Festival introduces professionals to new wines

Over the past few months, it seems that every other day I receive an e-mail inviting me to a wine fair, event or exhibition.

I’ve received invitations from the Jerusalem Wine Festival, the Ashdod Wine Festival, the White Wine Festival at Herzliya Marina, the Raanana Wine Festival and an event at the Special Reserve Wine Shop in Haifa, as well as invitations to various Beaujolais celebrations.

While most of these events are usually well organized; showcase a variety of enjoyable wines and offer an opportunity to meet friends and colleagues, the Sommelier Wine Expo is still my favourite. On the seventh and eighth of November, hundreds of winemakers, waiters, bartenders, restaurateurs, importers and distributors come from across Israel to the Nokia basketball arena (Maccabi Tel Aviv’s home court) to attend the annual Sommelier exhibition.

The event, organized by Studio Ben Ami (which also operates the sommelier.co.il website and has an annual beer exhibition) is one of the leading and most exclusive wine events that the Israeli wine industry has to offer. The event maintains its exclusivity by being open only to the professional crowd. It provides an opportunity for the people who come into contact with the wines we consume – from vintners and salespersons to the servers – to be exposed to new vinos on the market, see what the competition has to offer, and mix and match and even sample wines from wineries that I’m sure they didn’t even know existed before attending the show.

My visit at Yatir Winery’s booth was a pleasure, both because the CEO, Yakov Ben Dor, always has a good story to tell, and also thanks to his Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon, which were up to par with previous releases.

Clos De Gat Winery (not kosher) is producing some fine red wines, particularly under the Sycra and Harel labels, as do Vitkin Winery (not kosher) and Tulip Winery (as of 2010, the Tulip wines are kosher). The Adir Winery recently began exporting to Canada.

At Carmel Winery’s booth I tasted some of its Single Vineyards wines, my favourite being the Cabernet Sauvignon Kayoumi 2008.

The Domaine Ventura Winery offered a refreshing rosé made of Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes.

The Cave Winery held vertical tastings of the Cave blend, sampling four wines from 2005 through to the soon-to-be-released 2008. If you still have any of the 05 in your wine cooler, I would suggest drinking it up in the next year or so and replacing it with the 2008, which was quite promising.              

As these types of wine events are not the ideal place to conduct serious tastings, the following notes are of wines that I have sampled off-site and on different occasions. Some may not have been available at the Sommelier exhibition.

• Barkan Winery: The Barkan Winery recently released a new label titled Assemblage, a French word referring to the blending process resulting in the final vino. Assemblage is positioned between the winery’s Reserve and Altitude label, which both consist solely of varietal wines. Yotam Sharon, one of Barkan’s winemakers, said that “the Assemblage label is a new concept in the winery and its shift towards the Old World. The emphasis is less on the variety and more on the terroir. The wines reflect the regions where the grapes were cultivated and the names of the wines, Eitan, Tzafit and Reichan, are derived directly from names of mountains or other geographical landmarks in the vicinity in the vineyards.”

The first wine to be released was the Assemblage, Eitan, 2008 – comprising Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, bright ruby in colour, on the nose and palate, soft, plenty of red fruit, fresh herbs and pepper followed by pleasant notes of chocolate and just a touch of cloves and a long finish. Good balancing acidity and relatively low alcohol levels also make it a rather food-friendly wine. While not yet on the market, the Tzafit was also quite interesting and worth a try, and to my knowledge is among (if not) the first Israeli wines to incorporate the Caladoc and Marcelan grape varieties.            

• Golan Heights Winery: The Golan Heights Winery is always busy adding wines to its portfolio, with the new Cabernet Sauvignon, El Rom, 2008, unveiled during the Sommelier exhibition; the Yarden 2T, based on Portuguese grape varieties, released a couple of months ago, and a sparkling rosé in the works.

Golan Heights winemaker Victor Schonfeld and his team recently released a new Syrah wine, the first of this variety to ever be included under the popular Gamla label. Gamla, Syrah, 2009, medium leaning toward full bodied, is true to its variety, showing black fruit, plums, black pepper, moderate use of oak and hints of smoked meat. Yarden, Cabernet Sauvignon, El Rom, 2008, 18 months in French oak, is full bodied; on the nose and palate, concentrated and layered black fruits, ripe plums, herbs, tobacco, oak and dark chocolate, all leading to an extra-long finish. The wood could use another year or two to fully integrate, but it’s definitely an enjoyable wine that will develop nicely over the years.      

• Dalton Winery: After several years of producing a single Bordeaux-style blend under the Alma label, the Dalton Winery recently released two new wines, turning the label into a series of interesting blended wines. Dalton, Alma, SMV, 2009 – coined by the winery as a Rhone Valley-style blend – comprises Shiraz, Morvedre and Viognier grapes, is dark purple in colour, medium bodied, and shows purple flowers, black berry fruits, fresh Mediterranean herbs and a touch of anise, all backed by refreshing acidity.

• Teperberg Winery: Teperberg, Shiraz, Reserve, 2009 – 100 per cent Shiraz – was aged in barriques (both new and second round) for 18 months. Dark purple in colour, the wine is full bodied and, while still firm, suggests aromas and flavours of raspberries, plums, purple flowers and a touch of chocolate-covered orange peel, leading to a long finish. Teperberg wines have improved dramatically over the past couple of years and are offering good wines in all price categories.

• Bravdo Winery: Bravdo, Chardonnay, 2010 – bright gold in colour, on the nose – suggests green apples, white peaches, yellow plums and hints of toasted brioche. The palate is slightly creamy, showing pleasant fruit and a clean finish. Bravdo, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009, is dark garnet in colour and suggests blackberry fruits and tobacco followed by blueberries, plums, thyme and a hint of cloves, leading to a long finish.

The Ultimate Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines

This extended guide to Israeli wines was recently published. Due to Daniel Rogov’s untimely death, the guide will be the last in this series, which has been published annually since 2005 by Toby Press. Rogov was Israel’s leading food and wine critic, and has been writing about the culinary and wine industry for more than 30 years. Rogov also served as Ha’aretz newspaper’s culinary writer and contributed to leading international wine magazines.

Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of meeting and speaking with Rogov at wine tastings and press events on a monthly basis. He would usually arrive early, wanting to be the first to taste the wines. He would never agree to speak about the wine before his article was published, and was always happy to share his knowledge and stories with some of the younger wine writers. I am, of course, aware of the fact that not everybody in the industry agreed with Rogov or with the grades he gave to certain wines, however, there is no doubt that his contribution to the Israeli wine industry was a great one and that he will be missed by many.