Matar Winery – a fantastic kosher Israeli wine from Pelter

Pelter StillAs many of you know, I have been a very vocal advocate for the need of Israeli wineries to stop making wines for the sweet-toothed, wine chugging kosher public. The wineries and their fans crave uncontrolled tannin, date, prune, and enough oak on the wine, for splinters to be protruding from it!

Well, I am so excited to say that there is now a winery that combines the best of both worlds! Yes, they make fantastic date juice and old-world wines at the same time! This magical winery is the Matar Winery, which is the kosher arm of the famous Pelter Winery in Israel’s Golan Heights! Pelter Winery is not kosher, but in 2012 they decided to create a new arm of their winery- called Matar Winery. A say arm, because it is an extension to Pelter Winery, it is NOT Pelter Winery itself. Tal Pelter, the winemaker and half owner of the family run winery, decided that he still wanted to interact with his wines, on a very hands on and intimate level, and so he kept Pelter winery non-kosher. However, he also wanted to make his wines available to the charadei (frum/orthodox) Jewish community, and so he created a new winery, that uses his grapes and that he makes, with the aid of religious workers.

This is a very different approach that say Flam, Castel, and others wineries that went kosher. In the latter wineries, the entire production went from non-kosher to kosher inside of a year. For Tal, who is a passionate and hands-on winemaker, who happens to not religious, it would have meant losing access to what he craves – his wines. This is a subject I discussed in my top wine post of all time; kosher wine 101. For brevity, I will simply state that kosher wine is defined by many things, but the toughest one for winemakers like Tal, is the requirement that the wine be made and handled by religious Jews.

Many winemakers, like Paul Dubb from Tzuba or Golan from Flam Winery, and the list goes on, will tell you that they have so much to get done in their day, that losing immediate access to their wines, is not something they miss. They either have very talented winemakers or cellar rats that do the work that they were doing when the scale was far smaller. When they reach a larger scale, the next thing most wineries do in Israel is go kosher. Why? Because they realize that they cannot sell non-kosher wine at 100K bottles a year to the Israeli public. There is just too much other non-kosher wine, from around the world and from Israel (both kosher and non-kosher) that the market for non-kosher Israeli wines – at large scale – collapses on itself.

To be fair, there are wineries that are not kosher and are growing – because they make fantastic wines that the non-kosher market craves, mostly to restaurants and collectors. Such as Pelter, Margalit, and Vitkin – all three are large boutique wineries on the scale of 80K+ bottles that are also non-kosher. But even Tal knew that pushing beyond his current 100K to 200K non-kosher wines would be a stretch – even for a winery with the fame and success of Pelter Winery. On an aside, Pelter Winery, is from what I understand the largest non-kosher winery in Israel.

Pelter Winery was established by Tal Pelter in 2005. In 2001, Tal had just returned from studying oenology in Australia, and now he wanted to apply is craft to the burgeoning Israeli wine world. Tal started with a single focus; create high quality, premium wines, for a reasonable price!

Soon, Tal was creating wines on his family’s farm in Moshav Zofit in central Israel. He went from making 4000 bottles in 2002, to 28,00 bottles in 2005, to 80,000 bottles in 2008, and 100,000 in 2014, all in the Pelter non-kosher winery. Everything about the winery is family driven, Tal manages the winery and his brother Nir handles the marketing. I met Nir at this year’s KFWE in NYC, where he was pouring the new 2014 and 2013 Matar wines.

In 2005, Tal found prime real estate in the Golan Heights and he planted his vineyard in the sky. As of today, 50% of the grapes are sourced from the northern Golan, and 50% from vineyards in the Jerusalem hills and the mountains of the Upper Galilee. The winery sources and uses Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Tempranillo, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay from its vineyards.

The Matar winery’s first vintage was 2012 where they made 20,000 bottles. That was followed by 40,000 in 2013, and some 80,000 in 2014. The winery has essentially just extended its wine output, but it has not transferred any of its existing wines over from the Pelter brand, other than the Petite Verdot that it will only make under the Matar brand going forward. The idea is to grow the brand to 160k bottles in 2016, after the 2015 shmitta year.

Now, I did chide above that the Matar Winery is making date juice and old-world wines, which is the greatest oxymoron that I could ever imagine! You see, Tal has a massive room where he makes, date brandy, wheat whiskey, grape brandy, and lovely Calvados from Pink Lady apples. He is using a beautiful still that he bought in France, took apart there, and shipped it in pieces to the place it stands today, where he reassembled it and uses it as often as he can!

We tasted the spirits and I must say they are sensational! The Calvados is ripping with mad acid and caramel covered apples along with butterscotch and earth. The date juice is well date juice. The rest were nice, including the brandy, but I was at that point thinking more of the wine than the spirits and I am not the best judge of spirits anyway. GG loved the stuff, and as a proper judge of spirits that says a lot!

My many thanks to Tal Pelter and the winery for taking time to show us around and let us taste all the new kosher wines available. Personally, I cannot help but be overly impressed with the wines. To me Matar has a real chance to become a top tier kosher winery in Israel, with good varietals, choice, and quality at a somewhat elevated price. The wines are not cheap, going from 100 NIS for the whites to 200 NIS for the top tier red called CB. Still, the quality is impressive and ones that are well worth being sought out!

My wine notes follow below:

2013 Matar Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon – Score: A-
This wine is an unasked classic Bordeaux blend of 50% Semillon and 50% Sauvignon Blanc. The nose on this lovely wine is filled with tart green apple, lovely fresh cut grass, with straw and kiwi in the background. The mouth on this lovely medium bodied wine is well structured with sick ripping acid, rich and deep mineral, with green apple, melon, intense spice, Asian pear, green notes, and herb bringing the mouth together. The finish is crazy long and herbal with intense slate, rich cloves, peach, cat pee, lemon friache, citrus pith, intense and insane saline, and lovely mineral madness. Once the fruit comes and goes off your palate all you remember and feel is crazy saline, slate, mineral, straw, and rock. The mineral and saline madness is something I have truly not had often – MEGA BRAVO!!!

2014 Matar Chenin Blanc – Score: A- (and a bit more)
This is the second kosher Chenin that I know of from Israel and it is very akin to the Netofa Chenin Blanc that we enjoyed here. The difference is that 50% of this wine was aged in oak for 3 months, while the rest was aged in steel. The nose on this wine is tart and rich with tart lemon, quince, apple pie (the pastry aromas coming from the oak), with lemon plum, and spice. The mouth on this round and full bodied wine is rich and oily textured, showing mad saline, mineral, slate, ripping acid, along with rich earth, lemon, nectarine, and spice. The finish is long and spicy with more mineral, cloves, white pepper, lemon grass, and roasted herb – DOUBLE BRAVO!! Outside of the 2014 Netofa – this Chenin is very unique and it does remind me a bit of the Netofa Latour without the oak.

2013 Matar Chenin Blanc – Score: A- and more
Lovely chard nose with charred and sweet notes of Apple pie, honeysuckle, melon, honey, spice, and mineral. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is viscous with oak beefing up the wine, with quince, and butter notes, crazy nectarine, tart orange, and crazy spicy, rich oak and peach with mineral and nice acid that attacks with crazy fig and dried herb and pith. Long spice finish, with nutmeg, white pepper and nectarines pith and nice straw and slate. BRAVO!

2013 Matar Chardonnay – Score: A-
Please do not get me wrong, but to me this was the weakest of the wines, which is saying a lot with an A- score. This wine is a lovely expression of a Cali Chardonnay, with enough acid to keep my attention, but it does not have the crazy acid or mineral that the other white wines were showing. Still, it is a lovely Chard, and it was aged in 100% new oak for 9 months.

The nose on this Chardonnay is rich and toasty with clear oak notes, lovely apple cobbler, spiced yellow apple, and crushed herb. The mouth on this full bodied wine is viscous and plush, with an attack of spiced summer fruits, butterscotch, rich peach, apricot, showing ripe fruit in this round and textured mouth, with a spicy bite, brioche, yeast, and sweet oak. The finish is long and buttery, with sweet quince, pear, nutmeg and sage. Very Nice.

2014 Matar Special Edition – Score: A- (and more)  (NOT tasted during winery visit)
This is a special wine made for the Derech Hayain wine stores. It is mostly Chardonnay with a bit of Sauvignon Blanc added in. It is crazy because this was tasted blind like all the other wines in this tasting and we thought it was an SB – no way this was a chard! The bit of SB overpowered this wine in a very special manner. This wine has a lovely nose of wet grass, cat’s piss, gooseberry, with citrus and lemon. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is crazy with sick ripping acid, intense crazy citrus pith, nectarines, with rich sweet and tart fruit, it flows into lemon grass, pineapple and tart yellow grapefruit. The finish is long with straw and mineral finish with crazy kiwi lingering. BRAVO!!!

2012 Matar Cumulus – Score: A-
This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, aged in French oak for 15 months. The nose on this lovely wine is perfumed with lovely mineral, herb, toasted mint, basil, rich toast, and dirt. The mouth on this medium bodied wine starts with good spice, mineral, olives, saline, blackberry, raspberry, currant, butterscotch, and rich layers of blackcurrant. The finish is long and chocolate based, with more olive, layers of spice, nutmeg, black pepper, tobacco, and soft tannins. This is not a classic Israeli wine, yes it has ripe fruit, but it is so old world in style, with mineral, tart fruit, saline, tobacco, graphite, spice, and sweet fruit rounding out the wine. You can say this is a classic Bordeaux wine with an Israeli terroir! BRAVO!

2012 Matar Petite Verdot – Score: A- (and more)
This wine is made 100% kosher, meaning there is no non-kosher version of this from Pelter Winery. To me this wine was the most striking wine, sure the flagship CB was lovely, but this is so unique and yet so Israeli that it again showed that ideal – of a old world wine with an Israeli Terroir!

To say this wine is 100% mineral, spice, earth, and dirt, would be an understatement. Sure, there are other PV wines from Israel, but this wine is so far out there, that I wonder if a kosher drinking palate, that is used to the date-spiked punch-juice that most Israeli wineries pass off as wine, could really appreciate this masterpiece!

The nose on this wine explodes with a stunning perfume of freshly tilled earth, mineral, graphite, blackberry, black pepper, earth, forest floor, and roasted herb. The mouth on this medium bodied wine hits you in layers with rich fruit (this is still a ripe wine), plum, dried raspberry, spice, chocolate, along with layers of tannin, mineral, and saline, that all comes together with crazy tannin and spicy oak. The finish is long and chocolate based, with butterscotch, sweet dill, tobacco, along with layers of spice, cloves, green notes, and bell pepper. BRAVO!!!!

2012 Matar CB (Cumulonimbus) – Score: A- (and more)
This wine is the flagship of the winery and is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Petite Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. There were only 2000 bottles of this wine made, and this wine was aged in French oak for 24 months.

The nose on this wine is lovely and rich with black and blue fruit, olives, mineral, black pepper, rich spices, and sweet oak. This wine has very clear Cali leanings, gone are the intense mineral and saline, from the previous reds, now there is ripe and controlled fruit abounding. The mouth on this full bodied wine is lovely and ripe, rich and layered, with layers of vanilla, tobacco, spice, blackberry, purple plum, boysenberry, with layers of sweet spices, watermelon, green notes, foliage, along with intense white pepper, all wrapped in mouth coating tannin, mineral, slate and graphite. The finish is long and richly tannic with leather, olives, and more green notes – BRAVO!!!

2012 Matar Shiraz – Score: A-
The nose on this 100% Shiraz wine is very floral, with rose hips, black and blue fruit, mineral, spice, white pepper, blueberry, and blackcurrant. The mouth on this full bodied wine is far more mineral and saline based than the CB, with nice mineral, charcoal, saline, attacking the body with crazy mineral, intense tannin, spices, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Clearly, this is the ripest of the Matar wines with tart and juicy ripe blueberry, plum, raspberry, butterscotch, and yes more saline all wrapped in sweet tannins and sweet cedar. The finish is long and sweet with cloves, cinnamon, and ripe juicy fruit abounding. This is a controlled wine, but not one I would have guessed was a Matar wine from having tasted the others. Still, this is the most classic Israeli wine of the bunch, but under far greater control.

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Posted on May 18, 2015, in Israel, Israeli Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher White Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting, Winery Visit and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

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