Friday, September 12, 2008

Israeli Wine Tasting

As I have said before, and will say again and again, you should try as many different wines as you can. Try a wine from a different country or made from a different grape. You never know where you might find a new treasure, an excellent wine that greatly pleases your palate. A significant part of my own wine enjoyment is seeking out the new.

That sense of adventure is what led me to a recent tasting of wines from Israel sponsored by the Israeli Consulate and Israeli Wine Direct. The event was held in the Bulthaup building on Boylston Street in Boston, a spacious area with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Boston Common. There was an open kitchen in the area where you could watch the cooks preparing varied and delicious appetizers for the event. There were over 50 people who attended the event.

One of the highlights of the evening was a short lecture by Richard Shaffer, the founder of Israeli Wine Direct, on Israeli wines. Earlier in the evening, I also had the pleasure of meeting and conversing with Richard for a bit, finally getting to meet him after chatting with him online for a time on Twitter. I found Richard to be very personable, witty, down to earth, and obviously passionate. He was a good speaker as well.

In his talk, he mentioned that the "kosher" label had been a marketing mistake. Wines from other countries were usually listed under the name of that country, yet Israeli wines were usually lumped under "kosher" rather than "Israel." This caused a bit of a disconnect and people did not think of "Israeli" wines. Recent years have seen a surge of quality wines coming from Israel, especially from boutique wineries, yet much of that wine has been unavailable in the U.S. Richard is working to make those wines more readily available in the U.S. market.

Israel basically lacks any indigenous grapes, most primarily lost due to previous conquests, especially by the Moslems who ripped up vineyards. So, Israel now uses more international vareties from Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvigon. The country itsel is long and narrow and has four or five different climates, allowing different types of grapes to be grown there. Richard feels Israeli wines have a special terroir, centered on how some of the wineries are located on very ancient and historic areas. One example is Tzora Giv'at winery which is located near where David allegedly killed Goliath.

Six wines were available for tasting.

The first wine I tried was the 2007 Pelter Sauvignon Blanc ($23.99). This had a fruity nose without any grassy notes. On the palate, it was crisp and had very good peach, apple and lemon flavors with a hint of grass on the finish. A very pleasant and enjoyable wine. There was another Pelter wine at the tasting, their 2006 Pelter Trio ($28.99), which I previously reviewed and enjoyed. Pelter also makes an Unoaked Chardonnay which I suspect may be very good too based on my enjoyment of their other two wines.

There was a second white, the 2007 Flam Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay ($18.99). Two brothers, Golan and Gilad Flam, established this winery in 1998 in the Judean Hills. Flam only produces about 7,000 cases annually. This wine had a bit more yellow color than the Pelter Sauvignon, and was also more fuller-bodied. I felt thought that the fruit flavors were rather muted and the finish was a bit too tart for my tastes. It was an ok wine but nothing impressive.

The first of the red wines was the 2006 Tzora Giv'at Hachalukim Cabernet Sauvignon ($22.99), the only kosher wine of the evening. The winery is set at the foot of the Jerusalem Mountains on Kibbutz Tzora. This wine, like all of the reds, had a light red color, almost like a Pinot Noir. The wine had some typical Cabernet fruit, mild tannins and a decent finish. But, it had a bit of a green/vegetal taste which I did not like. It reminded me of Cabernet Franc, which I generally dislike because of that common vegetal taste. If you enjoy Cabernet Franc, then maybe this Cabernet would appeal to you as well.

The 2005 Karmei Bravdo Cabernet Sauvignon ($26.99) is made in a winery located on the western slopes of the Judean Hills. It was founded in 2001 by two professors of winemaking science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. They only produces about 25,000 bottles annually. For me, this Cabernet also had too much vegetal taste, as well as smell.

Ending the reds was the 2004 Somek B'Kat Hanadiv ($33.99). The family that owns this winery and vineyard extends back six generations, since 1882. They only produce about 5000 bottles a year, a tiny level. In Hebrew, "Bikat Hanadiv" means "the valley of a generous man" which is the name of the valley where the grapes are grown, on the southern slopes of Mt. Carmel. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Sirah. I really enjoyed this wine. It was more tannic than the other reds but not overwhelmingly so. It had lush fruit, black cherry, blackberry and rapsberry with plenty of vanilla and spice, especially on the long and satisfying finish. There was no vegetal tastes at all in this wine. Definitely a wine I would recommend.

In the end, I enjoyed half of the wines, which is certainly typical of any tasting. There will always be some wines you do not like, sometimes just out of personal preference. What this tasting did show me though was that there are some excellent wines coming out of Israel and it is well worth exploring the other wines they have to offer. So, get rid of any misconceptions you have about Israeli wines and start over by tasting what is out there. I am sure you will find some that you will enjoy, and hopefully find some new favorites as well.

Update : I just found out that I won the door prize at this event, a copy of The Wine Route of Israel, a coffee-table sized hardcover book all about the Israel wine industry, geography and history. I can't wait to read it.


Claire said...

how interesting - I hadn't realized Israel even made wine. Do any other countries in the middle east have vineyards (I know that strict muslims don't drink, but there are many christians in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria who do)?

Richard A. said...

Hello Claire and welcome!

Lebanon also has numerous wineries and Chateau Musar in Lebanon makes some excellent wines.