Sommelier 2017 results – sadly few highlights

sommelier-2017To say there were few highlights at this year’s sommelier, would be an understatement. Though, many of the “stalwarts” were absent this year. The consensus was that while Sommelier is a great marketing tool, it does not reach the end consumer well enough, and as such it is really a better tool for startup wineries – to display their wares to professional wine buyers, than bigger and more established brands.

The problem I have with that mentality from these wineries, is that they are missing point of Sommelier! Sommelier is not a wine venue it is a wine promotion vehicle, and there is the rub! More on this in a bit.

A few larger brands were indeed here this year, but they used it for displaying new varietals, like Tabor pouring their Tannat and Marselan wines. Yarden was also at the show, but they were highlighting the 2008 Blanc de Blanc bubbly, which makes little sense to me, as it is a past vintage in Israel, they are now on 2009 in Israel, though the 2008 is available in the USA and Duty Free. Of course, it did not diminish my happiness in seeing the wine, I used it predominantly as a means to cleanse my palate after a tasting far too many of the smaller winery wines, which were undrinkable, and that is truly being nice/PC.

Sadly, for me, Gvaot was a no-show, which is understandable at this point given their brand recognition and quality. Same goes for Netofa which also bowed out this year. Carmel and Yatir were also no shows, along with no Midbar, no Kishor, or Galil, or even Barkan (more on that in a minute). Really, it was new or fairly new wineries covering the walls like lilies on a summer day. Sadly, lilies would have been a better use of the space, but that is not my call of course.

So, all this means is that another year has passed, and nothing has changed, which is exactly what I was worried about in my last post.

State of Israel’s wine industry

My clear unhappiness, is not pointed at the Sommelier event itself, or at its promoters. On the contrary, the way I see it, it is a badly needed wine event. To me is is the event where we find the next Netofa, or Capsouto (who was there pouring his 2014 wines), but it is also the only event revolving around the wine industry as a whole left in Israel. Sure, we see it as the event where we get to taste lots of wine is a single place, but there are other aspects that I am now understanding about Sommelier that are very important as well.

Sommelier plays a vital part in the Israeli wine world, is is currently the only Israeli wine event that is focused on the wine industry. Sadly, ISRAWINEXPO died after the 2012 vintage, and even that one was a bit of a disappointment. Sure, there is the PYUP and Jerusalem, tel Aviv, and other festival wine events, but those are far more consumer wine related events than industry focused. Without the constant marketing of Israeli wines – at large to the global public, Israel becomes a one trick pony – kosher wine.

I have asked countless wineries why there is no REAL Israeli wine association, one that is fully inclusive to all wineries that export to major outlets around the world? Their answer, the government does not deem them agriculture and they have no interest in helping. OK. But Napa Valley has received no Government help, neither has Paso Robles (LOVE these ads), or most any in the USA or South Africa.

That was why I was so impressed by the Judean Hills Quartet, first of all they contain three of the best wineries in Israel. Maybe four, but Doron’s Sephora is not kosher, so I have no personal knowledge to its quality. On an aside, I remember with great glee the day Doron shared with me the an almost full vertical of his Chardonnay – what a joy they were. The three kosher wineries are stalwarts in their space, and while I can have issues here and there with certain vintages or certain wines, from Flam or Castel, the consistency and quality of these wineries, be they kosher or not, is truly impressive, and they make a great quartet to promote the Judean Hills region.

Now before you go all out and say, how dare the quartet portend to be the sole proprietor of Judean Hills terroir? The answer is simple, they are promoting themselves – not on behalf of the region, but on behalf of the wineries they represent. This is a private endeavor to teach, promote, educate the MW of the world about the quality and uniqueness of the Judean Hills and what it has to offer to the world at large. Kudos to them all, what we need is more education, more promotion, not less! Losing events like ISRAWINEXPO, is a loss for all, because the more the world sees Israel for what it is – the better chance it has to improve and grow. Now, is it the job of Barkan and Yarden to help with this overall Israel promotion (I said I would get back to Barkan)? IMHO, the answer is yes and yes. Still, I do not run wineries, so they are free to do as they see fit, but the insanely insular view of Israeli wineries as a whole, is one that is doomed to fail in the long run. You grow with numbers, not with one. You promote with numbers, you talk to the world with numbers. As a good friend of mine said, you never go into a bar rumble by yourself, you go with friends (maybe not as apropos as I thought at first), but the point is still there.

Either way, kudos to Sommelier for working on this very thing, and kudos to the quartet for the vision to see that Israeli’s wine future depends on more than just kosher and NYC, it depends on the world at large. The sooner Israel sees it and invests in it – the sooner they will grow in all the right ways.

State of the 2015 and 2016 vintages from Israel

Before we get into my takeaways from this year’s Sommelier, let us start with the two facts that depress me more than anything:

  1. 2016 is not God’s gift – it is a winemaker’s year – at least from what I have seen so far. All the hope I had for 2016 has not panned out at all. It is not like 2015 in France, where literally trash wine (AKA water) was turned into wine. The aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats” is literally coming to life in Bordeaux with the 2015 vintage. Sadly, we had hoped 2016 would be that year for Israel, and after tasting enough wine, and talking with enough winemakers about this subject, the opinions are clear. Most think the whites of 2015 were better (of course not approaching 2014 in any way), and the reds of 2016 were better than 2015, which is not hard to understand, given how poor a vintage it was. The best wineries will make good wines in 2016, others will feel the double the pain after a horrible 2015 and a below average 2016 – white wise at this point, anyway.
    There are a few exceptions, and those will be highlighted here and in subsequent posts – when I discuss wine notes from other wineries that were not at Sommelier.
  2. Worse than the 2016 letdown, is the futility that many of the “boutique Wineries” in Israel are portraying and foisting upon the Israeli public at large.
    It was truly depressing to walk Sommelier, where small wineries are meant to have their chance to talk with winemakers, wine purchasers, and wine business people at large. To gain from their knowledge. Sadly, they use this time to talk about wine that does not deserve the glass it lives in. The wines were all the same – literally! Each and every one of the wines I tasted – again besides a few exceptions, consisted of one or all of these three aspects:

    1. Absurd usage of oak, until it feels like wood splinters in your mouth – oak for the sake of oak. Oak juice that is so offensive that so many people talked to me about how far off the well-defined path, these new wineries are going.
    2. Absurd overripe wines, really absurd. Countless times, I just wrote NO. No, I refuse to taste this wine.
    3. Finally, there was clear evidence of either VA or oxidation or both, and not in just a few wines! Best part was some of the winemakers were talking about it as an added benefit! I kid you not! Others were clueless.

The outcome of this situation, is that you have these tiny wineries popping up all around Israel, with either a seriously impressive and healthy dose of poorly placed self-confidence, or they have too much money and they are purposely burning the stash to the ground. The wines at Sommelier were all the same, over oaked, over the top, astringent to the point of disgusting, and in many cases flawed in so many ways.

The 2015 and 2016 vintage from Israel to date

So far, 2016 Rose wines are not showing well, other than the few exceptions. Same goes with Sauvignon Blanc – not a great wine from 2016, I hope Yarden’s will be solid again this year. Viognier so far, is the lone white wine star of the 2016 israel vintage. It has been solid across many wineries.

The 2015 reds are actually showing well, if they were picked early before the horrors of August, or even into mid August. Proof so far for me, has come from Vitkin’s lovely Pinot Noir, Tzora Winery EPIC 2015 red showings (more on that on a subsequent post), and very solid showings from Kishor Winery. Of course, 2015 is a winemaker’s vintage for red wines, and I have listed many of the top wineries in Israel, so sure their wines were good. But I had fear of 100% disaster when I thought of the reds of 2015. Happily there is hope, though I doubt any of them are for long-term holding. Enjoy the 2015 reds that you do buy early. They are anyway, extremely accessible as they are right now.

 State of Israel’s Boutique Wineries

Getting back to the “Boutique Wineries” that filled the Charles Bronfman Auditorium, Herzberg Winery and Montefiore Winery were two wineries that I thought are moving in a good direction. Sure, some of the wines are still the akin to the stuff that surrounded them from all four sides, but they are moving in the correct direction, IMHO.

Sadly, there were really few highlights. The worst part about the situation is the fact that the boutique wineries think everything is fine. I talked to many of them, I asked them, do you think this wine has any flaws? Of course I received indignant replies, which is fair, until I asked – what about the oxidation? Their reply was it was done so on purpose or there was none, which is always possible. But then I asked is this a wine that you think correctly typifies Israel’s abilities and strengths – the response was yes. So, again, all the classic bravado and hopeless optimism, one could possibly “hope” for. While I am the classic optimist, with a strong ribbon of truth, we must stay based in reality, and the reality was hope did not spring eternal this day at sommelier.

The worse part of it all, was that this means they have no idea or desire to change. Also, to be fair, the wine consumers that were at the event, were so clueless that when they approached the tables, they demanded Cabernet or your most bombastic wines. Which is of course, why all the new wineries make – Cabernet! The self-defined king of the noble grapes, and what they created was the highest treason to the king!

Personally, the small wineries are being sold a line, they are being told their wines are great, and they have so little to sell, they think it should work at 200+ NIS a bottle – why not? They are mostly based in small moshav X or Y, and visitors come to the moshav to relax after a long week, and they see the winery and they go in and taste it. They find it over their heads, so they buy a couple a bottles, why? Because the price is so high and it has all these fake medals on the bottle (fake in terms of LCD wine competitions, that give a gold medal to either the highest bidder or any wine with a pulse). Well, they think, if it is expensive it must be good, and they buy a bottle or two. The sad fact is that any true educated wine consumer would laugh at their friends, like the guy who buys a white painting – and his friend wonders aloud what he bought. So, what do u do then, here you are sitting at the table and your host pours this wine, and one whiff and you know you want NOTHING to do with this wine? You ask for another helping of the stew and pray the wine will die under the weight of the creamy sauce, smile and thank them. That is where the issue lies, there is no feedback, the wineries are never trained to their flaws, and so they will keep producing these horrific wines.

The fun part of Sommelier

I will stop now talking about the failed wines and instead focus on the good. These are the wineries that were enjoyable and the notes for all the wines I liked follow below:

Covenant Israel

I found the Covenant Israel team to be delightful, which is obvious because it is hosted by Zoe Morgan, Mr Morgan’s daughter who lives in Israel. The team added a true breath of fresh air to the world of small producers at the event. The true winner, from their lineup, was the lovely Viognier, which I am seeing to be one of the winning white grapes of 2016 so far. Sadly, the Sauvignon wines of 2016 are not winners, but I am diverting. The Rose and Syrah were nice enough.

Tura Winery

This is no new revelation, Tura has been on my radar since the first time I visited the winery, and I felt they truly peaked with the 2010/2011 vintages. Sadly, since then the wines have gone the route of the Israeli palate, and while that may be good for sales and for the Tura Winery, I wish they returned to the ways of the 2011 vintage, though the Pinots in 13 and 14 were also nice. The new 2016 Tura Snow White was nice.

Psagot Winery

Yaacov Oryah is now there, fulltime, and the whites and rose show beautifully. The 2015 wines were ok wines, nothing special. The older ones, are classic Israeli pushed red wines, which were of no interest. However, the new 2016 rose is very nice along with the 2016 Chardonnay! Maybe the top rose so far in 2016. Another aside, rose is not looking good so far in 2016 from Israel, none received an A- from me other than this one and the Recanati Gris Marselan, and I tasted many of them. Sad.

Recanati Winery

Recanati was in full swing and when you can get an excuse to talk with Kobi Arbiv, you take it! To many, Recanati is holding the line and not pushing the wines too far. Sadly, to me that is not how I see it. The wines have started moving slowly riper since 2012 and have not slowed down. That said, many will continue to love their wines, and I would not stop them, they are just not my current cup of tea. Their run away star, for me, is the Gris de Marselan Rose, really lovely wine. In 2015, it was not great, but it is back in 2016! The 2015 reds from Recanati did not impress, they were more hollow than real. Sadly, even the 2014 reds were already showing date and over ripe notes. Crazy. I loved those at release. It is truly scary with what is going on, to me the Mediterranean series is the correct answer to Israel’s heat, but approach that Recanati is using currently, seems to be creating wines that are lovely for a year and then turning fast to over ripe and unbalanced wines. Again, this is my opinion, there are many that do not agree. Enjoy them if you do – beauty is always in the eyes of the beholder.

Ella Valley

Yes they were at the event, and no those wines are not what I am talking about – those are pre Yaacov and well, they are not interesting to me at all. Yes, Yaacov Oryah is now at two wineries, Ella Valley and Psagot. Both wineries were displaying wines at Sommelier and we tasted wines that were not quite released yet.

The 2016 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2016 Chardonnay are beautiful, lovely! Now, some of you will taste them and expect oak bombs and the sort, if so, go elsewhere, go look at Alexander or other such wineries. This Chardonnay is pure heaven, lean, mineral, incredibly bright and acidic, with rich spice. Yup, it smells like Sauvignon Blanc in the glass, but it is Chard. Funny, because we tasted the 2016 Sauvignon Blanc right before it, and though I watched Yaacov pour me the Chardonnay in my glass, I could have sworn he mixed the bottles up. The notes below of both will show my excitement for these wines. Bravo!

Yarden Winery

Well you know my feelings here in terms of the reds. I tried the 2913 reds that were there, enough said. Still, the whites and bubbly continue to impress deeply. The new 2016 Pinot Gris is really nice! The 2009 Yarden Katzrin Chardonnay from magnum, continues its impressive lineage. This one was a fruity, brioche driven wine that is rich and layered, lovely! But the star of the show – maybe the entire show was the 2008 Yarden Blanc de Blanc – WOW!!! That was the ultimate palate cleanser and it was mind blowing wine. It is the top two of the BdB all time. The 2014 Pinot Noir is ripe, but officially “balanced”, so try if that is good with your palate.

Herzberg Winery

Herzberg Winery was there, it is a winery I have spoken of many times, and whose wines are really QRP options for Israel. The best part of the visit to the booth was when he told us, that his wines are coming to Kosherwine.com soon, as an exclusive, which I think is a good move for KW/JWines.

Montefiore Winery

The winery is moving in the correct direction if the new wine I tasted from them is any proof, though it was their new wine, Aria. It is a blend of Syrah, Cabernet, and Petit Sirah. It showed good refinement.

Wine Notes from the event – for wines I could write about 🙂

The wine notes follow my scoring standard defined here. Do not let the long list of wine notes fool you. The number of A- and above wines are few indeed 😦

2016 Tura Snow White – Score: B+ to A-
The wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Chardonnay. The nose is lovely, showing sweet fruit, with nice bright fruit, lovely honey notes, with peach, great honeysuckle, orange and blossom. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is nice, showing more as Viognier with many of the notes from the nose, with good acid, focus of fruit, green apple, quince, and mineral. Nice finish.

2014 Tura Shiraz – Score: B+
The nose on this wine is nice, with good blue fruit, showing good focus and attack, boysenberry, roasted meat, with sweet tar. Nice full body with good focus and great tannin structure with nice attack, mineral, graphite, with great sweet spices, nice earth and mineral. Finish is a bit short with nice blue and black fruit, blackberries and forest berry.

2014 Tura Mountain Peak – Score: B+
While the wine does show old world tendencies, it lacks the complexity of previous vintages. The nose is nice and old world, with green and red fruit, and good finesse. The wine shows a medium to full body, with lovely mineral and black and red fruit, but little in the way of concentration or complexity, showing nice spice and earth, with blackberry, raspberry, and hints of blue fruit. The finish is long with more mineral and spice.

2016 Covenant Israel Viognier, Blue C – Score: A-
This wine is made from fruit sourced from manara. There are some 250 cases made. The nose on this wine is lovely and perfumed, with classic peach and apricot, rich honey notes, with blossom and orange, lovely. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is fun, a complex fruity but well-balanced wine, it shows great focus, ripping acid, tart fruit, grapefruit galore, with cloves and straw. The finish is long and tart, with juicy lemon curd and melon. Bravo!

2016 Covenant Israel Rose, Blue C – Score: B+
This rose is made from 100% Syrah. The nose is nice with blue hints, showing great spice, rich gooseberry, strawberry with spice and lemon curd. The mouth is nice and tart, with good acid, showing red raspberry, and nice tart lemon and quince. Nice.

2015 Covenant Israel Blue C  Red, Edom – Score: B+
Lovely nose of tar and lots of floral notes, with rose, dried fruit with blueberry and tart fruit. Nice full body mouth with great acid, good focus but still very new world with great spice, blackberry and blue notes. Long and black finish with good tar and earth and graphite and spice.

2016 Psagot Rose – Score: A-
Ok, this was the first rose that really woke me up, a rose with enough complexity to grab me, with a clear mineral core, with mineral at its focus and not its periphery. The nose on this wine is lovely, with great focus of spice and good raspberry, strawberry, and lovely grapefruit. Wow what a mouth, really impressive, super focused with crazy acid and spice, classy with orange and nectarines in the background, with good cloves and white pepper in the foreground. The finish is long with intensely tart fruit and red tea. Nice!

2016 Recanati Gris de Marselan – Score: A-
Thank god the lovely rose is back! Another one of those classically styled Provence rose, rather than red colored white wine. The nose on this wine is rich and lovely with rose hips, blossom, followed by really nice tart fruit, gooseberry, and grapefruit. The mouth on this medium bodied wine shows lovely acid, followed by good spice and tart and juicy lemon, passion fruit, guava, with pepper and tart spicy notes. The finish is long and tart, with slate, pith, and more tart citrus lingering long. Nice!

2014 Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve – Score: B+ to A-
This is a wine that is literally on the fence for me. The nose is sweet, that is for sure, and while it may be balanced at this point, it does not have too much time left, IMHO. The nose starts off with ripe sweet fruit, showing great spice, licorice, roasted herb and spice. The mouth on this full-bodied wine starts off with lovely graphite and mineral, followed by sweet notes galore, blackberry, earth, plum dried fruit as sweet notes abound. The finish is long and spicy and sweet with  milk chocolate and spice.

2016 Psagot Chardonnay – Score: A-
This wine is a curious and unique cat piss and Tahiti paradise, with guava and passion fruit, melon galore, with ripe fruit, showing a green core. Impressive, tart and fresh wine. Lovely acid core on the medium body, with some oak, but super balanced and focused, with Asian spices, with great slate, tart and sweet Braeburn apple, a lovely complexity that comes from the nexus of the fruit and acid, lovely. The finish is long with a core of tart fruit, great finesse, spice and focus. Bravo!

2016 Ella Valley Sauvignon Blanc – Score: A-
Lovely nose of gooseberry and pure grapefruit, cat piss, with earth and slate. Lovely mouthfeel, with great acid and rich juicy peach and apricot, with crazy mouth drying pink grapefruit with searing acid, lovely blossoms and spice. The finish is super long and tart, with ripping acid and quinine. Bravo!

2016 Ella Valley Chardonnay – Score: A-
Lovely tart and ripe balance with great apple and quince, with cat piss, with lovely Asian pear and spice. Lovely balance of oak and steel tart fruit, with great acid, and summer stone fruit. Lovely ripe balanced rich acid finish, with great slate, spice, saline and lovely tart summer fruit. Lovely!

2009 Yarden Chardonnay (magnum format) – Score: A-
Did not get really good notes down. Was tropical, but controlled with complexity and good focus. Lovely tart wine, with rich oak, but balanced by good focus, showing quince, apple, with pear, and guava. Really nice.

2016 Yarden Pinot Gris – Score: A-
This is the second vintage for Yarden of this new variety, and it keeps getting better. The nose on this lovely wine is clean and precise, showing epic gooseberry, tangerine, and spice. What a wine, bravo, impressed, with crazy acid, great focus, with guava, crazy pink grapefruit, lime, cat piss, and impressive spice with slate galore and spice that goes on forever. Bravo!

2014 Yarden Pinot Noir – Score: B+
What can I say, this is the closest thing to a Yarden/Gamla/Golan/Galil Pinot Noir that I could tolerate. Sure the nose is sweet, but the spice controls the madness, rich and heady, with cloves, raspberry, cherry, and cardamom. The mouth is nice, because of the incredible acid, but still too sweet, with nice oak. The finish is long and tart, with more acid, tart fruit, coffee, and mint lingering long.

2008 Yarden Blanc de Blanc, Brut – Score: A-
The 2008 vintage is more tart and citrus than the epic 2007 vintage and in many ways, but the 2007 is more regal, rich, richer and more hedonistic than the 2008. The nose on this lovely wine is filled with rich mineral, slate, rock, and yeast. The mouth on this medium plus bodied wine is rich and layered and elegant with a lovely mousse of small bubbles, lemon, grapefruit, mad citrus, followed by tangerine, lime, intense mineral, baked apple pie, and brioche notes. The finish is long, tart, acidic, with non stop tart fruit, herb, and lemon zest – BRAVO!!!

2016 Tabor Sauvignon Blanc, Adama – Score: B+ to A-
This one was so close to really being back to its old self, but man is 2016 a tough year for Sauvignon Blanc. The nose on this wine is nice, almost a joy, but still not the quality of Ella valley, but close, with expressive cat pee, and gooseberry. The mouth on this wine is fun, really that is the best way to call it, fun, with nice tart grapefruit, guava, and passion fruit taking center stage with a not long enough finish on the end.

2016 Herzberg Rose – Score: B+ to A-
A nice rose made from Malbec grapes. The nose start with great spice, strawberry with hints of blueberry, and great cloves. Nice medium body, with great acid and solid focus showing nice effort, dark currant, balanced, richer than most rose, with great cloves and nutmeg. Nice!

2012 Herzberg Village – Score: A-
This is a nice wine, really well made, with clean lines, and lovely tart fruit. The nose on this wine shows nice oak, with great spice, earth, raspberry, with great cloves, and black and white pepper. The mouth on this medium bodied wine has crazy spice and rich acid, finally a wine at sommelier that was red and nice, a wine that focuses on currant, dried raspberry and strawberry, with dried fruit galore, mineral, loam, earth, and acid. The finish is long and spicy, showing heady espresso, spice, and leather. Nice!

2013 Herzberg Village – Score: B+
The 2012 is old world, dry, tart, with mineral, and earth. The 2012 is nice, but a step behind, more ripe and black, and less controlled. The nose on this wine starts off really bright with an impressive focus, highlighting  dried currant, dried raspberry, but not as focused as the 12, with lovely red and black fruit, with blackberry and spice, soft tannin, and more acid. Nice.

2012 Montefiore Aria  – Score: B+ to A-
This wine is a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Sirah. The nose on this lovely wine shows with good spice, nutmeg and hickory, with great sweet dill and rich vanilla, followed by blueberry, cloves, and black pepper. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine shows great extraction, with rich spice, mounds of oak, dried currant, black currant and searing draping tannin. The finish is long and spicy, with rich roasted herb, and nice blue and black fruit.

2016 Yaffo Viognier – Score: B+
Lovely nose with crazy acid and rich peach and apricot, with good orange blossom and rose hip. Nice acid core with good focus, but lacking complexity, still very nice with good citrus and grapefruit, followed by slate and lemon peel.

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Posted on February 3, 2017, in Israel, Israeli Wine, Kosher Red Wine, Kosher Rose Wine, Kosher Sparkling Wine, Kosher White Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

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