The Third International Wine Exhibition in Tel Aviv
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.
Besides the incredible afternoon visiting the holy shrines including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Western Wall, the best part of the trip for me was touring some of the most important wineries of the two best wine regions, Galilee (including Golan Heights) and the Judean Hills. It wasn’t until the late ’70s and early ’80s that it became clear that these two regions had the most complementary growing seasons for the best Israeli reds—Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Merlot and Shiraz.
Twenty years ago, there were around 20 wineries in Israel—about the same as in Texas. Now, Texas has around 200 and Israel something like 256. What qualifies as a winery? Some are not tiny, but teeny-weeny. Today, the five largest wineries produce 85 percent of the grape tonnage. In descending order they are Carmel, Barkan (including Segal’s), Golan Heights (including Yarden and Galil Mountain), Teperburg and Binyamina. All of the large wineries are kosher because it is illegal to sell a wine in an Israeli supermarket unless it is kosher. None of the boutiques and micro-wineries are kosher—it’s expensive and the supermarkets are not necessary for the sale of their wines.
Kosher used to carry a connotation of mediocrity, but that is no longer the case. The wine that is affected somewhat is one called “mevushal,” or flash-pasteurized, and is made for a small, devout group of something less than 10 percent of the Jewish population.
I have not scored wines since my days as editor and publisher of Moody’s Wine Review in Houston and contributing editor on rare wines for International Wine Review in New York, and I have omitted numerous wines that were either mediocre or not good values. But the following wines deserve the scores indicated. So, join me on this venture…
One day, we visited two wineries on the way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Barkan Winery is 600 meters high in the Judean Hills. Barkan produces 9 million bottles a year. It exports around 30 percent of all Israeli wines exported and also owns Segal’s.
Barkan Chardonnay Reserve 2008 – 2/3 barrel fermented, 1/3 tank fermented. Only partial malolactic (to preserve some of the bright, natural acidity) and aged nine months in French oak. $18 89
Barkan Shiraz Superieur 2006 – Very low-yielding vineyard. Luscious! Top rated wine I tasted in Israel. $55 93
Barkan Cabernet Sauvignon Superieur 2006 – Also excellent. The “flagship” wine for Barkan. $60 91
Segal’s Argeman Rehasim.Dovev Vineyard 2006 – The only Israeli grape (Argeman)—a cross between Carignan and a Portuguese varietal, Sousao. It was created as a high-yielding, relatively inexpensive varietal; however, when treated with care and harvested under optimal conditions as was done here, the end product is fascinating. One of my great surprises of the trip. For a grape I thought would top out as a wine at around 84. $30 88
The second winery, Ella Valley, located between Barkan Winery and Jerusalem (sort of), is inside a wealthy kibbutz. The owners tried going the organic farming route, but it just didn’t produce the results for all the extra effort. The winemaker worked for Jaques Prieur in Meursault, Burgundy. Little wonder that my favorite wine is the Chardonnay 2008, part of which, like at Barkan, went through malolactic. Aged mostly in French oak, the wine successfully tasted like a very good white Burgundy. $24 90
Several months prior to the Israel trip, I was invited to a fabulous dinner at Carmelo’s Restaurant in Houston, highlighting four of Israel’s top wines. A summary of my notes follows: We started with the attractive Pelter Sauvignon Blanc 2007. With the lovely, ripe fruit at its core, it could pass for a very good California, rather than New Zealand or Loire Valley wine. 87
The Pelter Trio 2006, a blend of 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 percent Merlot and 15 percent Cabernet Franc, had a medium body and good acidity to complement the subtle oak and cherry flavors. 88
Both Pelter wines hail from the Golan Heights.
Next in line was the Tulip Mostly Shiraz (fantastic with grilled duck breast over vegetable risotto). This winery, from the Haifa area, was recently named one of the top 10 up-and-coming producers in Israel. The Mostly Shiraz is 64 percent Shiraz, 15 percent each of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and 6 percent Petit Verdot. Darker in color than the Pelter Trio, and with more noticeable tannins, the wine is nevertheless ready to drink now. A hint of ripe plums and spice top off this well-balanced beauty. 90
Last and best was the Margolit Cabernet Sauvignon from the central part of the country. Chef Carmelo paired this stallion (redolent with currants, blackberries and bountiful tender tannins) with his Piatto Forte lamb chops with fresh mint and Cabernet reduction, with rosemary potatoes and white asparagus. Margolit was the first real boutique in Israel—started in 1989. 93
Next month, Israeli Wines, Part II. I will list the Israeli wines available in Houston at the end. E-mail me with your fax number if you miss it!
Wine in the Woodlands, June 2010
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