New Israeli wines

Summer is pretty much over, the grape harvest is well underway and holiday season is just around the corner. As you may know, the vast majority of wine purchases in Israel and in Jewish communities worldwide take place in the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah as well as the Passover holidays.

Tempting specials are offered at shops across Israel, and many of the wine stores offer a tasting of their prized vinos (or wines that they overstocked on). The wineries often time the launch of a new wine, releasing it just before the wine-shopping spree begins.

Many of the wine stores in Israel offer a tasting of their prized vinos (or wines that they overstocked on) and the wineries often time the launch of a new wine, releasing it just before the wine-shopping spree begins.

There was a common saying among the chachamim (wise ones), the old Jewish scholars, that “what a person does on Rosh Hashanah has a significant impact on his/her lives in the year to come.” A good friend and colleague interpreted this saying, with the comment that if we drink good wine for Rosh Hashanah, we will be fortunate to drink good wines all year round.           

Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case and not every wine that we taste is to our likings, however, following is a list of recommended Israeli wines that are all relatively new to the market. If you don’t get to taste them on Rosh Hashanah, perhaps you will encounter these vinos during the year.

Adir Winery, Shiraz, 2010: Adir is another boutique winery with some fine red vinos (I also sampled their Chardonnay last year, but didn’t find it overly exciting), this Shiraz suggests pleasant aromas and flavours of red fruits, cherries and plums come to mind, those followed by purple flowers and distinctive peppery notes that linger on the palate.   

In conjunction with the unveiling of the Barakn Experience visitor’s centre, the winery recently launched the Altitude 2009 vinos. Barkan’s Altitude label consists of three varietal Cabernet Sauvignon wines. The grapes are harvested from vineyards at altitudes ranging from 412 to 720 metres above sea level and are processed in similar methods. Altitude, +624, 2009, is dark and concentrated in colour; very pleasant aromas suggest dark berry fruits, cherries, purple flowers and sweet spices (vanilla and cloves came to mind), full bodied and good structure, all coming together nicely and leading to a long finish. Allow to aerate in the glass, and you will be surprised to see how this wine develops. 

The Binyamina winery recently released several new wines from the winery’s flagship label, Avnei HaChoshen. The name refers to the precious stones that were imbedded in the chest plate worn by high priests in the days of the First and Second Temples. Of the new wines, my favourites were the Avnei HaChoshen, Saphire, 2009, and the Avnei HaChoshen, Yashfe, 2010, a refreshing and enjoyable white blend based on Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier grapes. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (40 per cent), Merlot (40 per cent) and Shiraz, the Saphire is dark ruby in colour, full bodied and has good structure. The wine shows generous aromas and flavours of dark berry fruits, plums, refreshing hints of mint and pepper followed by notes of roasted coffee beans and chocolate, all coming together nicely for a long finish. Approachable now but will benefit from a couple of years of cellaring.

Bravdo, Merlot, 2010: Bravdo, in Karmei Yosef, is known as the Winery of the Professors, as it is owned and operated by Prof. Ben Ami Bravdo and his former student, Prof. Oded Shoseyov. The winery produces some fine reds as well as an excellent Chardonnay. The Merlot, 2010, is full bodied, a bit firm when first poured, but opens nicely in the glass to reveal sweet red berry fruits, cherries, fresh herbs and notes of dark chocolate and coffee leading to a long and mouth-filling finish. 

Dalton, Anna, NV: Anna, NV, is dedicated to Anna Haruni, the mother of Alex Aruni, who owns Dalton Winery. This is a fortified dessert wine produced using Muscat grape in the Solera style, which blends aged wines (or other alcoholic beverages and even vinegars) from different vintages to a single bottle. The result is quite good. Anna, NV, is dark straw toward gold in colour and has a rich texture, with distinct notes of dried fruits, tropical fruit, honeysuckle and honey. Serve with potent cheeses, fruit or white-chocolate-based dessert or simply drink on its own.                

Ella Valley Vineyards also released a couple of new vinos, some produced by the previous winemaker Doron Rav Hon, as well as the first release from new winemaker Lynn Gold. Gold was responsible for the Sauvignon Blanc, 2011, comprising 90 per cent Sauvignon Blanc and 10 per cent Semion for balance. Very light in colour, with refreshing aromas and flavors that bring to mind: sour green apples, lime, slight grassy notes and white flowers. On the palate, the wine is crisp with very good balancing acidity and pleasant sweetness. Low alcohol content also makes this a rather food-friendly wine. I would suggest picking up a bottle before the temperatures begin to drop.

Flam, Classico, 2010: Traditionally one of my favourite wines from Flam, Classico, 2010, is the first kosher edition. As of 2010, all of the Flam vinos will have kashrut certification. A blend comprising Cabernet Sauvignon (50 per cent), Merlot (42 per cent), Cabernet Franc (five per cent) and Petit Verdot, it is a bit firm, with pleasant aromas and flavours that bring to mind black berry fruits, young plums alongside green pepper and a hint of smoke in the background, coming together nicely on the medium-long finish. The Merlot Reserve, 2008, is also an exceptional and elegant wine that is well worth a try.

Galil Mountain, Ella, 2010: Ella, 2010, is a new wine from the winery’s re-branded label Galil. The Ella is a red blend comprising 45 per cent Syrah, 45 per cent Barbera, seven per cent Petit Verdot and three per cent Cabernet Franc. Dark ruby in colour, generous aromas and flavours of dark fruits (cherries, plums) alongside warm spices, herbs and supporting oak in the background. Not a “big wine,” but well balanced and enjoyable overall. The winery also launched a Viognier-based vino from the 2011 vintage that is worth a try. A French grape varietal traditionally found in the Rhone Valley, Galil Mountain’s version suggests white peaches, apricots, hints of buttered toast and a pleasant finish.   

Golan Heights, Yarden 2T, 2009: Yarden 2T, 2009, is a blend comprising Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao, both traditional Portuguese grape varieties with relatively low yields. Eighteen months in barriques, it is full bodied; on the nose and palate, layers of tart berry fruits (cherries, strawberries) and purple flowers followed by notes of dark chocolate and warm spices all leading to a long finish. In my opinion, even better than the 2008 version. I also enjoyed the Yarden, Syrah, 2009, a concentrated and full-bodied red wine that will complement rich holiday meat dishes.

Gvaot, Gofna, Chardonnay-Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011: Chardonnay-Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 is an off-the-beaten-track wine from an off-the-beaten-track winery; 80 per cent Chardonnay (a light-skinned grape varietal) and 20 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon (a red-skinned grape, of course) were blended to produce a white wine that was developed in new oak barrels for some six months. Light but slightly tinted in colour, medium bodied, showing aromas and flavours of various fruit (apples, peaches and red berry fruit came to mind), with subtle notes of toasted oak in the background, coming together nicely for a pleasant and dry finish.

Or HaGanuz, Marom, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009: Established in 2005 and situated at the foothills of the Meron mountain in the Upper Galilee, Or HaGanuz Winery (a kabbalistic name meaning the “hidden light”) is managed and operated by the residents of a haredi co-operative village (similar to a kibbutz) baring the same name. True to its varietal, the Cabernet, 2009, shows distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon characteristics – dark berry fruits, cherries, plums alongside dried herbs and a touch of mint.

Segal, Unfiltered, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008: Segal’s flagship vino over the years has become an iconic Israeli wine, right up there with the best of them. The 2008 is no exception and a real treat. Garnet leaning towards black in colour, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008, is full bodied with generous layered aromas and flavours of dark berry fruits and purple flowers, those followed by chocolate-covered orange zest, dried tea leaves and subtle smoky notes, leading to a long and well-balanced finish. There is a certain refreshing green undertone that really gives the wine and extra umph, and as the wine develops in the glass, the aromas continue to come out. 

Tabor, 1/19,000, 2007: Released under the winery’s Limited Edition label, 1/19,000, 2007 is 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards in the Upper Galilee, 18 months in barriques, bright ruby in colour with the oak fully integrated by now. On the attack, generous dark fruit, cherries and plums followed by roasted coffee beans and fresh herbs all coming together nicely and leading to a long and pleasant finish. Good balance and refreshing acidity make this a very enjoyable vino. If you are looking for a white wine to serve with the meal, the Adama, Gir, Sauvignon Blanc, 2011, is also worth a try.          

Trio, Secret, 2010: Trio is an up-and-coming boutique winery owned by the Shaked family, a well-known family in the Israeli wine industry. The Shakeds own the Derech HaYain (The Wine Route) wine-store chain, which has had a significant impact on the local industry, promoting wine culture and education throughout the country. Secret, 2010, is not kosher, but as the winery has already begun the process to receive certification, future vintages will be available in a kosher editions as well. Secret, 2010, comprises 87 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 13 per cent Merlot from vineyards situated in the Judean hills. Dark ruby in colour, Secret, 2010, is full bodied with slightly coarse tannins and concentrated notes of ripe black berry fruits, dry Mediterranean herbs, dark chocolate and a long finish. Approachable now, but it would be interesting to taste again in a couple of years as the wine develops.         

Tulip, Reserve, Syrah, 2009: One of my favourite wines from the Tulip Winery, the Syrah Reserve is based on 95 per cent Syrah and 5 per cent Petit Verdot grapes. Eighteeen months in barriques, dark and concentrated ruby in colour, full bodied, the wine is a bit firm when first poured, but then opens to reveal generous aromas and flavours of berry fruits, plums (not jammy) and dry purple flowers, those followed by dark chocolate and roasted coffee, all coming together nicely and leading to a long and mouth-filling finish. Enjoyable now and will benefit from a year or two of cellaring. It is important to note that as the winery received kashrut certification in 2010, the Syrah Reserve, 2009, is not kosher and will be so from the next vintage.

L’Chaim and Shanah Tovah!