Lovely California, French, and Israeli Merlots that prove Miles Raymond wrong

This past weekend we had a few friends over for a lovely Friday night dinner, and I decided it was time to drink some great kosher Merlot wines. To be honest, to me Merlot is one of those wines that rarely find the sweet spot, it either boring, nondescript, or overly green. However, there are still many great Merlot wines out there. Of course this was Miles point in the now famous, but to me disgusting movie called Sideways. I felt that the subject matter was so poorly projected that I always feel sick when I think of that movie. Still, the debased yet highly quoted cult movie had a huge impact on the Merlot and Pinot Noir sales in the US. It was the average Merlot’s nondescript attributes that so viscerally turned the protagonist off of the grape variety. Clearly, as I have described many times, here most recently, and more in depth here, that his prized Cheval Blanc was made up of the very varieties he so deeply despised and dissed in the movie, being 66% Cab Franc, 33% Merlot, and 1% Malbec!  We do hope that the irony is not lost on you, as it was certainly not lost on the producers!

A fair amount of the problem starts in the vineyard, as always wine is 90% vineyard management, 5% winemaker, and 5% science/luck (those number can be moved around a bit but not much). Some of the very best Merlot wines out there are French. For instance one of the famous kosher French Merlot wines out there are the 2005 and 2006 DRC – Domain Roses Camille. They hail from the Merlot dominated Pomerol wine region of Bordeaux. The DRC is mostly Merlot with a bit of Cabernet Franc thrown in, while the non kosher and world-famous Petrus – is mostly all Merlot with a bit of Franc thrown in some years.

There are two other French Pomerol kosher wines, the Chateau Montviel and the Chateau Royaumont. I recently tasted the two of them, and I loved the 2003 Chateau Montviel, while the 2011 Chateau Royaumont was nice enough, but at that price, a B+ wine is not worth the effort for me.

France has cool summers and some years are great while some are not so much. However, in other regions where heat is the not the issue, it is about elevation and the land that makes the grapes sing. For instance, to me, the best dollar for dollar kosher Merlot wine out there has to be Four Gates Merlot. The DRC is fantastic as is the Montviel, but the DRC is vastly more expensive and the Montiel is harder to find. That said, outside of Santa Cruz County, the next best option is Israel, and that is like saying the best place to play golf in the world would be in the middle of the Sahara Dessert!

With the high temperatures that Israel has, one legitimately has to ask – what were they thinking of planting Merlot there? The answer “Location, Location, Location” does not only apply to real estate prices, it matters in the world on vineyards as well. When it comes to grapes, it is all about the vineyard, its location, its soil, and most importantly; its elevation.

Take Har Bracha as an example, it elevation is 870 meters above sea level, and besides having large temperature shifts from day to night and back to day again, there is the fog that rolls in all winter and even during the summer. These two factors are one of the main reasons why the vineyards are producing some wonderful wines from Tura and Gvaot Winery. Gvaot Winery is producing some blockbuster kosher Pinot Noir wines while Tura is producing some lovely Merlot wines from these vineyards.

Moving further up north we find Yarden’s efforts being used to its best with locations like Kela Vineyard at an elevation of 800 meters to Odem vineyard at an insane 1200 meters. Beyond the elevation it is the temperature shifts, the rock and dirt, that reflect the sun or cool the sun’s effects, depending on the ground’s makeup. However, after it all, it is also how the vineyard is managed. Things like leaf management can make the sunlight hotter or cooler, same goes with shoot placement, and of course when the grapes are pulled.

So, when I decided that it was Merlot night, I wanted to make sure that we had a good cross-section of wine styles and locations, and I think we hit them pretty well. Sadly, I had no French wines to try, but I added the notes here to give you an idea of what is available. For me in Israel, Merlot is more of a fascination than it is a reality or a long-term play. Still, if you want some Israeli Merlot, stick to these wineries; Gvaot, Tura, Ella Valley, Teperberg, Tabor, and Yarden. Interestingly, the wines are all sourced from locations of high elevations and created by wine makers who care deeply about vineyard control. Sadly, the Ella Valley winery has not made many top rate Merlot wines since 2006 or so. Still, they were great. However, with the elevation of Teperberg, Tura, and Tabor – I feel there are very solid options from Israel available today.

In the end, of all the kosher Merlot options, I happily go with Four gates Merlot. Other than 1999 I cannot think of a single one that has disappointing me. Sadly, I had a bottle of the 1999 recently, and out of the bottle it was godly, but within 10 minutes it went flat. Many would say that is not bad for a 15 year old wine, but to be truthful, it was never a very good vintage. So, one bad vintage with so many home runs, I lean towards Four Gates. Sure, Benyo is my friend, but no one can dispute that he is the king of Kosher Merlot, and my notes bear that out as well. In other words, stock up on his vintages of Merlot, and then hide them away for 6 years and THEN try one. His wines are so dark and tannic and bright with bracing acid that it takes many years for all the components to come together. Till then drink some other lower level Bordeaux or Rhone wines, California wines, or Israeli Rhone varietal wines and then come back to these masterpieces once they have settled down a little.

My notes follow below:

French Merlot Wines:

2003 Chateau Montviel, Pomerol – Score: A- (and more) (tasted in August 2014)
The nose on this wine is lovely with rich mineral, loamy dirt, rich aromas of barnyard, green notes, and herb. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine hits you with layer and layer of rich concentrated fruit, intense structure, blackberry, plum, sweet tobacco, lovely spicy oak, all wrapped in captivating mouth coating tannins. The finish is long with bracing acidity, more lingering tannin that drape your mouth, along with chocolate, leather, more dirt, vanilla, and rich spice – BRAVO!!!!

2005 Domaine Roses Camille, Pomerol – Score: A
This is a wine made up of 98% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. Of the 2005 and 2006 vintages this is clearly the winner – but still it is a winner in the very French and elegant styled manner. I know there will be many that find this wine lacking and not worthy of the accolades – different wines for different folks. The nose explodes with insane perfume of herbaceous notes, green bell pepper, rich barnyard funk, raspberry, black cherry, and strawberry. The mouth opens nicely to mouth coating tannin, along with layers of green herb, candied fruit, blackcurrant, blackberry, red fruit, and cedar that melds into a quite elegant whole. The finish is long with good spice, nice chocolate, tobacco, toast, and a hint of citrus zest. A lovely wine that comes together when given the time to open and show its true self. Still, a wine that needs much more time till it is ready to be appreciated by the wine populace, give this a few more years and then try again.

2006 Domaine Roses Camille, Pomerol – Score: A- (plus more)
This wine, like its older brother is made up primarily of Merlot grapes and is another great example of what elegance looks like in French Bordeaux. The nose starts off with an attack of lovely green notes, raspberry, and nice graphite and mineral. Over time the nose opens to layers show dark cherry, rich aromas of tobacco, and candied fruit. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is soft, rich, plush, and elegant in all the right ways, with ripe blackcurrant, nice mouth coating and plush tannin, and a hint of cedar that comes together quite nicely. The finish is long and luscious with chocolate covered tobacco leaves, tobacco covered fruit, all under a canopy of green and red fruit. The mouth is rich and layered but it is the elegance of the wine and the finish that bring this wine home.

2011 Echo de Roses Camille, Pomerol – Score: A-
The wine starts off closed and cold shouldered as can be with medicinal funk, eucalyptus, and loamy dirt, with the mouth following the nose with medium body and good tannin. After a fair amount of decanting this wine finally came out to play. Until then the wine was hollow and empty in the middle. Once the wine opened it showed a nose of loamy dirt, red fruit, mineral, green forest underlay, and classic bell pepper. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is layered with ripe red fruit, cherry, raspberry, plum, and hints of cassis, all coming together with a nice mouth coating tannin that lingers long, with sweet cedar, and green notes. The wine is well structured with great acid and nice layered fruit. The finish is long with good balancing acid, tobacco, chocolate, leather notes, herb, eucalyptus, and lovely sweet tart red fruit that lingers long after the wine is finished. I MUST STRESS – this wine is not ready for prime time. Please let this lie in your cellar for a year. If YOU MUST open it, I mean this with all seriousness, open the bottle 24 hours before enjoying. I saw the best in this wine after 24 hours of air and no refrigeration.

Israeli Merlot Wines:

2005 Ella Valley Merlot – Score: A- (and more) (tasted January 2014)
The nose on this wine, a blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, is old and mature but not over the hill at all! The nose is rich with dark fruit, candied raspberry, cherry, with insane barnyard funk coming out, along with rich loamy dirt, earthy notes, and spice. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is rich and layered with lovely funk and mushroom, with good blackberry, forest floor, all wrapped up in a cocoon of green leafy notes, sweet cedar, and mouth drenching tannin. The finish is long and spicy with lovely leafy tobacco, salty notes, rich mineral, graphite, chocolate, and rich dark fruit and leathery notes – BRAVO! The wine is drink up mode and it is throwing sediment – but enjoy!

2006 Yarden Merlot, Odem Vineyard – Score: A- (and a bit more) (tasted in Oct 2014)
This is the first single vineyard Merlot from the Odem Vineyard. This vineyard is tended to organically, but the word Organic is nowhere on the label as there are sulfites added. The first thing that hits you is the massive amount of heady spice and herb, what follows is crazy candied plum, nice chocolate, blackberry, eucalyptus/menthol aromas, and black cherry. The eucalyptus dies down over time and makes way for more rich spice and black fruit. The mouth is massive and inky with mouth coating tannin, layer upon layer of spice and herb, black fruit that is focused and concentrated, and sweet cedar that is integrating and rich in the mouth. The finish is super long and spicy with lovely tobacco, chocolate, blackcurrant, orange rind and loamy dirt. Over time the wine opens further and shows layers of butterscotch and  creamy vanilla.

2010 Tabor Merlot, Adama, Bazelet – Score: A- (and a bit more) (MAD QPR)
This is a wine I had with a friend of mine in January at the winery and I was not that impressed, which just goes to prove that tasting wine at a winery with 10 minutes or less to let the wine open and show it potential, is not the best way to judge a wine. The wine showed well, but not this well. Further the wine recently received a 93 from Wine Enthusiast, which judges kosher Israeli wine far more on par than other wines than other publications that I also read.

So, I had to give this wine a second chance and man were they right! This wine is a screaming QPR wine, it is rich and layered and shows black and red fruit throughout. It has no clear flaws and the acidity is what brings it all together.

The nose on this wine shows rich smokey notes, barnyard notes, along with candied Kirsch cherry, freshly rooted dirt, and ripe black notes. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine shows lovely and rich complexity from beautiful mouth coating tannin that lingers long, along with ripe concentrated blackberry, plum, raspberry, along withe sweet cedar, and spice. The finish is long with rich mineral, intense graphite, loamy dirt, lovely acidity, all culminating to an impression of a dark and brooding male with a long leather trench coat, puffing on a freshly rolled cigar, while enjoying some bitter chocolate and a cup of espresso. BRAVO! and double BRAVO for the insane price and quality! I have said before that Tabor is the new QPR leader in white wines, and throw this one on top of the heap at well!!

2009 Teperberg Merlot, Reserve – Score: A-
When I first tasted this wine a year or more ago I was truly shocked at how wonderful it was. This time around, I think the wine turned a bit sweet on me. The structure and the body were still there, but the fruit was riper than before.

The nose on this wine starts off with raspberries, dark plums, cherry, and lovely green notes. The mouth on this medium bodied wine shows ripe red and black fruit that follow the nose, insane mouth coating tannin that is starting to integrate, along with sweet tobacco, graphite, loamy dirt, and sweet herb. The finish is long and herbal with more green notes, mint, tannin, and chocolate. Start drinking

2005 Yarden Merlot, Kela Vineyard – Score: A-
This wine is a sweet new world wine, but the structure, backbone, and sweet fruit help to hide the date like notes that normally really bug me. The nose on this black colored wine is redolent with dark forest fruit, insane licorice, mint, date, smokey notes, and blackberry jam. The mouth on this full bodied wine shows the oak influence with sweet cedar, concentrated and extracted black fruit, raspberry, plum, and intense mouth coating tannins that linger long on the rise. The finish is long and herbal with more dark fruit, chocolate, leather, green notes, spice, and fig.

2011 Teperberg Merlot, Reserve – Score: A-
The nose on this black colored wine is lovely with deep red and black fruit aromas along with sweet herb and green fruit. The mouth on this full bodied wine hits you with layers of concentrated fruit, blackberry, cassis, black plum, cloves, along with a fantastic fruit structure that is built to last, mouth coating tannin, and spice. The finish is long and spicy with lovely green notes, bell pepper, chocolate, tobacco, with tannin, spice, and tobacco lingering long BRAVO!

2010 Tura Merlot – Score: A-
The Tura winery continues to improve year after year, showing more control and finesse, that helps to highlight the superb qualities of the Har Bracha grapes that they own.

The nose on this wine starts off with sweet oak, raspberry, blackberry, along with mounds of green notes, and barnyard aromas that help to accentuate this lovely wine. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine is layered with dark chocolate, sweet cedar, plum black fruit, mushroom, along with great still searing tannin and balancing acidity. The finish is long and spicy, with good mineral, graphite, leather, and funk all on a long and enjoyable ride! BRAVO! This wine is ready to go now, and will last till 2018 or more.

2012 Haroe Winery Merlot – Score: B++
The nose on this nice and controlled wine is redolent with toasted oak, smoke, ripe raspberry, and green notes. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is rich and layered with ripe fruit, great acid, black forest berry, searing tannin, and lovely spice. The finish is long with mouth coating tannin lingering, nutmeg, cinnamon, dill, and spice – NICE!!

California Merlot Wines:

2005 Four Gates Merlot M.S.C. – Score: A- (and more)
The nose on this still vibrant purple colored wine is packed with blackberry, cherry, plum, eucalyptus, and some lovely Merlot funk. The mouth on this full bodied wine is richly layered and extracted with waves of concentrated fruit, intense ripe raspberry, plum, cassis, and mouth coating tannins that all come together with bracing acidity and sweet oak. The finish is long and spicy with leather, spice, still tight and searing tannin, sweet notes, espresso, leather, chocolate, and hints of tobacco and cloves – BRAVO!!! This is a wine that is going nowhere anytime soon with more acid and tannin to keep this alive for another 5 to 8 years.

2001 Four Gates Merlot, M.S.C. – ­ Score: A- (tasted in September 2014)
The color of this wine is a beautiful deep garnet. The nose on this wine has strong aromas of blackberry, dark plum, cranberry, eucalyptus, along with lovely light notes of barnyard funk. The mouth on this full bodied wine is layered and complex. The mouth is full with blackberry, plum, and raspberry and then layers in mint. The mid palate adds core acidity, eucalyptus and lovely integrated tannins. The finish is long and satisfying with black fruit, chocolate, graphite, tobacco, and vanilla. A wonderful wine – it is at its peak if not a bit over the other side – drink up soon!!

2007 Four Gates Merlot, La Rochelle – Score: A- to A (tasted in June 2014)
This wine, in stark contrast to the 2008 Merlot, is what I would call elegant and constrained, while still being rich and lovely. In many ways this wine reminds me of the Carmel Mediterranean, though with a bit more Merlot styling. The nose starts of stunted and under a haze of funk, but after some time the nose is rich and expressive with dark cherry, raspberry, blackberry, plum, along with richly roasted herb and graphite. The mouth is perfectly balanced and rich from beginning to end, with lovely layers upon layers of concentrated red and black fruit mingling well with sweet cedar, and tannin that have yet to integrate. The finish is long and spicy with good tobacco, chocolate, cedar, loamy dirt, bell pepper, and menthol, all leading to leather and spellbinding finish.

In many ways this wine reminds me of a giant wielding a sledgehammer while daintily tiptoeing around in a china store wearing ballerina shoes. The finesse and power of the wine really does show that Merlot, when handled correctly, can yield magnificent outcomes.

2008 Four Gates Merlot, M.S.C. – Score: A- to A (tasted in August 2014)
The nose on this black colored wine was insane with ripe blackberry, eucalyptus, mint, dark plum, followed by intense dark chocolate, and spice. The mouth on this full bodied wine hits you in layers of concentrated ripe and dried fruit all at the same time, raspberry, cherry, red and black fruit, followed by intense dirt, mineral, roasted herb, all wrapped up in crazy mouth coating tannin and sweet oak. The finish is so long I could not clean my palate, with acid that seems to have been born from a lemon, yet perfectly balanced within the whole, with chocolate, oriental spice, fig, and roasted notes. BRAVO! FILTHY! This is a wine that is going nowhere anytime soon, and will be at peak very soon. Enjoy until 2018 with the peak hitting soon if not already here.

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Posted on November 17, 2014, in Israel, Israeli Wine, Kosher French Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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