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March 1, 2009March 1, 2009  1 comments  wine

     The Margalit Winery started as a boutique winery in 1989 and has established itself as one of Israel's most respected wine farms.  Located south of Hadera, in the Sharon region, in the foothills of Mount Carmel, the unpretentious surroundings amidst citrus orchards would never give a hint of the superb quality and outstanding reputation (well-deserved) attained by these family vintners, Ya'ir and Assaf Margalit

     In their first release in the 1989, the winery released a modest 900 bottles or about 3 barrels of wine. They growed gradually, though steady, to a current production of 20,000 bottles a year or about 1600 cases.  Many wineries have grown much larger in a 20 year span but it's the family's committment to quality over quanity that has cemented it's name as one of Israel's premier wineries.

     I recently had a chance to meet with Assaf and sample some his works in progress. He tastes his wines every two weeks to ascertain how they're aging and to gauge how he might blend them.  On this occasion, he invited winemakers from a larger commercial winery for the informal tasting. While some winemakers are more guarded about their craft, Assaf is quite generous in the amount of time he gives to aspiring winemakers, sommeliers and wine writers as my case might illustrate.  He mentors those who even if they've gone to work for would be competitors and seems open minded towards suggestions from those he respects in the industry.   Not that he needs their advice but I believe he  and his father, as do I, see wine as an intellectual pursuit as much as a career or craft and he enjoys the banter about wine as much as the process and results.

     Earlier, in what would prove to be just my first of many visits with Asaf we visited with one of his previous interns who is helping the Depawn Winery in it's fledgling stages.  This garagista looked like any other rural house on approach but touring about one saw a secluded lab and a tempeture controlled barrel room (attached to the owner's house) able to secure some blessed vintages as they mature.  Assaf was kind with his praise and constructive with his criticism which has gained him obvious affection and respect among others in the field.  Winemakers are as much artists as scientists and engineers and need reassurance when things go right and even more encouragement and guidance when things go wrong. No, winemaker wants to wait for the market's feedback because it will be of little use once the wine is made because next years wine will be different even if just subtlely. Different vintage, different grapes, different wine. 

     He and his father/founder Ya'ir (who I would meet on my second visit)  both give classes all across Israel as far north as Tel Hai along the Lebanon border and  in nearby Tel Aviv. Ya'ir, a chemist by training,  is a respected author on winemaking and wine technology and the books are for sale and use as text books in wine schools globally.  Assaf trained in agricultural studies at Hebrew Univeresity in Israel (which gives him better insight than most about what makes good wines grapes good) as well as training as a winemaker in California. Ya'ir, first had his interest sparked while doing research as a chemist at UC Davis.The proximity to one of the world's best academic wine programs held it's sway and he's been a winemaker in theory or practice ever since.

The wines of Margalit are worth exploring though you may to go to a wine store to purchase them as currently they only open to the public three times a year for special events. This may change if they grow into larger targeted environs more North in Binyamina but few wineries in Israel are so universally praised as Margalit's so if you're a wino at heart you shouldn't be dissappointed.

The Winery divides their production into 3 lines of wines: their premiere Special Reserve, their selection of single varitietal Margalit series, and their newest series Enigma which presents one new Bordeaux blend each year.  In their 2006 Vintage for example, they released their Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a Margalit series Caberent Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (though most years they have also released a Merlot) and that years Enigma: a 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc and 17% Merlot.


Margalit Winery
PO Box 4055

Caesarea, Israel 38900

(972) 050-533-4433

marwine@netvision.net.il

www.marglit-winery.com













March 1, 2009March 1, 2009  1 comments  wine

Cabernet Sauvignon in Israel, like most of the wine world, is the king of red wine grapes.  One of the five blending grapes used in many of the world's most sought after wines in it's original home of the Bordeaux region in France.  It's typically the principal grape blended with any one or more with  the other four (Merlot, Caberent Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot).

In the New World of wine, defined as anywhere outside of traditonal European wine regions, Caberent Sauvignon has broken through the shroud of obsticating French wine labels that most often display the region or vineyard but not the grapes on the label. Used in Israel and other "New World" wine regions most often on it's own to make wine's that are fruit bombs and less nuanced than it's traditional roots in France.  FYI: Many wine regions define a blend as any wine with less than 75% or 85% of one principal grape. So a wine for instance with 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot and 5% Petite Verdot might not be considered a blend but marketed as a single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon while a wine with 50% Cabernet Sauvignon 35% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc would be a blend.

 In Israel:

Many notable Israeli wineries are making Bordeaux-type blends as their top-tier reserve wines (such as Domaine du Castel's Grand Vin, Carmel's Limited Edition, Yatir's Yatir Forest and Tishbi's Jonathan Tishbi Reserve Sde Boker ) while others are making Cabernet principals their top tier wines (such as Margalit). Either way, Cabernet plays a major role in most Israeli premier wines.

It is questionable whether in the future for Israel to create a bigger niche in the world wine market if Cabernet Sauvignon will remain the grape most widely associated with Israel although right now Cabernet and Cabernet blends are accounting for the majority of world recognized wines (for now).


Expected Characteristics:

Fruit Flavors: Black Fruit such as Black Currant/Cassis,  Blackberries, Black Cherries  and Plum

Herbal/Vegetative: bell pepper,  olive and green bean

Other flavors: pepper, cinnamon, chocolate, coffee, vanilla and cigar box

 

Food/Flavor affinities:

Apple, pear, blackberry, elderberry, shallot, domestic and wild mushrooms, wild rice, fresh tarragon, basil, mint, green peppercorn, cinnamon, nutmeg,

allspice, nuts with stronger tannins like hazelnut, pecan and walnuts  Most People find tomato or orange sauces clash with Cabernet Sauvignon maybe try Cabernet Franc instead which has higher acidity. * Adapted from Wine & Food Affinities by Karen Johnson


Other Notable Wine Regions: Bordeaux, France, Tuscany ( Super Tuscans) , Italy, California, Washington State, USA, South Africa and Chile


March 9, 2009March 9, 2009  1 comments  wine

Cabernet Franc: Dad Deserves his Props

     OK, here's a good trivia question for you wine geeks: What two grapes have been proven to be the genetic parents of Cabernet Sauvignon?

Answer: Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc

      No one knows exactly when this marriage took place yet it's without question that Cabernet Sauvignon has outshined it's parentage in reputation and demand.  That shouldn't discourage anyone from enjoying both of these noble varietals.

      Anyone within earshot knows I've been a big fan of Cabernet Franc and I think it has the opportunity to become a focal wine grape for Israel.As one of the five Bordeaux red grapes (with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petite Verdot) and as the noted principal grape in many Loire Valley wines, Cabernet Franc can be found as a part of many of Israel's finest Bordeaux style blends. However, it's a single varietal or principal grape that I believe Cabernet Franc shows it's potential for making a place for Israeli wines on restaurant wine lists around the globe. Where there are thousands of Cabernets and Merlots being produced, Cabernet Franc offerings are slim and few between and no one international region has grab onto it's coattails to get on wine shop shelves and restaurant wine lists. 

     As Sauvignon Blanc opened doors for New Zealand's wines including their Pinot Noir and albec opened up doors for other Argentenian wines (including their Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot) Cabernet Franc might just be Israel's spearhead off the kosher wine shelf to  being situated in more prominent and greater frequency in the highly competive wine list/ shelf placement arena.

    One place that is well acquanted with Cabernet Franc is Long Island, New York. On Long Island, there is some well regarded Cabernet Franc producers who sell mostly to the local population and tourists but the grape is well respected in the region and not just a blending partner and since many Israeli wineries do the majority of their US exporting (which can be as much as 70% of their total exports) to the greater New York/New Jersey market (because of the highist concentration of Jewish residents in the US and the hightest concentration outside of Israel) it seems a natural fit.

Notable Israeli Cabernet Franc Producers: the Chateau Golan, Ella Valley, Gush Etzion, Margalit, Pelter, Psagot, Recanti, Tishbi, Tulip, Vitkin, Yatir, Zemora wineries all provide splendid well reviewed examples of how this grape is coming into it's own in Israel.

Tabor makes a well reviewed Cabernet Franc Rose

 

 

Fruit Flavors & Aromas: black currant, plum, cherries and raspberries

Vegative Flavors & Aromas: herbs, green vegetables: green peppers, green olives, eucalyptus

Food Pairings: Cabernet Franc has many of the same flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon with a lighter body and higher acidity that makes it a much more food friendly choice for the table.  Matches well with grilled vegetables & eggplant, zuchinni, and tomatos as well dishes flavored with thyme, saffron, rosemary and sage.






October 20, 2009October 20, 2009  0 comments  wine

 

    Once again, I had the distinct honor and priviledge to spend the day with noted winemaker Asaf Margalit from the renown Margalit Winery. Over the last year, I've met with Asaf about a dozen times and each time I walked away more impressed with Asaf as a winemaker and Margalit wines are etched into my mind as some of the most expressive and dynamic wines I've ever tasted.

    One of the primary reasons Margalit wines are so good is their source materials.  The vineyards the Margalit's have acquired in Binyamina and especially their Kadita vineyard in the Upper Galilee are some of the most envied vines in Israel.  As most winemakers will tell you, 75% to 95% (it's a very subjective estimation) of what makes a wine good or great started in the vineyard. As the saying goes "you can make bad wine out of good grapes but you can't make good or great wine out of bad grapes." And the Margalits have built an amazing reputation over 20 vintages by starting each wine from great grapes.

     The quality of the grapes the Margalit family uses to make their wines shouldn't discount the talent of the father & son team of Ya'ir and Asaf Margalit. Ya'ir, who studied high speed fermentation at UC Davis, has written three technical texts on winemaking that are used extensively internationally & he was the first wine maker at the 1,000,000 bottle/year Tishbi Winery in 1985 before opening his own winery in 1989. Asaf who also spent time in California studying wine making before returning to Israel teaches aspiring winemakers in Tel Hai and has mentored many students who have gone on to work in larger wineries or open their own boutique wineries.  Even though they produce a modest 20,000 bottles, the demand for Margalit wines elicits a price in the marketplace that enables them to be commercially viable and they have long term goals of eventually building a more visitor friendly facility once they can find a location that navigates around Israel's byzantine real estate laws (possibly adjacent to their vineyard in Binyamina which produces their Cabernet Franc grapes).  Additionally, Asaf insists that his non-irrigated vines have not only survivied the drought of last winter but have thrived and produced amazingly concentrated color and flavors.

 

Assaf Margalit measuring fermentation

Winemaker Asaf Margalit observes his

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon during fermentation

 

 

pumping over 2009 Margalit juice


Margalit's 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon juice

being "pumped over" as it ferments into wine


    On this visit with Asaf to the family's modest facility in a grapefruit grove in Hadera, Asaf was checking on how his crushed grapes were going through various stages of fermentation. We tasted all the componnet wines, in various stages of fermentation, that would be the base for his future 2009 world class red wines. The Cabernet Sauvignon was still going through first stage fermentation and this year Asaf was experimenting with a late harvest Cabernet Sauvignon harvest as well that produced super ripe, complex and colorful grapes that he'll process and monitor seperately to see how they'll be used as a component in one of Margalit's five wines.

 

tasting 2009 marglait cab franc

tasting Margalit's 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

beating 99.9 % of you to the punch,

jealous... you should be!!!

 

  At this stage Asaf was monitoring the sugar levels of some wines to see how well the sugar was being fermented by digesting yeast. Since the solids in grape juice are 95% sugar as the sugar turns to alcohol and carbon dioxide the sugar levels can be measured by it's viscosity as the liquid becomes less dense as the alcohol level increases. In a dry wine, almost all of the inherent sugar in the crushed grapes is fermented where as in a sweet wine, the process would be either stopped leaving a desired amount of residual sugar or added sugar could be used to sweeten a wine.

 

dsr at margalit 10 19 09

observing the "pumping over" process

 

   We also tasted Margalit's Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah. The Cabernet Franc is made into a single varietal (and Margalit's Cabernet Franc is one of the reasons I see potential as Cabernet Franc being a signature grape for Israel) and its used as part of Margalit's Enigma (a traditional Bordeaux blend). The Petite Sirah is used to add some punch and color to Margalit's Cabernet Sauvignon though after tasting it i wished he grew and produced more so he could release it as a single varietal as well.

 

 

Asaf cooking lunch for DSR 10 19-09


as you might expect many winemakers are also good cooks

as Asaf proved with tasty chicken stir-fry we shared for lunch

 

 

 


November 25, 2010November 25, 2010  1 comments  wine

   There are usually unsong heros in most wine regions: winemakers and grape growers whose reputation and reknown haven't yet met the level of their contributions to the scene.  One such unsung hero in Israeli wine is Paul Dubb. He's not unknown in Israel among other winemakers but he's not the first name mentioned in wine circles overseas or among Israeli wine consumers when Israeli wine is mentioned. He should be more often than not. Paul is making some impressive wines at reasonable prices at the Tzuba Winery located in the Jerusalem Hills on the outskirts of the "Holy City". Paul has not only has made an impact at Tzuba but has made a ripple in the Israeli wine pond as he's matured as a winemaker and vintner.


  Paul was trained as vitaculturist in his native South Africa and helped Kfar Tzuba plant its first vines in the 1997. It was several years later in 2005 that the winery opened on the same named kibbutz (collective farm) its is located on. Paul was managing the vineyards from the start but after a kibbutznik served as the initial winemaker for the first two years, Paul grew into that role and proved to be a great fit. Even though Paul was never formally trained as a winemaker, he had been making dry wines since he was 16 and had always studied periphial studies that led him towards becoming a remarkable winemaker.  For instance, Paul's training as a chemist alows him to do all the lab work at the winery and not have to send samples of wines for testing to outside labs. He did a brief stint at the Tisbhi Winery (as many Israeli wine people have including yours truly, Yair Marglait, Adam Montefiore and Assaf Paz...good company to be in) and was the vineyard manager for the Castel Winery from 2000 until 2004 (when he left to become winemaker at Tzuba). Kfar Tzuba actually grows most of Castel's grapes under Eli Ben Zaken's direction. Tzuba grows for a few other notable Israeli wineries so they must be doing something right in the vineyard and as most week geeks know what makes good wine mostly goes in the vineyard. A winemaker can do more harm than good when great grapes are in play. Yet Paul handles his grapes adeptly and he plays a major role getting the grapes ready the way he sees fit to make the best wines from his vines.

   The first Tzuba wine that should come into play at a tasting of their wines is their only white dry wine in production, their Chardonnay.


The 2009 Tzuba Chardonnay is aged 50 % in new French Oak barrels for 4 months on the sur lees (the yeast after it has died after fermentation) and 50% in stainless steel.  No secondary malolactic fermentation is implemented to avoid the big body and creaminess that can overwhelm the fruit in many Chardonnays. Paul thinks malolactic ferementation in white wines make them too much like a red and strips away what makes a good white wines special: that crispiness that reds lack.

Paul likes the red grapefruit that emerges in his Chardonnay that he fears can be surpressed by over oaking in other's white wines and that's why he only commits 50% of the wine to oak which Paul says adds that classic Chardonnay aroma.

For 79 NIS or about $22 (at November 2010 rates of exchange) the wine is a great deal for one of Israel's best Chardonnays.


    Tzuba's Chardonnay is made from 100% free-run juice with the pressed grape juice going towards their Chardonnay fortified dessert wine.  This is currently Tzuba's only dry white wine although they've made other white wines in the past. Paul had found making a few white wines too labor intensive and logistically challenging for a small boutique yet wants to maintain at least one white wine in their portfolio to give a full range of wines to Tzuba's loyal fanbase.

    Right now, Paul only uses 100% French Oak for all of their wines and maintains that most of Israel's best wines follow suit though he is experimenting with American Oak that is designed to mimic French Oak and is interested in seeing how Amercan Oak can contribute to the complexity of their wines though he doesn't think there's a privation of complexity in Tzuba's wines but as an industrious winemaker he always experimenting on making his wines the best he can. He does concur with me that often the best winemakers are the one who can adaptly stay out of the way of their grapes and act as a midwife to delivering them into the best wine they can be with as little tinkering as possible.

    Previously the winery released Semillon, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc in different incarnations but now Tzuba sells off these grapes to other wineries. They do have access to them for future wines as they grow one can imagine they may come back to familiar grapes.  Originally, the winery made about 15 wines but under Paul they've culled themselves to 10 wines for now to regroup and focus on quality rather than quanity of labels though they want to continue to increase their production at about 15% to 20%  a year reaching 150,000 bottles in about six years from their current 40,000 bottles.


   Their 2008 Tzuba Cabernet Sauvignon shows a glimpse toward the potential bliss awaiting a Tzuba imbiber featuring 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with only 13.5% alcohol (14% on the label... laws allow a 1% deviation from the label). 13.5% is significantly lower alcohol for an Israeli red which typically flirt with 15% alcohol levels.

    This Cab features 100% free-run juice with pressed juice being used for less expensive offerings. The grapes are harvested at a lower brix (sugar in the grapes before harvest) level to insure lower alcohol level and to avoid prune flavors Paul says become more prevelant in more alcoholic Cabs.  The earlier harvest also provides added acidity that lessens the need for tinkering with the wine's acidity at the winery which is fairly prevelant in warmer New World wineries.  Its a reasonable 89 NIS (about $25), a more than fair price for a Cabernet Sauvignon of this quality and though Paul thinks the wine might age for another ten years he suggests the wine will be best drunk within the next 4 to 5 years as Paul believes most Israeli reds don't age as long as their overseas rivals as the grapes ripen faster here and don't develop sufficient aging compounds to get longer shelf life. Since most people drink wine the night they buy a wine or at latest within 6 months it should more than adequately satisfy the wants and needs of most buyers. Only about 5% of wine consumers cellar their wines, so having wines that are easier to drink from day one is more of a marketing boon than a bust or at least it should be.

    HaMetzuda is Tzuba's top tier wine. Like many other flagship reds worldwide it's a Bordeaux derived grape blended wine.  The 2007 Tzuba HaMetzuda featured about 75 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Malbec.  This wine features 100% free-run juice and retails at a more than reasonable 115 NIS. It easily meets or even surpasses it's price point's built in expectations by most consumers at this range.  It's full-flavored and well balanced with consisitent body from start to finish.  Aged for 24 months in all French Oak (60% new and 40% one year's vintage), this wine doesn't present as being overoaked though oak is present in the flavors. Black currant, black and red raspberries and cherries and a dark plum finish meld with some green pepper,  fruit cake, mocha, slight tobacco and lingering leather undertones.

   The yet to be released 2008  HaMetzuda shows even greater promise commercially than the 2007. Paul aged the 2008 for only 18 months and a lesser reliance on Cabernet in this blend may have paid dividends as well. The fruit shines through ore brilliantly here than the 2007 (though I appreciate the 2007 in it's own right as being different and not inferior in any way other than not as fruity as most Israelis seem to crave.  The 2008 is 60% Cab Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. The wine exhibits deeper color than the 2007 partly from being younger and partly to what Paul attributes to the addition of the Cabernet Franc. It's nicely balanced as well and the Cabernet Franc lends a bit of floral aroma to the mix of flavors evident in 2007. The mocha seemed a little less prevelant and maybe less oak and no Malbec contribute towards these ends.

 Either way, these wines are great values for buyers who often pay 50% to 100% more for wines of this quality at other Israeli wineries.  I look forward to returning to trying the rest of Tzuba's ten wines and future vintages (though trying previous vintages would be a treat as well).


Other wines currently available in their line up include their:

2008 Tzuba Shiraz

2007 & 2008 Tzuba Merlot

2008 Tzuba Sangiovese


2007  Tzuba Pinot Noir

Whichever wine you try from Tzuba be rest assured that they are making great wines for a more than reasonable price and that even though a lot of critics haven't caught on to their wines you can be the first of your friends to sing their praises. After the critics wake-up expect their prices to eventually climb as demand soars.


David Rhodes can best be reached at

052-702-9463 (mobile in Israel)

israeliwineguy@gmail.com

Davids hosts the world's only English language radio show and podcast about Israeli wines at Rustymikeradio.com  and is available for tours, lectures  and private tastings about Israeli wines for those living or visiting in Israel.

David also acts a consulting sommelier for restaurants and a cellar consultant and broker for those seeking qaulity wines at the bests prices in Israel.





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DavidRhodes
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David Rhodes worked at wineries in California & Israel, hosted over 100 wine parties.as a sommelier & adviser for the SDSU Business of Wine program. He speaks weekly about wine on Rustymikeradio.com & writes for ESRA magazine. Israeliwineguy@gmail.com

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