This weekend we enjoyed a simple meal of alcohol and brown sugar braised ribs cooked in a crockpot overnight. The ribs were lovely and only needed for the fat to be removed from the braising liquid – and magically we have a dinner. The dish was paired with some brown and black rice and a fresh green salad.
For wine we opened a bottle of the 2009 Tzuba Metsuda. This wine is a Bordeaux blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, and 15% Cabernet Franc. The wine was nice and round and ripe, but not so complex to keep your attention for long. The ripe blueberry was interesting, but that was about it. A rich and even somewhat layered wine, but lacing in complexity was its issue.
I have written about Tzuba Winery a few times already here early on, here again, and my latest post here. The winery was early in planting much of the Judean Hills while the rest of Israel concentrated on the Shomron and the Galil. Now they are the grape capitalists of the Judean Hills and are improving both their wines and their winery facilities.
The wine note follows below:
2009 Tzuba Metsuda – Score: B++
This wine is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, and 15% Cabernet Franc. The nose on this wine starts off with nice green notes, as it opens it reveals charcoal, graphite, currant, and blueberry. The mouth is full, ripe, and plush with integrated tannin, along with plum, blackberry, boysenberry, sweet cedar, and herb. The finish is long and herbal with menthol, chocolate, tobacco, and spice. This is a wine that is not very long for this earth. I would drink this within the next year or so.
Israel wineries I visited in the Judean Hills and the Shomron during my second week and the The Wine Mill wine shop
The Wine Mill wine shop
Last week I posted that I was in Israel for three weeks over the month of December, and in that first post I wrote about the wineries I saw in the Galilee wine region (the north of Israel). What I failed to talk about was Gabriel Geller and his wine shop in the middle of Jerusalem. I spoke about the Wine Mill wine shop in a previous post, it is located smack dab in the middle of Jerusalem, close to the city center, and to many hotels and restaurants. The address for the Wine Mill wine shop is 8, Ramban Street, 92422 Jerusalem, Israel, it is a shop that I can say is stocked with wines that I would be happy to enjoy and is the main wine shop that I use when in Israel. Why? Because Geller knows his wines, sells only wines he or his customers like, and knows the wines he sells. His shop is filled with wines that are often only sold at the winery itself, like Midbar Winery wines (see below) or Herzberg Winery wines (see below). His shop is also filled with small winery wines, like Weitzman Petite Verdot, or Gat Shomron Winery, and many others. Please do not think that this is a paid advertisement or something – LOL! I do not take money from people. I bring up Gabriel Geller and the Wine Mill, because during my three week stay in Israel, I was either in Geller’s store, with Geller himself, or calling Geller everyday, including Friday day and Saturdays (Saturday night of course)!
As I ended the previous posting – I wrote about my take on the Israeli wine scene, and I would like to add some more thoughts to the thread:
- If I had to give a color or fruit that best describes the 2010 vintage in Israel – it would blueberry! YES blueberry! No, I am not talking about malbec or Syrah or Petite Verdot. What I am talking about is all of those and more shockingly, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot! Try it out and see for yourself. When I asked the wine makers about it, they said that the growing conditions of 2010, hot and then cool led to the blue flavors.
- 2010 and on can well be the year of the small wine maker. Wineries are coming and going – that is for sure, but it is also a fact that small production wineries, like Herzberg Winery and Gat Shomron winery are popping up and staying afloat – because they do not have that much wine to move. Time will tell.
- Finally, more and more high level and high quality mevushal is occurring in Israel. Shiloh winery has been doing it for a few years now, as is Binyamina on its reserve series and cave, and others. It is not widespread or low quality. The process is being done at great cost and at great effort – bringing forth quality wine that happens to be mevushal, much like Herzog and Hagafen. While this is true of the few that I have listed above, Recanati has started doing it to some of their diamond label wines and the outcome is not that great. The 2010 Shiraz tasted cooked while the non-mevushal bottle in Israel did not have that taint – time will tell how these experiments will turn out.
- If you must pick a single varietal that shines in the Shomron – it would be Merlot. All the Merlot wines we tasted from the Shomron (whether made from a winery in the Shomron or wineries that source their grapes from the Shomron – like Teperberg) – the winners were always the Merlot! If it is the cooler weather the higher acidity – who cares – it is great wine!
- Wineries are getting the message – making more old-world wines with Israeli fruit. What that means to me is to make ripe and sweet wines that are controlled without the overripe date and raisin bombs that were so very prevalent some 5 years ago. In its place I find that Israeli wineries are producing wine with sweet and ripe fruit, while all the while showing clear control of both the sweetness of the fruit and the amount of oak used.
- Israel residents are finally starting to understand that they live in a Mediterranean country (with one of their borders on the Med) with blazing hot summers and therefore need to start appreciating white wines! I know, Jews like to drink red wines, something to do with the whole kiddush and shabbos thing. Still, white wine is lovely and is a wine that can be done well in Israel. Take the Midbar winery as an example. A winery that was built on the premise of making GREAT white wines in Israel! It took a long time for the perfect storm to occur, the nexus point of Israeli residents wanting white wines and for wineries to excel at the production of good white wines. Maybe it was a chicken-egg thing between the wineries and the residents, or maybe it was the whole culture thing – but Israeli wineries are figuring it now. More and more every winery is making a Rose, a Chardonnay, and many are doing Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling wines, and many others. So keep a look out for very solid Israeli white wines – they may actually remove them from Israel’s endangered species list!
- The main high end red wines being poured at wineries in Israel are shmitta wines, wines from the 2008 vintage. I say this simply as a warning and no more than that. If you care, than skip the wines. If you do not worry about it – than do what you wish. I simply state it here as an informational notice. Read the rest of this entry
Well what can I say the theme continues with even more wines that I had the chance to taste this past weekend. There were some real winners and some very solid wines, without a dud in the bunch, including nothing short of heaven in a bottle, more on that in the notes below.
For now, I will leave you with a plethora of wines that I hope you can find in the your area and enjoy much like I did this past weekend with my family! Loved the food, tons of Sephardi food with many a treat!
The wines notes follow below:
2009 Tzuba Pinot Noir – Score: B+
Tasting this twice the wine showed a continuous expression of almost pure cherry, with Chica cherry cola, cherry, oak, ripe raspberry, bramble, toast, and espresso. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is ripe and tart with good acid, rich currant, medicinal cherry, nice spicy cedar, and nice integrated mouth coating tannin. The finish is long and spicy, with roasted herb, oriental spice, cherry candy, and cloves.
2007 Katlav Wadi Katlav – Score: A-
This is Katlav’s flagship wine and is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, and 15% Petite Verdot. This wine starts of very closed and all you smell is crazy deep mineral, almost intense graphite and sulfur, quite nice but not its true self. The wine needs decanting, so go ahead and decant and fear not, unless you wish to wait a year or so more. Once it opens the wine screams with blackberry, black plum, cassis, and rich mineral, almost sulfur in its extreme, along with date and nice spice. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is rich with nice sweet black fruit, ripe red fruit, sweet raspberry, nice vanilla, and sweet cedar along with mouth coating tannin that lingers long. The mouth is rich, round, and sweet, showing the impact of being in oak for 24 months, but while it does not lack in acid, it lacks the zip that could make this a killer wine. The finish is long with sweet tobacco, black fruit, licorice, cassis, and spice along with mounds of sweet milk chocolate, and rich cinnamon and cloves. The wine is throwing sediment so beware if you decant. Read the rest of this entry
As we drive the 395 to get to Kibbutz Tzuba the winery’s vines grace our approach – they stretch from the bottom of the hillside along the valley below and all the way to the entrance of the Kibbutz. The Kibbutz is a high tech Kibbutz, building bulletproof glass and other protective shielding, a thriving business in these trying times.
As we drive up to the winery, which is to the left, after you enter the Kibbutz gate, the winery is straight ahead, and Paul Dubb was there to greet us. Paul is the wine maker for the Tzuba Winery and has been growing grapes for the Castel Winery, and some other 10 wineries, since 1996.
Actually, Tzuba is a winery whose history and very existence is intrinsically intertwined with Castel Winery, and many of the other big boys of Judean Hills. How you ask? Well, it all started in 1996 when Kibbutz Tzuba made a highly fortuitous and almost prophetic decision to plant some 110 acres of grape vines! That was only a year after Castel’s maiden release of its Grand Vin, and only a few years after Ronnie James started Tzora Winery, also in the Judean Hills. The crazy thing is that the Kibbutz decided on doing this even before they had actual contracts to sell these grapes. Further, they planted more than just the classic noble grapes. Of course they planted Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Shiraz, but they also planted Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Nebiolo! The winery has three sets of labels for its wines (levels if you may): the top-of-the-line Metzuda that is produced only in selected years; Tel Tzuba of varietal and blended wines, and the popularly priced Hamaayan.
Yes, that is the setup, but how is Tzuba Winery intertwined with Castel and other Judean Hill wineries? Simple, where did these wineries get their grapes? Who had vines back in 1999? Tzuba! Who was the vineyard manager in 1996? Paul Dobb. Who was the vineyard manager for Castel in 2000 till 2004? Yes, Paul again. What is Castel named after, the old Belmont Castel fortress that Eli Ben Zaken named his winery after! The very same castle/fortress that over looks the Tzuba Winery! The very same fortress that the Metzuda (the fortress) wine label is named after. The same fortress that the Belmont wine label uses. In so many ways the Catsel winery is deeply intertwined with the Tzuba Winery. In a way, you could say that Kibbutz Tzuba and the Tzuba Winery are the grape capitalists of the Judean Hills.
With all that said, this is NOT to say that Tzuba is Castel’s second label, rather Tzuba is many ways is the purveyor of Castel’s very blood, its grapes. Further, Tzuba’s approach is actually 100% counter to Castel’s approach. Mr. Ben Zaken will be happy to tell you that his desire is to recreate Bordeaux, without its terroir flaws (climate and temperature). In many ways Ben Zaken has been successful in his desired transportational affect, but that is not what Mr. Dobbs is looking for. Actually, Mr. Dobbs is looking for Mediterranean styling in his wines. He desires the very fruit, mineral, and rich herbs that drench the hillsides of the Judean Hills to be transported into the very body and nose of Tzuba’s wines.
This past week has been crazy, so we settled for a simpler meal of Brown Basmati Rice, Lemon/Red Pepper Flakes Roasted Chicken, and fresh green salad. A nice relaxing meal. For lunch we finally got up to making a cholent. We really do not make “cholent”, but more like a vegetable stew with buckwheat as the binder. It works, and no one complains.
To match the food we went with a wine that I had higher hopes for. That said, I should have read Daniel Rogov’s review for it ahead of time, really more about his prognosis for the wine. It is a wine that has unfortunately hit its peak, and is now over the hill. The wine confounds me, when the wine is open it is a clear B+ wine, after a few hours the wine goes down a bit and it becomes more of a plain B wine. It is a real shame, I wish it was different but so it is.
2006 Tzuba Merlot Kosher Tel Tzuba – Score: B to B+
This is a wine that is on the other side of hill waving goodbye to those at or before the peak. It is a shame, as the wine starts off quite nice, but quickly fades into a red fruit and loam wine, which is still OK, but not its potential. Daniel Rogov had it dead right, this wine hits its peak at the end of 2009, and now it is dying.
The nose on this light garnet colored wine with brown leanings, starts off with lovely plum, cassis, blackberry, raspberry, oak, vanilla, crushed herbs, and minerality. After a few hours, the nose turns one-dimensional with vanilla, loamy dirt, raspberry, and cherry. The mouth is mouth coating with nice integrated tannins, plum, blackberry, and raspberry to start. Again, after a bit of time, the wine turns to loamy dirt, dark cherry, plum, a bit oxidized. The mid palate is acidic and balanced with slight oak, and minerality. The finish is long and spicy with toasty oak, loamy dirt, nice tannin, and plum.
To celebrate the end of Passover, we had guests and family over for meals on the last days. We spent the entire Sunday cooking, and while it was crazy work, it was a ton of fun.
Sunday Night Menu (with family):
Chicken soup with matzo balls (my Father-in-law was not feeling well)
Carrot kugel (secret recipe) which I LOVE
2007 Yarden Mount Hermon Red – Score: B+
The nose on this garnet colored wine is filled with raspberry, cranberry, cherry, and blackberry. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is soft with raspberry and cranberry. The mid palate is balanced with integrated tannin, acid, and slight concentration, along with a bit of roundness, without extreme oak presence. The finish is long and soft with nice dark fruit, full mouth, and acid. A nice wine that is ready to drink.
Eggplant Salad Recipe
2 Tablespoon of olive oil
Three onions cubed
1 lb of mushroom cubed
Two Eggplant cubed
1 16 or so ounce can of tomato sauce
Sauté the cubed onions in the olive oil, until brown. Once browned, add the cubed mushrooms and wait for them to wither and brown as well. Then add the cubed eggplant and wait for them to release their water. Once the vegetables are soft, add in the tomato sauce, the spices, and wait for the mixture to firm up.
Vegetable Chunks (Feeds 24 or so folks)
4 large sweet potatoes cut into 1 inch wedges
6 red potatoes cut into 1 inch wedges
4 russet potatoes cut into 1 inch wedges
6 zucchini cut into 1 inch wedges
2-3 onions cut into 1 inch wedges
Olive Oil coated roasting pan
Place the vegetables in water for 30 or so minutes. Then drain the water and lay them in a large oiled roasting pan. After each layer of vegetables cover them with garlic powder and paprika. It is fine to have at most three layers of vegetables, but two is better. Roast in oven covered at 350 degrees, for 30 minutes, then mix the vegetables around, cover with spices again, and place back in the oven till just tender, but with a bit of bite still left.
2004 Four Gates Chardonnay – Score: A-
This bottle is quite different from the previous one we had. Instead of intense toasted oak, the wine showed characteristics very much in line with our tasting from 2008, except without the green flavors. The nose on this light gold to gold colored wine is filled with ripe fruit, peach, lemon, melon, butterscotch, and oak. The mouth on this medium to full bodied and very rich Chardonnay is powered by some residual sugar, peach, melon, and citrus flavors. The mid palate is a strong crisp acid core mixed with some sweetness, and nice toasty (but not over the top) oak. The finish is a long crisp and refreshing stroll with toasty wood as a partner, along with butterscotch, and ripe melon. The wine is crisp yet has weight at the same time, a real joy.
2006 Tzuba Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: B+ to A-
This bottle turned out to be more red than our previous tasting of this wine, but it was still a concentrated mouth which was nice. The nose on this dark garnet colored wine is filled with raspberry, cranberry, plum, toasty oak, and coffee. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is concentrated and focused with raspberry, cranberry, plum, tight and spicy. The mid palate is bracing with acidity, toasty oak, and still not yet integrated tannins. The finish is long and toasty with coffee, red berry, spicy oak, vanilla, and spice. I guess I will chalk this one up to bottle variation.
Monday Night Menu (Family)
Chicken soup with matzo balls (my Father-in-law was not feeling well)
Stuffed Vegetables (leftovers)
Carrot kugel (secret recipe) which I LOVE
Leftovers of FG Chardonnay and Yarden Mount Hermon Red
We normally go with one or at most two dishes, but this time things worked out better for us to make the Kielbasa Stew that we have had pretty good success with recently. Our guests brought two bottles of wine and they were really great, and they went very well with the dishes we had on the menu.
2006 Yarden Chardonnay, Odem Organic Vineyard – Score: A-
The nose on this light gold colored wine is hopping with ripe melon, fig, kiwi, apples, sweet oak, honeydew, and floral notes. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is toasty and spicy with oak, peach, melon, and apple. The mid palate is bracing with core acidity, orange peel, spicy oak, and butter. The finish is super long with butter, toasty oak, lemon, ripe melon, and good acidity. Finally, the flavors of oak, butter, and lemony acidity linger forever on the palate after the wine is long gone.
2006 Domaine du Castel, Petit Castel - Score: A-
This wine starts off slow but explodes with a crazy rich nose and mouth as it airs out. The nose on this dark purple to black colored wine explodes with a rich voluminous oak, rich dark chocolate, plum, jammy cassis, and blackberry. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is soft, supple, and rich with a full/velvety mouth from lovely soft tannins that still coat the mouth, along with ripe blackberry, cassis, chocolate, and black plum. The mid palate is filled with oak, integrated tannins, and still good acid. The finish is super long with chocolate, blackberry, oak, lovely tannins, rich/ripe plum on a bed of chocolate and tobacco.
This past week, saw us enjoying two wines that we brought, and two wines that others brought to our hosts homes. Mine were not as good as the others brought, but good to try and drink. We of course brought these wines to two Passover Seder for the four cups (arba kosos). We decided this year to not host the passover seder, like we did last year, and so, we went to our friends for the two evening meals.
The notes for the wines we enjoyed can found below:
2004 Recanati Cabernet Franc - Score: B
The nose on this garnet colored wine has cranberry, raspberry, plum, oak, and mint. The mouth on this full bodied wine is still expressive with red fruit, crushed herbs, and a touch of mint. The mid palate is still bracing with acid, soft tannins, and oak. The finish is still strong with coffee, acid, red fruit, and oak. Drink UP, or use it for a nice cholent for the next few months.
2006 Tzuba Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: A-
The nose of this almost jet black colored wine is packed with rich and spicy oak, blackberry, cassis, raspberry, and spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine is super concentrated and super extracted with blackberry, cassis, and oak extraction. The mid palate is bracing with bright acidity, toasty oak, and still biting tannins, that will smooth out soon. The finish is very long with bright acidity, toasty oak, and big black fruit. A nice concentrated Cabernet that will evolve a bit still.
On the second night we enjoyed these wines…
2004 Domaine du Castel Petit Castel – Score: B+
The nose on this purple colored wine was crazy nice with blackberry, chocolate, sweet oak, bright berry, and pepper. The mouth on this very soft medium bodied wine was not as bracing and complex as I remember it to have been. The mouth is soft and almost tannic free, with nice black fruit, black berry and plum. The mid palate is soft and not bracing, with oak, and not much more. The finish is very nice with more black fruit, chocolate, and a bit of oak. Nice, but soft and ready to drink NOW!
2003 Yarden Merlot – Score: A- to A
The nose on this black colored wine screams with black cherry, raspberry, berry, crushed herbs, and rich and toasty oak. The mouth on this massive full bodied wine is rich with concentrated black cherry, berry, and toasty oak. The mid palate is acidic with rich oak, and integrating tannins. The finish is long and rich, with more black fruit, oak, and green notes. The wine is super fun, extracted, and rich.
This past Purim my friends and I enjoyed a wonderful meal at the synagogue, along with a few wines that I brought along, and a couple of wines that were brought by some other congregants. Some of the wines I tasted have notes, while others have just feelings or memories, sorry, this was Purim after all. My friends still give me a hard time for the one time that I actually took notes on Purim. To me, tasting wine is about friends, memories, along with a bit of a job. To others, especially on Purim, it is about friends, memories, and a bit of a buzz.
Anyway, the wine notes follow below in the order that they were tasted:
Tzuba Port Style Wine - Score: A-
This is a wine that I brought back from my last trip to Israel, one that I bought during my visit to the Tzuba Winery. The nose on this dark garnet to black colored wine shows rich loamy dirt, bright oxidation, rich spicy oak, ripe fig, blackberry, and spice. The mouth on this full-bodied and mouth filling wine, starts with a concentrated attack of spicy oak, rich sweet and ripe blackberry, and fig. The wine is layered and concentrated with ripe fruit and spicy oak, yes I repeated that because it is so nice. The mid palate is filled with nice acidity, integrated yet still gripping tannins, and spice that flows into a lush loam and oak forest. The finish is crazy long with rich chocolate, oak, mounds of spice, rich and ripe black fruit, and a lingering palate of oak extraction, spice, and more black fruit. A nice bottle that can handle just about any sweet desert you throw at it.
2004 Four Gates Rishona (375 ml) – Score: A-
Well, we tasted the larger format of this bottle last week and this week we opened the 375 ml size, which was the originally released format. We still loved it and it is still drinking really well, though the color throws you and the flavor is a bit dingy, the rest of the wines notes are exactly as the previous tasting, and listed here. The color on this brown tinged/dark ruby colored wine, was hopping with chicken cherry cola, coffee, mature oak, fig, and raspberry. The mouth on this intense and full-bodied wine was layered with bright black cherry, coffee, and oak. The mid palate was bracing with bright acidity and oak. The finish was long and tantalizing with more cherry, oak, and coffee, layered under a canopy of mature flavors. This is clearly a wine that needs to be consumed now, but to some, this was one of the winners, which was shocking given the list of wines we enjoyed.
2006 Herzog Cabernet Sauvignon Special Reserve, Napa Valley – Score: B/B+
The wine was OK, but it had a huge hole in the middle with almost no acidity to be found. It was OK, but uni-dimensional with almost no fruit and a bit of oak. Not fun.
2006 Baron Herzog Cabernet/Zinfandel/Syrah Special Reserve – Score: B++
Yummy, fruity, acidic, rich, with black fruit showing well from the Cabernet, while standing tall with enough oak and tannins from the Syrah. Nice and one that is probably at or close to its peak.
2006 Hagafen Merlot, Napa Valley – Score: A-
I remember loving it that night for its classic Hagafen soft yet layered mouth feel, along with rich and ripe black fruit and chocolate.
2007 Barkan Classic Petite Sirah – Score: B/B+
This is a nice and lively wine with rich blackberry and smoke on the nose and mouth, along with a firm and structured mouth feel that allows the wine to stand up to meat and rich sauces. A nice and simple wine that is enjoyable by all.
2007 Backsberg Pinotage – Score: B++
The nose on this bright purple colored wine is packed with loamy dirt, mineral, rich black cherry, mulberry fruit, spice, vanilla, oak, and pepper. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and spicy though not complex in nature, along with mulberry, Kirsch cherry, and a hint of strawberry. The mid palate is bracing and almost tart with code acidity, nice soft yielding tannins, spice, and dirt. The finish is long with layers of smoke and spice, along with red fruit, and a nice dollop of vanilla. A nice wine for the price, quality, and its mevushal status.
2006 Rashi Select Barbera d’Alba - Score: B/B+
The nose on this wine moved from being bright and red to rich and chocolate. Not a bad wine, but one that did not live up to my hopes for it. The tannins were nice and helped to highlight the soft mouth, bright acidity, and red fruit. With air the fruit disappeared, the mouth was still bright but turning fast, and the finish was packed with chocolate and vanilla. I guess it is an OK wine, but drink up fast, and not a wine worth its cost.
On Friday in early August, my friend and I, drove around the winding roads of Route 3965 (Sderot Hahotsvim) up from Highway 1, past the Sataf junction, and on and up Route 395 to Kibbutz Tzuba. At the entrance of the kibbutz, drive past the gate and take the second left and follow the sign to Yekev Tzuba. The winery’s rectangular and unassuming building lies to the back of the kibbutz overlooking a bluff and an ancient wine press from the first millennium. As you drive up to the building you can see the vineyards to the right and Tzora Winery’s vineyard to the north.
We met Paul Dobb – the head winemaker, at around 8AM in the morning, and we moved upstairs to the understated but quite lovely tasting room that overlooks the ancient wine press. Paul said, he has plans to spruce up the winery with a deck and a tasting bar, which sounds nice, but I found the current setup quite enjoyable. The winery is growing since we last visited them, and they are releasing new single varietals. The first new varietal is the 2007 Pinot Noir. A lovely French Burgundy look-alike with Israeli attitude. Besides the new Pinot Noir, Tzuba is shipping some of their wines to the USA through Royal Wines (the largest importer of kosher wines). Tzuba has sold all of last year’s wines except for their top of the line Metzuda series, which they are in no real rush to sell to distributors, because it is a wine that is just coming into its own, and has more life left in it. So, the 2005 vintage of the Metzuda blend can be found both locally in the US and in Israel, while the rest of the lineup, which is long and impressive are only available locally in Israel. Read the rest of this entry
Our story begins in 2003 and bombs are exploding up and down the state. Residents are worried to leave the house, and the wine industry is taking a severe hit, as overall morale is down. As the state steps up, and brings its considerable weight to bear on the problem, private individuals start to wonder how to remove the malaise from among the populace. Up steps Avi Ben, an owner of a successful chain of wine stores, who comes up with an idea to kill two birds with one stone. So Avi sat down with a few local wine marketers, and organized the first Jerusalem Wine festival. In his own words, as described by Jerusalemite.net – We decided to organize a fair that would bring wine distributors to Jerusalem. We picked a great location, the Israel Museum, and once they agreed to house the festival, all the planning became easier. People loved the location, they loved the idea, and it was a huge success. Under this backdrop, my friend and I were more than happy to attend the 6th annual Jerusalem Wine festival, which was once again located in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
As we gave our tickets to the attendant (previously bought at the Nahalat Shiva Avi Ben store for 60 NIS) and slowly walked our way to the sculpture garden in the back, we could already take in the night’s air. It was filled with the smell of olive trees, pine trees, open wine bottles, and the initial sense of excitement. As we got closer to the open air arena, that hosts the 33 wineries that were presenting their wares for the evening, we were greeted by a table of glasses. The glass was ours to use during the evening, one that would be our ever present partner to the evening’s soiree, and one that we could take home after the long evening. I paused at the opening to the garden, and took in the spectacle that was in front of me. Beyond the dim lights, the 33 wineries that rimmed the garden and the center as well, essentially creating a pair of concentric circles, what was evident was the lightness of the evening. This was not going to be a wine snob event, or an event that would require heavy wine talk. Instead it was a casual affair, accentuated by the dress code of many of the attendees – shorts, tee shirt, and flip flops. But even more evident was the electricity, the life, the joy (even if alcohol fueled), that powered the evening and lit up the night’s sky. It was almost ethereal yet real, and one of the most exciting aspects of the evening.
<slight tangent about kosher issues>
Unfortunately, I must take a moment to talk about what I can only now explain as a kashrut problem surrounding the whole evening. As much as I loved the festival, those of us who are Orthodox practicing Jews, had a few problems that we faced that evening. They were:
- Shmitta wines for those of us who live in the Diaspora. The 2008 vintage is a shmitta year, and many of the wineries use a loophole called heter mechira, where they sell the grapes to non-jews. This is a not so accepted practice in the modern era, and so most Orthodox Jews do not drink those wines. The only way to know is to pick up the bottle and read the back label, where things of this nature are spelled out. The wines from Yarden, Galil, and some others, use a more accepted practice called Oztar Beit Din, and so I happily enjoy Yarden and Galil wines from the 2008 vintage.
- As lovely as the Spieglau glasses were, they were not “toveled” – ritually immersed, which Orthodox practicing Jews do, before making use of the utensil.
- 99% of the wines served that night, were non-mevushal wines. Meaning they were not pasteurized, which sounds great, because why would you want to pasteurize wine for goodness sakes, this is not milk with volatile bacteria. Well, because “mevushal” wine can be handled by non Jews, while non-mevushal wines cannot be. Furthermore, if a non Jew were to touch my wine glass or bottle, I cannot drink that wine anymore. The law is not very PC to say the least and truly requires a long post to analyze it better (which I will be doing soon God willing), but my belief system is based on faith and not one that I can turn on and off when it suits me or my friends. Now, I do not bring this up to disparage the Jewish lineage of those that were pouring the wines. Rather, I bring it up because the rules around the open bottle were lax to say the least. The open bottles, from which the wine was being poured was touched by many a passerby, and of their lineage, I have no idea.
My feeling is that the next time I go to this event; I would probably attend, but not drink any wines.
</end tangent >
Once we were finished taking in the scene/madness that was swirling before us, we moved our way to the booth of one of Israel’s most exciting wineries – Yatir Winery. It has captured the imagination and attention of many wine lovers including myself. I have been lucky to visit the winery twice before, and each time I am in awe of their progress and continual assault at the wine world’s malaise and opinion of Israel’s wine industry. Just this past year they were awarded one of the highest scores for their flagship wine by Robert Parker and Mark Squires of the Wine Advocate. There I had what can only be described as a brain freeze, when I tasted one of the best white wines of Israel - the 2008 Yatir Sauvignon Blanc, before I realized that the wine was produced using heter mechira. I was mistaken at that time, and once more unfortunately, and is the main reason that I did not enjoy more of the whites that evening, as they were either produced by non kosher wineries, or because they were the 2008 vintage and used heter mechira. That said the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc was wonderful, but was clearly not opened long enough to get its legs under it. Still, it showed a nice tropical fruit flavor along with a bit of cut grass and some lychee. From there we moved on to the Galil Mountain Winery‘s booth, where we were hoping to be able to taste the highly acclaimed Galil Meron. Unfortunately, it was not available for tasting till 9PM, so we were “forced” to partake of their other showings until the hour passed. I was happily distracted by the Galil Pinot Noir, which is a more classical take on a French Burgundy, than those recently produced by Israeli wineries. Still, the wine has enough facets – like its soft oak and coffee flavors to throw you off the French scent. The other two wines I tasted while waiting for the grand moment, were less than enthralling. The 2008 Galil Rose, was bland and flat, and the 2007 Galil Barbera was but a glimpse of its older brother’s power and depth. Where the others disappointing, the Galil Meron did not. It was a wine well worth the wait and one that I highly recommend for those in Israel (the US allotment will not be available till 2010, probably for Passover).
We next visited the booth of Dalton Winery, where we tasted a dud of a wine and a real nice winner. The Dalton Rose, made of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes was an average quaffer, with a rose petal flavored mouth and a raspberry nose. Nothing to write home about or post about. The winner was the 2007 Dalton Shiraz – WOW! A solid blockbuster of a wine and one worthy or your attention. We then weaved our way on over to the booth of the Binyamina Winery, where we took in a nice 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. While some booths had massive and expressive signs – note the Yarden/Golan Heights Winery’s sign, other small wineries had zero signage. Yarden being one of the biggest wineries in Israel had a sign to match their importance and prestige. Heck, forget the sign, they had a whole platform. The sculpture garden is lovely and expansive, but the floor is rock and dirt, which while native to Israel and Jerusalem, is a bit too native for many of the folks standing and walking around for the 4 to 5 hours that the event was open for. Yarden and another winery had a lovely platform, with soft padding, great lounge chairs, a few tables, and awesome wines (which is obvious). I cannot seem to find a picture of the platform, but take my word for it . Anyway, we once again weaved around and through the crowd, and moseyed on over to the booth of Tzuba Winery. We have spoken before about Tzuba, and we had the extreme pleasure of visiting their lovely winery before. They are a winery with a long lineage of managing vineyards of the Judean Hills. The wines were a nice selection of the wines available from the winery, within Israel, and yet another reason for us of the Diaspora to do Aliyah! Yes, they export some wines, but the vast majority sells fine within Israel. We enjoyed a lovely 2007 Belmont (55% Sauvignon Blanc and 45% Semillon) which showed nice dirt, lychee, grapefruit, and peach. The 2006 Tel Tzuba Merlot was also quite nice. The 2006 Tel Tzuba Cabernet was a bit off, so I did not write it up, the bottle tasted over ripe or oxidized.
We were off again, and moving towards a booth with a large sign, the Tishbi Winery Booth. It was mostly a waste of a trip, this time around, except to prime the pump for a return trip later in the evening, to taste their wonderful desert wine, when my evening of tasting was done, and my evening of drinking began, but we are jumping the gun! I digress again! After the awful and overripe 2006 Tishbi Shiraz tasting, we ran into a bunch of acquaintances from Rogov’ forum. The inner circle of wine booths did not take up all the possible space, so they filled the empty space with some nice standing tables. I rolled up to the table to augment my wine notes, and as I am of to do, I struck up a conversation with the people around me. Standing there as well was Zvi and his lovely wife. He overheard the conversation I was having (which is shocking given my quiet personality), and quickly surmised that it was I that had blown him off earlier in the evening. We were supposed to meet up at the booth of Assaf Winery. Well that never happened, because we could NOT find the bloody booth! It was one of those booths that had almost no signage, and so made it a bit hard to find, given the swarms surrounding the booths. Anyway, after talking a bit, Zvi pipes up asking “did you get to taste the 2003 Magnum Yarden Merlot”? Well no I say, heck I had yet to stroll over to the booth/platform at all. Given the opportunity, I bid my adu, and head on over to the Yarden “booth”. I nicely asked for a bit of the Merlot, and was rewarded with what can only be described as a drunkard’s convention sized glass of the dark garnet gold! Keeping in the new Hebrew and non-sequitur slang the Merlot was chaval al ha zman (translated literally — it’s a waste of time” in slang — fantastic, wonderful, out of this world, great). I lingered long at the booth while I slowly enjoyed my glass of wine. The Merlot was fat yet not over ripe, red fruit, with a ton of chocolate and tobacco. It almost felt like you were drinking ripe fruit and wood, while smoking a fat cigar and inhaling boxes of dark chocolate – quite a trip to say the least – like I said – chaval al ha zman.
Once I had my chance to talk with the Yarden crowd and enjoy my wine, I found my way over to the booth of Tzora Winery. We have spoken about this winery before, and have also had the pleasure of going to their lovely winery, just before the untimely passing of their founder Ronnie James. Well, the wine has not missed a beat, with the new winemaker Eran Pick. The 2006 Neve Ilan was dirty and lovely. The 2006 Shoresh was a bit lighter, but still quite enjoyable. As I continued my trip around the inner circle, I hit upon Alexander Winery’s booth. The winemaker Yoram Shalom was pouring and his marketing agent was talking – quite a show! The wine that was pouring was the 2007 Sandro (named after Shalom’s brother). We were fortunate enough to meet Shalom the last time we visited his winery in Moshav Beit Yitzchak. The booth was abuzz with the recent award they won in a Spanish Wine Contest (missed the name – sorry) for their top star – 2005 Alexander The Great – Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2007 Sandro was overripe, as I have said before. The wines in the Golan and Upper Galilee can tend towards overripe flavors if not picked at the correct time. The Sandro is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. We meandered around a bit, and we found ourselves at the Agur Winery’s booth. There I made my second faux pas, and tasted the 2008 Agur Blanca – which was also a shmitta wine and they use Heter mechira. The Blanca was really nice, though there are critics out there that do not like it as much as I did, oh well . I was not as impressed by the 2007 Agur Kessem (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Petit Verdot, and 10% Cabernet Franc), still a nice wine with a mix of black and red flavors, along with nice toasty oak, earth, and mouth coating tannins.
My friend disappeared by now, and I was moving around alone by now. I swung by the Yarden booth again, to get a taste of the 2004 Yarden Ortal Merlot, which was stunning (I had not tasted this one before). At this point, my palate was shot and I swung by the Tishbi booth once more, to get a taste of the stunning 2006 Jonathan Tishbi Barbera-Zinfandel Fortified Dessert Wine. I absolutely loved it and it reminded me of the Carmel Vintage – which is another desert wine that is quite impressive as well. The evening ended and I picked up some wines to go, in an outside pavilion.
My take away overall was that the festival was well run, while most of the wine purveyors were pushing some light weight wares that met the interest of the majority of the festival customers. There is nothing wrong with that, the average wine consumer likes their wine smooth and easy to drink. Given that trend, the wineries were pouring wines that met the consumer’s interests. The wineries that I highlighted were pouring wines that were quite enjoyable and highly unexpected (Galil and Yarden). Finally, ignoring the wines for a second, the festival’s attendees were all very amiable, courteous, and joyous. Yes they were imbibing alcohol, but alcohol can bring out the worst in people, and that was NOWHERE to be seen, and I stayed to the closing on Tuesday night. There is a lovely saying in Jewish Lore that goes something like this; When alcohol enters the person’s true self comes out. That was more than evident Tuesday night, under the full moon’s sky, the beauty that is Israel, was open for all to see and enjoy.
So, thank you so much to the Israel Museum, Avi Ben and all the wineries that were pouring their wares, the wine notes follow below:
2008 Yatir Sauvignon Blanc – Score: B+
The nose on this straw colored wine is filled with lychee, grapefruit, and tropical fruit, along with a strong sense of brightness, and almost clean steel smell. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is super bright with lychee, grapefruit, and tropical fruit, along with some nice balancing green flavors. The mid palate is bright which leads into a long and crisp finish of more tropical fruit. A really nice crisp Sauvignon Blanc with just a hint of roundness that comes from a bit of time in French barrels.
2007 Galil Pinot Noir – Score: B+
The nose on this dark ruby colored wine is classical in nature with nice terroir notes, along with cherry, cranberry, and raspberry. The nose was hot out of the bottle, and I did not stick around long enough to see when it dissipated. The mouth on this medium bodied wine follows the nose with more cherry, raspberry, and not yet integrated tannins. The mid palate is still tannic and hot, along with coffee and bright acidity. The finish is long and spicy with bright red fruit and an almost toasty flavor
2007 Galil Barbera – Score: B
The nose on this light garnet colored wine is filled with cranberry, plum, oak, and coffee. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has nice light and integrating tannins that work well with the mouth’s plum and cranberry. The mid palate is almost smooth with light tannins, coffee, and oak. The finish is long with bright acidity, coffee, and red fruit. This is not the winner that the 2006 vintage was, and may be too early to really tell where this wine is going.
2006 Galil Meron – Score: A-
The nose on dark garnet to black colored wine is popping with blackberry, raspberry, ripe plum, chocolate, coffee, and rich oak. The mouth on this full bodied and complex wine has layers of blackberry, tar, coffee, and rich plum. The mid palate is layered with oak and integrating tannins that come at you in layers. The finish is super long with tar, pepper, blackberry, and chocolate. This is a real winner and one that is sure to please almost anyone at the table.
2007 Dalton Shiraz Reserve – Score: A-
The nose on this dark garnet to purple colored wine is filled with ripe fruit, plum, blackberry, tar, and pepper. The mouth on this full bodied wine with complex layers hits you often with wave after wave of blackberry, ripe plum, and cassis. The mid palate is filled with tar, oak, and coffee. The finish is long and spicy, with oak, tar, blackberry, and chocolate. Quite a nice Shiraz indeed.
2006 Binyamina Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – Score: B – B+
The nose on this dark garnet colored wine was hot out of the bottle, with ripe fruit, cranberry, blackberry, and oak. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine has cassis and blackberry flavors. The mid palate is balanced and spicy with oak and bright acidity. The finish is bright and spicy with blackberry, coffee, and oak.
2007 Tzuba White Belmont (55% Sauvignon Blanc and 45% Semillon) – Score: B+
The nose on this bright light straw colored wine has mineral qualities, along with lychee, grapefruit, peach, and an almost toast aroma. The mouth has very ripe flavored fruit that mingles nicely with earthy and mineral flavors, along with grapefruit and peach. The mid palate is tart and earthy. The finish is long with more tart fruit and clean mineral flavors.
2006 Tzuba Tel Tzuba Merlot – Score: B+
The nose on this dark ruby colored wine has nice earthy notes along with raspberry, cranberry, cherry, oak, and vegetal notes. The mouth is medium bodied with integrating tannins, cranberry, and raspberry. The mid palate is balanced with oak and acidity. The finish is accompanied by earth, spices, and round red fruit. This is a wine that can use more air in and out of the bottle and one that will serve you well.
2003 Yarden Magnum Merlot – Score: A-
The nose on this black colored wine (not showing any hint of slowing down or brown), is ripe with rich red fruit, slightly hot, plum, raspberry, cassis, rich oak, and mounds of dark chocolate. The mouth on this complex and full bodied wine was throwing sediment, and comes at you with layers of with rich plum, blackberry, and chocolate. The mid palate is bright and balanced with acidity, integrating tannins, and coffee. The finish is long with tobacco, chocolate, and nice tannins. It almost felt like you were drinking ripe fruit and wood, while smoking a fat cigar and inhaling boxes of dark chocolate, quite a treat indeed.
2006 Tzora Neve Ilan (70% Cabernet Sauvignon & 30% Merlot) – Score: B+
The nose on this dark garnet colored wine is filled with rich earth, blackberry, cranberry, oak, and coffee. The mouth on this medium bodied wine follows the nose with cranberry, raspberry, roasted oak flavors, and something akin to toffee. The mid palate has integrated tannins that flow into a long finish with spice, dirt, and red fruit.
2006 Tzora Shoresh (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) – Score: B+ – A-
The nose on this dark garnet colored wine filled with plum, raspberry, earth, and toasted coffee beans, and oak. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is spicy with somewhat gripping tannins that have yet to integrate, plum, cassis, and raspberry. The mid palate is bright with acidity and oak, and leads into a long and earthy finish with rich oak, coffee, and nice spice.
2007 Alexander Sandro – Score: B – B+
The nose on this garnet colored wine is perfumed with almost overripe fruit, toasted oak, blackberry, and raspberry. The mouth on this full bodied wine is gripping with powerful tannins, cassis and plum. The mid palate is filled with toasted oak and balancing acidity. The finish is long with cassis and plum fruit, and chocolate.
2008 Agur Blanco (65% Viognier & 35% Riesling) – Score: B+
The nose on this electric straw colored wine is perfumed with rich and lively grapefruit, honeydew melon, and peach. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and almost glycerol and oily with ripe peach and honeydew. The mid palate is balanced with bright acidity that leads into a long and rich finish of tart fruit.