves.
Eran than took us around the barrel rooms where he explained the time the wines stay in the barrel before being bottled. Depending on the wine – it may stay longer of shorter and than finds its way to the glass entombment that keeps the wine fresh until it graces your table.
If you look at the success of this winery it is clear why Carmel winery built this edifice to the wine gods and why they continue to fund it. The vineyards that are sourced to make the wine are high above Tel Arad, in a forest called Yatir Forest. The forest was the brain child of the late Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister and one of the founders of Israel. Many scientists, according to lore, told him that it could not be done, that a forest could not be grown in the arid air and ground of Arad, in and around desert land. In classic Ben Gurion style, his response was, great than lets change the scientists! The result is the amazing Yatir Forest for which the winery is named and for which the flagship wine is named.
The vineyard was planted in 1997 and the inaugural vintage was the 2001 vintage. Initially, the winery pumped out two wines, an Australian blend (Bordeaux grapes and Shiraz) along with a more high-end Bordeaux blend the Yatir Forest. The Yatir blend in some ways has now taken a more secondary importance to the newer wines. In 2004 Yatir released their first white wine – the Yatir Sauvignon Blanc. In 2005 the Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz were released. In 2007 they released a lovely Viognier. Then in 2008 they released a new label again – the Petite Verdot which was killer! All the while, they continue to pump out the Forest and the blend and each of the varietal wines as well.
The winery’s vineyards are cut up into five sections, which has grown as the winery and its success has grown. The roughly 100 acres of vines have a maximum altitude of 900 meters and in the hot arid heat here in the southern tip of the Judean Hills, every meter counts. The Negev may well be in eye sight, but the region is without doubt the Judean Hills and it is for that reason that the winery chose to use the lion (the symbol of Judea) as its company logo. I am not sure if you caught this video of the Robert Mondovi Of Israeli Wine – Adam Montefiore and his interview with Erin Burnett, one of the anchors on the CNBC network – who happens to have a thing for all things camel!
Well ignoring Erin Burnett taking issue with Montefiore’s use of the term pest – what exactly do these animals do to the vine? Simply said – the crush it, munch it, and toss it about as we would a bowl of salad. Not quite the kind of thing that makes for a profitable and sustainable winery! So, to handle these pests that may sound exotic, Carmel uses the same technology that has ben used for hundreds or thousands of years to keep out pests – fences. However, these fences had better work – really well! If even one camel breaches the perimeter, we are not talking about a few vines that a deer could consume or injure for a year; we are talking about hundreds of vines. These animals are voracious eaters and could lay waste to an average sized vineyard in a matter of hours! We are talking about permanent damage – not the damage of the buds for a year, but the damage of total destruction. This is the same damage control that Yarden and others have to keep a vigilant eye out for from wild boar in the north and the same pest that wineries in the Shomron are ever concerned about. While the boar is no small problem, literally and figuratively, the camel is a far greater one for Yatir and the surrounding vineyards and orchards of the south.
The five vineyards, spread across roughly 100 acres, are currently planted with the usual suspects, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Malbec, Carignan, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Viognier, and an unusual varietal new-comer Tannat.
With the tour being complete we found our way to the great room in the winery where a royal long table is surrounded by chairs and wines that are available for purchase in the winery.
The tasting consisted of all the wines being sold by Yatir and was attending by Eran Goldwasser, who opened and poured the wine, my nephew, and myself, and by the clan of Finland fans who routinely buy Yatir wines in Israel. Turns out that this group of wine lovers from Finland has a very close affinity to the winery. They were shown the wine by a wine merchant in Tel Aviv, which is close to where the group of guys hang out when staying in Israel. When I explained to them that this event was not like all the other events they may have attended, by the fact that Eran was present throughout and that all the wines were on the table, they commented back that they routinely buy the wines and bring them back to Finland. It was at this point that they asked – why are they required to schlep the bottles to Finland – why are Yatir wines not available in their homeland? Actually they said there is little to no Israeli wines in Finland other than some not-so-enjoyable wines.
It was at that point that I stated to Eran and later the next week to Adam when we met at Carmel winery, that Yatir is one of the wineries that can demand a higher price as they have higher quality wines. In hindsight what I can say about Yatir winery is that they are the most consistent top-level winery in Israel. There may be better wines out there from some wineries, like say Yarden Rom, Katzrin, and some El-Rom wines. However, there is no other winery in Israel that I know of, that consistently does not miss and one that deserves the high prices that Yatir wines command.
My clear feelings aside, the Yatir winery has received accolades from critics such as Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, and the Wine Enthusiast. They were one of a handful of wineries in Israel that scored 5 stars with Daniel Rogov; from almost the first year he covered them till his passing. A fair amount of the credit goes to Eran Goldwasser, the fore mentioned head winemaker of the winery. Clearly much of the wine making and blend decisions are to his credit. He was one of the first to bring his Adelaide university training and Australian traits to the Israeli market. He worked for many wineries before joining Yatir winery from its very beginning. This was no small investment that Carmel put into Yatir, it was clear from the first time I entered the winery that this was one of those very special places in Israel. To be given the keys to this very expensive sports car – was quite an achievement for Eran, but as he showed over and over again at the table and during the entire visit his deep and honest humility is what separates him from his many peers, who at times show ego-maniacal tendencies, while some shockingly have far less skill to humility.
Still, all wine starts in the vineyard and that is under the purview of Ya’acov Ben Dor, the general manager of the winery, and one of the men who were instrumental in planting the initial vineyards in the Yatir Forest in 1997. The trait of humility seems to be a prerequisite to working at this wonderful oasis in the edge of the desert.
As my mind returns to the tasting, I missed the wonderful 2010 Sauvignon Blanc – that was on me. However, some of the other wines were out of my reach, because I do not drink Shmitta wines. So, I was forced to take in the redolence of the lovely wines and dream of better days when I can smell and taste all the wines I hold. I tasted through the rest of the wines and they were all wonderful wines, no losers and no slackers. Only sold A- or higher wines. I was just talking with a friend of mine, who makes wine in California, and who is not Benyamin Cantz, and he what were the asked the top wineries in Israel? That list I rattled off is a death wish, if it comes from me, but I have no qualm saying Yatir is on that list – very much towards the top. I really hope the guy-trip Yatir fans from Finland truly understood the special treatment they were so deservedly privy to. The whole table showed the proper respect for the man who made these wonderful creations and were a great group of guys, who love wine, especially Yatir wine!
I must say many thanks to Eran Goldwasser, Eti Edri, and the rest of the Yatir Winery clan, along with our wonderful table buddies from Finland, and finally to the (living) Robert Mondovi of Israel, Adam Montefiore – my wines notes follow below:
2010 Yatir Viognier – Score: A-
As I have stated a few times now, this is definitely one of the top Viognier in Israel, but none touch the Midbar Viognier. Still, a wonderful Viognier from grapes sourced from their vineyards in the Yatir Forest. The nose starts off with classical Viognier green notes, peach, a huge and lovely perfume of honey joy, honeydew, along with crushed flower petals, and dried apricot. The mouth on this medium to full bodied Viognier wine explodes with rich layers of fruit, honey, mango, guava, green and yellow apple, all wrapped inside an oily and rich textured wine that is layered and rich, with good balancing acidity. The finish is long and mineral based, with bushels of summer fruit, awesome lemon/lime curd, with a touch of bitterness and herb on the long rise.
2008 Yatir Blend and 2008 Yatir Shiraz – Skipped for Shmitta
2009 Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: A-
This was the fifth wine and I had only tasted one wine so far – AHH! Well, I was well rewarded fro my patience with a Cabernet Sauvignon that is rich and elegant – classic Yatir control. The wine is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec, and 7% Cabernet Franc. The nose is classically European with lovely green notes, rich blackberry, black cherry, perfumed nose of dark fruit, intoxicating and elegant, dried fruit, and licorice. The mouth on this full-bodied beast is rich, layered, and concentrated with fruit that is unctuous and crazy extracted, with loads of raspberry, cassis, crushed herb, and cedar notes, melding with massive mouth coating and no yet integrated tannin – what a mouth! The finish is long and spicy with cinnamon, cloves, chocolate, tobacco, and rich leather with nice green notes and a hint of bitter herb and mineral on the finish.
2009 Yatir Petite Verdot – Score: A- to A
This wine is a blend of 85% Petite Verdot and 15% Merlot. Now with that taken care of WOW! What a wine! The nose on this wine explodes with a crazy perfumed nose of floral notes, mineral, heaps of herb, black cherry, plum, and roasted espresso coffee. The mouth is so unique it really must be enjoyed to be believed, with layers of rich, ripe, and concentrated fruit, mouth drying tannin, lanolin, blackcurrant, all wrapped up in layers of big aggressive mouth drying tannin, that melds perfectly with the wine’s heft and balance, all focused by sweet cedar, and a potpourri of flowers. The finish is long and spicy, with crazy tannin, chocolate, tobacco, graphite, floral notes that keep on giving, dark kirsch cherry, and crushed herb – WOW. It is a real shame that this wine is not sold in the USA.
2009 Yatir Forest – Score: A- to A (or more)
WOW! This may be the clear winner of the lovely portfolio, but that is still like saying this is the best all-star at the all-star competition, clearly all the Yatir wines are stars. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, and Malbec. This wine takes the fruit to the edge but stays controlled and elegant, well as elegant as a sledgehammer can be anyway! The wine is insane and layered with what can only be called a red perfumed glimpse at the Garden of Eden! The nose is rich, perfumed, and redolent with big black cherry, dried cherry, blackberry, plum, herb galore, mint, lovely green notes, graphite, and dried cranberry. The mouth is insanely rich and layered, with concentrated big black fruit, blackberry, cassis, all wrapped up in mouth coating and rich tannin, along with sweet cedar. This is a truly an opulent mouth with layers and layers of fruit that take your breath away. The finish is long and rich with tobacco, mineral, graphite, chalky notes, sweet herb, and a hint of bittersweet herb. This is another great example Israel showing its hot stuff without reverting to poor fruit management – where all you taste are date and raisin. This wine is controlled, showing clear sweet and ripe fruit, but also great finesse, and vineyard management to keep this beast of a wine under control while still truly enchanting and captivating – BRAVO!!!
Posted on January 30, 2013, in Israel, Israeli Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher White Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting, Winery Visit and tagged Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, Viognier, Yatir Forest, Yatir Winery. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.