My wonderful and wine eventful Jerusalem whiteout – Day 1
Two weeks ago I was in Jerusalem and all I can say is that the words, “in God We Trust” cannot have been more fulfilled than on this journey. To start, I had flown into Israel for one of my nephew’s weddings, and a lovely wedding it was, but that is getting ahead of ourselves. I arrived on Tuesday the 10th and while deplaning, I was asked to join in on a group prayer – which initially I was not so interested in, as I had a ton of things to get done in the day. Thank goodness I agreed and while talking with the group at the conclusion of the services, I hear my name being bellowed out! Now, sure I love Israel, and I know people there, but I am not Netanyahu or Gal Gadot, nor do I know anyone who knows Gal Gadot (trying to stay current and yes I know she is a female model – just making sure you are following), so I had no idea why someone was calling out my name!
So, I turn around and lo and behold who is there, Mendel! Now you may not remember Mendel, but he has been canonized on this very virtual pages, here and here (de-boning a duck) – though incorrectly familiarly associated with Elchonon. I state this because it will be with Mendel’s hands that my wine salvation will be realized. He wondered if I remember who he was, and after sharing a few pleasantries, we agreed to keep in touch as he was interested in joining me on my wine escapades, which sounded great to me!
From there we both got our cars and I went off to see my sister in HarNof. That evening I was so exhausted, I tried to order a burger from a place that will go nameless. Two hours later, no burger and my card were charged! To be fair, after much cajoling they did refund my money, which I understand in Israel is requires an act from God to implement, but equilibrium was returned.
The next day, I WhatsApp Mendy and sure enough, he is up and ready – like I was, so I asked if he minded driving and off we went to pursue the wineries around Jerusalem. I must start by saying that I have no issue driving, but as I explained many times in the past, Israeli drivers have no drive control or manners, they are 100% certifiable! Well, I guess either work; “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” or “Fight fire with fire”, and that is exactly what Mendy does so well. The roads were slick with rain, at some points the roads were almost washed out with a literal deluge of rain, making the roads slick and a perfect pairing for hydroplaning. No worries, Mendel is at the wheel! So, our first stop was Castel!
Domaine du Castel
My last posting on Castel can be found here, with all of the information about the winery, the family and its history. It had been a year since my last visit, so I thought I would swing by and taste the new wines. Sarah Simchovitch, was very kind to host us for the tasting, even though we were 30 minutes late as we were totally lost! One of the very fascinating aspects of the Castel winery is that it is situated in the entrance of an affluent town if Israel, Ramat Raziel. There are ZERO signs to enter the winery property, and I believe that the inhabitants of the moshav are the ones to blame! Anyway, once you do find your way to the lovely winery, please be sure to visit the cave underneath the winery, rumored to be built to look like the Rothschild caves.
Once we came back to the surface, Sarah was very nice to allow us to taste some wonderful wines. The 2012 Blanc du Castel C is showing very nicely, as is the 2010 Grand Vin. The 2011 Grand Vin is not yet there IMHO, I think it needs some more time to come together before we can make a definitive opinion about it. The 2011 petite castel did not blow me away, but then, I have never really loved the PC that much and given its cost – I think there are better places to spend your dollars. The cheese plate was lovely (I forget the name of the dairy that made it) and truly appreciated along with the warm hospitality and wonderful wines. Thanks so much to Sarah and the winery, the wine notes follow below:
2012 Domaine du Castel Chardonnay – Score: A-
The nose on this wine explodes with classic Burgundy Cote de Beaune style, rich oak notes, burnt toast, hints of rubber, vanilla, roasted almonds, and creme bruelle. As I spoke on my last article about kosher white wines, this is a wine that will appeal to heavy oak lovers, those who like more of a Burgundian style to Chardonnay should find another option. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is smooth with nice peach, guava, apricot, with salty notes, roasted nuts, toasty and burnt notes continue. The finish is long with more almonds, vanilla, tart suit, along with fresh-baked apple pie, spice, cloves, and nutmeg.
2011 Domaine du Castel Petite Castel – Score: B+
The nose on this wine is ripe with red fruit, herb, and almost over jammy notes that control the nose. The mouth on this medium bodied wine shows ripe fruit, soft tannin, along with blackberry, currant, restrained oak, bramble, and chocolate. The finish is long with vanilla, plum, marmalade, and orange pith.
2010 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin – Score: A- to A
WOW What a wine, this wine is clearly on my list of the top wines of the year, and it shows the blueprints of how to create a wine that is ripe yet controlled, big and aggressive yet restrained – all with deep fruit expression – BRAVO! The nose on this black colored wine explodes with unmistakable bakers chocolate, toast, rich blackberry, black plum, cherry, richly floral aromas, and dried figs. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is one of those classic wines with control, restraint, yet filled with power and potential. The mouth is ripe and rich with layers of concentrated red/black fruit, all caressed with soft yet coating tannins and coming together nicely. The finish is long and fruit-forward with great structure, balanced acid, along with insane graphite, mineral, chocolate, spice, with red/black fruit lingering long with tobacco – BRAVO!
2011 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin – Score: Needs time
The nose on this wine is rich with bramble, showing and elegance with red and black fruit. The mouth on this medium bodied wine shows nicely with black fruit, blackberry, cassis, along with sweet notes, tannin, black cherry, and currants all coming together with sweet tannin and sweet cedar. The finish is short to me with nice tart cherry fruit, vanilla, and sweet figs. This is a wine that clearly was having a bad day, it lacked structure, body, and finish, hopefully, I will get a chance to ease this again and see where it is.
From there, it was off to Jerusalem, in the absolute pouring rain to have lunch at one of my favorite spots; Canela Restaurant in the heart of the city. The place was deserted, understandably so given the temperament of Mother Nature outside. Still, inside it was toasty warm and dry and though the food was fine, it did not live up to the high expectations that I have come to set for this establishment. The bread was not that warm, and the accompaniments tasted a bit shallow. Still, the main course I ordered, mushroom ravioli was nice but again seemed to lack the pizzazz that I have been used to. I would still highly recommend this restaurant to all of those who are looking for a lovely experience in the heart of Jerusalem.
From there it was off to the twisting and windy roads of highway 60! As I have posted before, Psagot Winery is one of the top three wineries in the Shomron, and one that continues to excel and produce top line wines, throughout all of Israel. With the sure hands and foot of mendy, we made it to the top of the mountain upon which the winery is perched, giving it a bird’s eye view of much of Shomron and even parts of the Judean Hills that surround it. The rain was coming down now in buckets and was reaching torrential status as the winds were howling outside and all the while we stayed warm and dry inside the stone building that houses the winery.
Josh Hexter was so kind to meet us at the winery, given the insane mood of her highness outside. Still, he took the time to serve us lovely cheese (which I could not eat given we just had lunch) and many wonderful wines. The clear winner of the 2011 reds was the Edom and Cabernet Franc, with the Cabernet Sauvignon right behind it. The 2012 Chardonnay was exquisite and far less oaky than the 2012 Castel C, but with clear oak influence and lovely fruit.
Psagot made two mevushal wines in 2011, the 2011 Edom and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. We ran out of time so we could not taste them at the winery, but I had them a few days later in Miami, at the Miami KFWE, and while the 2011 Edom was not affected too harshly by the mevushal process, the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon was clearly knocked back a rung. Israel is being pushed hard to create mevushal wines for the kosher wine drinking public in America and while it is a nice thing for some, it is a shame that wineries are being pushed into it, sometimes to the determent of their wines.
Another clear theme we kept hearing from all the wineries is that while 2012, was a wonderful year (and a blessing after the tough years of 2009, 2010, and 2011), 2013 will be a good year, but the yields across the board were lowered by a large amount. This could mean great wines or it could mean lower dollars for wineries, only time will tell. One theme that was not agreed upon by all was the 2012 vintage question; is it as goMerlod as 2008 or not? Many think 2012 was as good or better than 2008, while some think 2008 was better, so far there have been only whites to compare to, so we will have to wait another year or two or three, to clearly have a better picture on that question.
My many thanks to Josh and the Psagot Winery for their kind hospitality, for taking the time to come all the way to the winery in the crazy weather, and for sharing with us so many lovely wines. The wine notes follow below:
2012 Psagot Chardonnay – Score: A- (and a bit)
This is one of those Chardonnays that everyone can love, ripe, rich, layered, yet not over oaken or overly buttered. The nose on this gold colored wine explodes with sweet butterscotch, guava, kiwi, along with lovely tropical fruit, brioche, and freshly baked apple pie. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is controlled with rich concentrated fruit, lovely spicy oak, peach cobbler, white chocolate, and herb. The finish is long and spicy with vanilla, almonds, citrus pith, slight bitterness, and citrus fruit on the long and satisfying finish.
2011 Psagot Merlot – Score: B++
The nose is rich with crazy dried fruit, dried cranberry, oxidized notes, black fruit, crushed herb, and cherry. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has good fruit structure with cherry, black fruit, crazy mineral, saline, lead pencil, and soft tannin that meld well with sweet oak. The finish is long with crazy bell pepper notes, sweet notes, date, and mineral.
2011 Psagot Cabernet Franc – Score: A-
The nose on this wine is classic franc in many more ways than normal, almost French with classic barnyard notes, rich and loamy dirt, and lovely bell pepper. The medium to full bodied mouth is rich and layered with red and black fruit, with more vegetal notes, saline, rich smoking tobacco, blackberry, cherry, and sweet cedar. The finish is super long, luscious, and spicy, with chocolate notes, more tobacco, great fruit structure, and nice pith on the long finish.
2011 Psagot Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: A-
The nose on this black colored wine is filled with dark cherry, light oxidation, blackberry, currants, and good mineral. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine explodes with rich sweet cedar, along with layers of concentrated and ripe black fruit, all showing in the big-bodied mouth, with blackberry, black plum, cassis, and nice mouth coating tannin. The finish is long and rich with chocolate, dark ripe fruit, toasty notes, vanilla, sweet notes, along with dried kitsch cherry liquor. This is a balanced, controlled, and fruit forward Israeli Cabernet.
2011 Psagot Edom – Score: A-
This Bordeaux blend is rich with loamy dirt and ripe red and black fruit. The mouth on this full bodied wine is young with great structure and future, nice that fruit, along with a sweet backbone, showing blackberry, cassis, dark cherry, currant, along with great graphite, mineral, roasted animal notes, and chocolate. The finish is long and spicy with a controlled feet finish, with more roasted meat notes, saline, and herb. BRAVO!
2011 Psagot Shiraz – Score: B++
The nose on this black colored wine is richly ripe and sweet with nice animal notes, black fruit, and black pepper. The mouth on this medium bodied wine shows a good fruit body, with hints of blue notes, ripe black fruit, ripe raspberry, with nice sweet cedar. The finish is long and spicy with chocolate, tobacco, and tart fruit that lingers.
From there it was off Tzuba Winery, which meant driving back through Jerusalem to get outside of Jerusalem, and at this point, the weather and rain were not the concern, as much as the potential for snow, sleet, or ice. Thank goodness, the weather stayed above freezing for the drive and we made it to Tzuba Winery uneventfully.
I have posted a few times about Tzuba Winery, but the here is the most recent one. Tzuba winery has been going through some changes and the rumors about their demise has been highly exaggerated. The winery is staying at the same production level of 50,000 bottles, with the dip in 2013 to 36,000 bottles because of the lower yields.
Other than that, the winery is humming along and is showing potential with a few more varietals may be on the way, like Petite Verdot. We were there for a quick visit and met with the head winemaker Paul Dubb. At the tasting we enjoyed the new 2012 Psagot Chardonnay, that was showing exceptionally well, further proving the vitality and quality of the vintage. We also enjoyed the 2009 and 2010 Metzudah blends, the flagship Bordeaux blends for Tzuba, along with some barrel tastings of Petite Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon from 2013. The 2013 vintage is showing exceptionally well, but it is early in the game.
My many thanks to Paul and the Mashgiach, who was very kind to go and get us a few barrel samples, and to the winery for hosting us even under such inclement weather! The wine notes follow below:
2012 Tzuba Chardonnay – Score: A-
What a lovely Chardonnay that did not go through malolactic fermentation, with a nice yeasty aroma, with lovely tropical and summer fruit. The mouth on this round and full-bodied wine is nice and layered with bitter notes, almond, rich spicy oak, kiwi, guava, peach, and red apple pie. The finish is long and spicy with white chocolate, spice, cloves, nutmeg, and pith.
2009 Metsudah – Score: B++
The nose on this wine is ripe with blackcurrant, black cherry, nice dirt, licorice, and floral notes. The mouth on this full bodied wine is elegant with rich sweet notes, blackberry, plum, crushed herb, sweet tannin, and cedar. The finish is long with white chocolate, pith, and more sweet notes.
2010 Metsudah – Score: A-
This is a wine that will appeal to many a customer, both those looking for fruit-forward wines, full-bodied wines, and elegant wines. This is a wine that can be all to everyone and a unique wine indeed.
The nose on this black colored wine is rich with nice mineral, graphite, loamy dirt, and black fruit. The mouth on this full bodied wine is layered, with layers of sweet, ripe, and yet controlled with concentrated fruit body and structure, black plum, tobacco, graphite, mouth coating tannin, and cedar. The finish is long with good balancing acid, pith, bitter notes, chocolate, along with tons of fruit and mouth coating tannin that lingers long. BRAVO!
From there it was just a quick jaunt down the road to Flam Winery. Normally, the road is one of the most scenic roads in all of Israel, but with pouring rain and frigid temperatures, I was worried. But thanks to God and Mendy we made it to Flam, fashionably late by 30 minutes. After asking forgiveness profusely for another minute or two, Israel Flam was very kind to sit with us.
I have written before about Flam Winery and it deserves another posting as of course there are many new wines, but also because, in my opinion, they are in the top three of the best kosher wineries of Israel! Flam is one of those rare wineries that have a fantastic track record going back to 1998, some 15 years ago. More than that though is the winery’s slow and methodical approach to winemaking. As I stated in my write up before, Flam winery is a family-run winery with a bent towards clear European style wine. They are not interested in creating the fruit forward (New world) wines, or wines with 40 months of oak. This is a winery that may not sell to the mass public, who is demanding wines with enough flavor and oak in them that you can only scream – OVERKILL! Instead, they build elegant, powerful, and layered wines that make you stand up and take notice. They have melded the grapes and terroir of Israel with the science and style of old-school Europe.
This may well come at a determent to the winery, but our hope is that the kosher wine palate is improving past the over oak and over fruit and overkill wines, to wines with a more refined palate and approach, like Tzora, Gvaot, Flam, and Yatir. Clearly, wineries like Yarden (AKA GHW Golan Heights Winery), have a rabid following, but the 2010 and 2009 years have not been kind to their approach, and I doubt 2011 will be much better. There is a place in the kosher wine world for stars like Flam Winery and I am happy that they have decided to make their wines kosher and in doing so, bringing a new style and approach to the kosher wine buying customer that is more refined and approachable.
Another fascinating aspect of the Flam Winery is that they hunt for the best fruit, no matter where it is located. Many wineries source the grapes from where they are located, to simplify the vinification process. However, Flam (and a few other wineries in Israel and California) are more interested in the best grapes, rather than the best grapes closest to the winery. To this point, Flam has been able to find fantastic grapes in the Judean Hills and in the Galilee. Depending on the year and the fruit, the Judean Hill fruit can find its way into the reserve wines, like the 2011 Syrah, the 2010 Merlot, and others. The grapes from the Judean Hills are mostly sourced from the famed vineyards of Matta, where many of the best Cabernet Franc wines are made from.
We did not have much time, but Israel was very kind to sit with us and go through all the wines that are available today. The 2010 Noble, Flam’s flagship wine will not be available till Passover 2015, but the 2010 reserve wines and the 2011 reserve are available now, along with the soon to be released 2013 Blanc and Rose wines as well.
My many thanks to Israel for taking the time to meet with us, to Gilad who was kind to swing by for a minute in his busy schedule, and the winery for hosting us under such maddening weather. The wine notes follow below:
2012 Flam Blanc – Score: B++
This wine is a blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Chardonnay, a unique but satisfying blend. The nose on this wine is rich with lovely floral notes, along with almost candied grapefruit, classic straw and fresh cut grass aromas, along with nice fresh fruit. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is is nice with peach, lovely balancing acid, green apple, quince notes, and an overall good structure and mouthfeel. The finish is long and spicy with good slate, mineral, spice, nutmeg, and lemon curd.
2012 Flam Rose – Score: A-
This wine is made from 100% Cabernet Franc sourced from the famous Franc vineyards of Mata, in the Judean Hills. The grapes were pulled early and let lie on lees/skins for 3 to 4 hours. The nose on this lovely salmon colored wine is florally rich, with white chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, raspberry, and slate. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich with good fruit structure, great acid, along with bracing grapefruit, quince, and tart summer fruit. The finish is long with good spice, great pith, cloves, nutmeg, nectarine, and pink citrus fruit.
2011 Flam Classico – Score: B++
This wine is a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petite Verdot and it was aged in oak for 10 months. The nose on this wine shows a lovely fresh nose with toasty notes, raspberry, black cherry, nice loamy dirt, and crushed herb. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is easily accessible, with nice red fruit, ok fruit structure, nice toasty oak influence, along with integrated tannin, and chocolate. The finish is long and spicy, nutmeg, almond pith, and dill.
2011 Flam Syrah, Reserve – Score: A- (and a bit more)
This wine is a blend of 89% Syrah from the Dishon vineyards in the northern Galilee, along with 11% of Mourvedre from Mata vineyards in the Judean Hills. The node on this wine is filled with lovely roasted meat notes, along with great black pepper, good spice, lovely fresh pulped blueberry, and more fresh ripe fruit. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine starts with lovely spice, followed by layers of concentrated ripe blackberry, cassis, blue and black fruit, all wrapped in a good fruit structure with nice ripe fruit, insane searing tannin, and toasty oak. The finish is long and spicy, with chocolate, more roasted notes, and a rise that goes forever, with superb balance, good spice, mounds of blue/black fruit, and mineral. A truly lovely, controlled, yet ripe Syrah. The added Mourvedre really adds quite a lovely “spice” to this wine – BRAVO!!!
2010 Flam Syrah, Reserve – Score: A- to A
The nose on this purple-black colored wine screams with ripe black fruit, violet, licorice, crazy ripe blueberry, along with lovely mineral notes. The mouth on this big, expressive, and richly layered full bodied wine starts with layers of concentrated and extracted blue and black fruit, followed by boysenberry, blackberry, black plum, along with sweet tannins, cedar, and spice. This is a wine that shows power and finesse coursing through its veins.The finish is long and spicy with great balancing acid, fruit, more cedar, along with espresso coffee, cloves, cinnamon, and bakers spices. BRAVO!!
2010 Flam Merlot, Reserve – Score: A- to A
This is a blend of 85% Merlot from the Dishon vineyards in the Galilee, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon from Ben Zimra vineyards, and 5% Cabernet Franc from Matta. The nose on this wine is deep and rich with a classic style, green notes, red and light black notes, perfumed nose, spice, herbal notes, along with mineral and salty notes. The mouth is big and aggressive, but in a controlled manner, with many layers of deep extracted fruit, lovely tobacco and insane mouth coating tannin that is mineral based, along with rich blackberry, black cherry, raspberry, plum, bell pepper, bramble, rich green herb, and loamy dirt. The finish is long and spicy green, with mineral to last, insane tobacco, graphite, chocolate, vanilla, and spice. This is a wine that grabs your attention and keeps it, with green notes, tannins that linger long, tobacco, saline, graphite, and black fruit. Quite a lovely wine that does not shy away from its searing tannin, concentrated fruit, and deep fruit extraction. Double WOW and BRAVO!
2010 Flam Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve – Score: A- to A
The nose on this black colored wine is screaming with the fruit of 2010, you guessed it blueberry, followed by mounds of black fruit, black cherry, raspberry, and mineral. The mouth on this deeply extracted full-bodied wine shows a finesse and control without giving up age-ability, with deep rivets of blackberry, cassis, black cherry, along with ribbons and layers of concentrated black, red, and blue fruit, all coming together with a mineral shell, nice oak, and mouth coating tannins that linger forever. The finish is long and spicy with more rich tannin, espresso, leather, vanilla, spice, and licorice. The wine is a richly built wine with mineral, flint, black fruit, graphite, espresso, and tannin lingering long. BRAVO AGAIN!
After tasting all that wine it was time for me and my palate to have a break, and we had to wait for dinner till Gabriel was free from work. Yes, Gabriel – the owner of the now-closed Wine Mill was going to join us for dinner at a wonderful restaurant that he wanted to go back to – HaChatzer. Hachatzer, is a Mediterranean chef restaurant which specializes in grilled meats, casseroles, and fish. By the time we made it there, 10 PM or so, with the crazy rain still howling and pouring outside, I was sure the restaurant would have been empty, but no, it was full of happy smiley Israeli diners, enjoying this wonderful restaurant.
Now, from a pure excellence perspective, this establishment does not yet reach Scala or Le Regence, but this is still a very solid and wonderful restaurant in its own right and one deserving of your attention. The restaurant has a large menu of chef-created dishes in both appetizers and main courses. The options are not your run of the mill variety and as such is a true joy to go through and taste them all. Since we were on the hungry side, we decided to go with a large number of dishes, and Gabriel was VERY kind to share two wines with us, a 2012 Lueria Chardonnay and a 2009 Recanati Carignan.
The wine and the dishes made for a wonderful evening and my many thanks to Gabriel for the wine and on the whole, I think most of the dishes were a major hit. I hope to go back there again one day soon.
So, there you go, day one of my Jerusalem whiteout! No snow as of yet, but the rest will be about snow and a few wineries and one wonderful wine tasting with the gang from Domaine Roses Camille. That is coming up next, as this post has already gotten too long!
Posted on December 25, 2013, in Israel, Israeli Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher Rose Wine, Kosher White Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting, Winery Visit and tagged Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Classico, Domaine du Castel, Edom, Flam Winery, grand vin, Merlot, Metsudah, Petite Castel, Psagot Winery, Rose, Shiraz, Syrah, Tzuba Winery. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.