In mid February 2010, I was fortunate enough to join a small group of global importers and wine writers on a trip to Israel. Although it was a short trip, it was packed full of good meals and lots of wine tastings, including attendance at The Third International Wine Exhibition in Tel Aviv.
The second day of winery visits by bus was more daunting in that it took almost three hours from Tel Aviv and a climb in altitude to approximately 4,500 feet (just as I thought we were about there, we went all the way back to sea level to cross the Jordan River and then ventured even higher). We saw the Sea of Galilee (huge and serene), but where we passed over the Jordan River, it was no more than a stream! The wineries visited there: ADIR Goat Farm and Winery (a two-fer)—The perfect setup for a wine and cheese tasting.
ADIR Cabernet Sauvignon Kerem Ben Zimra 2007 – Although appearing to contain higher than normal residual sugar for a Cabernet, it was masked by excellent acidity. $26 88
ADIR Plato 2007 – I thought this wine was named for the philosopher, so I asked if they also had an Aristotle! Actually, it’s named after the plateau upon which the winery, or the specific vineyard—I’ve forgotten which—is ensconsed. The vineyard is 870 meters above sea level. It won a double gold medal at the Mediterranean International Wine and Spirit Challenge in 2008. Lovely, expressive fruit flavors, 14.2 percent alcohol, harmonious. Memorable finish. $50 91/92
Dalton Winery was one of the stops on the way from ADIR to Golan Heights. Producing 900,000 bottles, this top winery either owns or manages all of its vineyards.
Dalton Unoaked Chardonnay 2008 – A very good value at $12 86Dalton Merlot Reserve 2006 – Aged in French oak. $30 88
Dalton Matatia 2006 – Two hundred percent new oak (aged in new oak barrels for a year and then removed and aged in a new group of new oak barrels for another year). Super blend of best blocks in vineyard. Low yields, superb fruit, excellent balance. 2006 was an excellent vintage for this wine. $100 92
Golan Heights Winery – One of the most interesting things I came across is that even though Israel is on the 32nd parallel (same as north Africa), when you take into account the hypothesis that every “x” meter increase in altitude equals a corresponding “y” movement in kilometers north or south in latitude, Golan Heights Winery has approximately the same climate as somewhere between Napa and Oregon. Not sure about that one, but makes an intriguing story. All soil is volcanic with a classic Mediterranean climate (hot summers with very little rain from April through October is wonderful for ripening grapes).Golan Heights produces 5 million bottles a year and exports to 30 countries. Zelma Long, former winemaker at Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa and consultant to Golan Heights, once said the wines of Golan Heights combine new world power with old world elegance. Yarden and Galil Mountain wines are also produced here.
Yarden Blanc de Blancs non-vintage – One hundred percent Chardonnay. Champagne method. Elegant and crisp with excellent acidity and toasted brioche flavors. Comparable to some non-vintage brut Champagnes. $29 88
Yarden Gewurztraminer 2009 – A semi-dry Gewurz that exhibits fresh kiwi and litchi flavors. A great complement to fish and even spicy seafood dishes. $15 89Galil Mountain Viognier 2008 – Bright fruit flavors. Peaches and apricots. No malolactic (why screw up the natural malic acid when it’s this good?) Fresh and full. $15 88
Galil Mountain Rosé 2009 – Mostly Sangiovese and Barbera. Another crowd-pleaser. Strawberries, apples and red currants. All-purpose wine for summer days on the beach or by the pool. $15 88
Golan Heights Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 – Aged in American oak. Blackberry and black currant flavors. Good structure with ample tannins. Try with beef tender with Bordelaise sauce! $27 91
Yarden Merlot 2005 – Dark purple in color. Unfiltered with lots of character. Sage and plums! $20 90
Yarden Syrah Yonatan Vineyard 2007 – Pepper and spice. Perfect wine for prime rib. Lengthy, notable finish. $50 92
Yarden Heights Wine Gewurztraminer (Galilee) 2007 (half bottle) – Picked at 42 percent sugar and bottled at 21 percent residual sugar. Amazing dessert wine made from frozen clusters of grapes. In the style of classic ice wine. Drink by itself as dessert, or serve with something akin to crème brulee, fruit tart, sugar cookies, etc. $29 90
I was particularly enamored with two other wineries that I did not visit; however, I met their owners/winemakers. The first is Saslove Winery in Kibbutz Eyal in Tzuriel, which is owned by Barry Saslove, who grew up in Canada and later taught winemaking courses in San Francisco. While there, he spent lots of time in the Napa and Sonoma wine country, just shortly over an hour to the north. I believe Barry’s daughter is now the co-winemaker. My favorites here are the lovely Adom Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, $28 88, and a big, rich red with hints of chocolate and currants, Aviv Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, $50 90
The second is Tulip Winery. The CEO, Roy Itzhaki, accompanied his parents on trips around the world (when he was a kid) where they always visited wineries. While in college studying economics and business management, he wondered why he and his family didn’t start a winery. So, he wrote up a business plan and the rest is history. Talented winemaker Tamir Arzy has been ensconced at Tulip Winery since 2003.
My favorites tasted here are: White Tulip 2008 (Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc) $19.99 87; Mostly Cabernet Franc $27.99 88; Syrah Reserve 2007 (with a whopping 15 percent alcohol) $39.99 91; and Black Tulip $47.99 92.
One winery I came across with some excellent values is Recanati. I particularly like the Jasmine White 2009 $7 87; the Rosè 2009 $10 87, and the Merlot 2008 $13 88.
Another winery provided me with two of the three biggest surprises of the trip—Vitkin Winery. As I recall, the prices were moderate, and its Carignan ’07 and Petite Sirah ’07 were each outstanding and deserving of a solid 90 score.
A solid selection of Israeli wines is available at Spec’s downtown, The Tasting Room, 13 Celsius, H-E-B, Carmelo’s, and Block7 Wine Co. Jim Veal, director of trade with the Israeli Economic Office, who has organized successful Israeli wine tastings, said that more events are on the way, including an exclusive dinner with a vertical of premium boutique wines from Margalit, and a large public tasting at The Tasting Room in Uptown Park this summer, featuring over 60 Israeli wines, as well as a trade and public event in the Fall with 20 Israeli winemakers present and over 200 wines.
June 14-20: Wine & Food Week,
The Woodlands & Houston
Treat Dad to Wine & Food Week, bringing together renowned chefs to showcase their culinary expertise partnered with more than 500 wines at 40 sensational events. Held in locations throughout the Houston area, the big three events include: the H-E-B Wine Walk at Market Street, a taste and stroll experience in a European-style center featuring wine and light bites at more than 40 retail stores; Sips, Suds & Sliders, Friday’s new Texas-size celebration featuring live music, specialty beers, Texas wines and a gourmet slider competition; and the Wine Rendezvous Grand Tasting & Texas Monthly Chef Showcase where guests sample delectable cuisine and hundreds of wines as chefs representing more than 50 restaurants compete for Wine & Food Week’s Waterford Crystal Chef of Chefs Award and a $5,000+ prize package. To complete the evening, the epicurean experience culminates with the Capital One “Just Desserts” contest presented by My Table, a confectionary competition to crown the night’s dessert extraordinaire.
Special tasting tours will be held with wine icons Fred Frank, John Tudal, Dr. Medaiah Revana and Ed Auler the afternoon of June 19.
For ticket information and a complete schedule, visit www.wineandfoodweek.com or call 713-557-5732.
By Denman Moody