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June 20, 2009June 20, 2009  1 comments  Uncategorized

   The Golan Heights Winery, for the last twenty years, has been one of the most influential wineries in Israel. Having been cited as the winery that sparked the quality wine revolution in Israel, Golan Heights has grown into the third largest producer of wine in the Holy Land but maybe should be rightly known as the largest producer of consistently good wines.  Under their flagship label Yarden (Hebrew for "Jordan" as in the Jordan River), this winery has paved the way for Israeli wines into more resturants' wine lists internationaly and more wine magazines than maybe any other Israeli winery. That's not to say necessarily that they make the best wine in Israel. They might but there's now plenty of competition to that elusive prize  however, the case can easily be made that make more well respected wine than any other Israeli winery and that for the last 25 years they blazed the trail for many smaller producers by showing the potential for which grapes could make great wines in Israel.


   Additionally, Golan Heights under it's various labels, may account for the largest selection of varietals being made by one winery in Israel. It's vineyard locations situated at a wide range of altitudes in Israel's most northern wine growing region, gives it the flexibility to plant and prosper with a range of grapes that many international winemakers might envy.  Visiting their Visitor Center adjacent to their winery in Katzrin, the impressive size of  their tasting room rivals that of many smaller wineries complete facilities. It's takes a large room to display all their labels and when I was last passing through, a bus load of Eastern Euorpean tourists easily could work their way around the shelves without overcrowding anyone travelling alone.


   On my first visit, I was treated to a tasting of about dozen wines and there was still at least a dozen more that I wanted to try before time constraints and palette fatigue (the bane of any wine writer or critic) convinced me another tasting would have to be in the cards at a future date.

 


April 19, 2009April 19, 2009  0 comments  wine

 

 

      There's a few different doors through which people enter into working with wine.  Many come into wine through the hospitality industry. Caterers, hotel and restaurant workers and owners have many opportunites to learn about wine through tasting the wines they serve. The wineries and distributors will often go to great effort and expense to give their staffs training (Eli Ben Zaken at Domaine du Castel for example was the owner of the Italian restaurant Mamma Mia in Jerusalem before making his fiirst wine).  In Israel, many children were lucky enough to have their parents catch the bug before them and have had a winery to set their sights on early in life. (Assaf Margalit and Golan Tishbi are examples of such winemakers who followed in their father's footsteps). Many winery owners switched from wine successful career paths in unrelated industries to the more romantic venture of winemaking (count Dalton and Recanati amoung these Israeli wineries). Some others entered through their curiousity while following academic pursuits ( I first studied wine through my college's geography department and Yair Margalit was a research chemist at UC Davis, which hosts one of the world's most famous wine programs). Much more rare but becoming more common is when a child paves the way for a parent. Ido Lewinsohn and his father Amnon are such a pair of aspiring wine entrepeneurs. 

     Ido has gained an immense amount of diverse winemaking experiences in a relatively short span of time.  Besides launching his new and promising winery, Ido serves as a winemaker at the award winning Recanati winery under the tutelage of noted winemaker Gil Shatsberg.  Ido has been been there for about two years so he was there when the winery went through it's transition from Recanati's founding winemaker Lewis Pasco in 2008 to Gil who had come over from the pretigious boutique Amphorae. Amnon Lewinsohn, had a long and fruitful career as a mechanical engineer before partnering with his son on making fine wines.  For a small winery, a mechanical engineer is an asset of immeasurable value. There are so many devices that need tinkering and many processes that can benefit from a trained eye especially in the limited space starting wineries often inhabit. Incidently, Ido mother's maiden name, Winezoff, loosely translates from Polish into "wine taster" so maybe a recessive gene is partly responable for Ido's devotion to oenology.

 

 

 

     Unlike many of the previous generation of Israeli winemakers, Ido and many of his contempories have had intensive training and work expereince in international wine schools, vineyards and wineries. Ido started quenching his curiousity about wine at the University of Milan where he studied oenology and viticulture. Since his initial studies, his practical experience has been bountiful and well traveled. From the "Old World"of European origin, he worked at the 2002 vintage of Domaine Haut Lirou in the Pic St. Loup appelation in the Languedoc region of France. In 2004, he returned to Italy to the Sassicaia Winery, in Tuscany, a producer of of notable "Super Tuscans."  In 2005, he gained valuble expereince creating a new winery in France's Rhone Valley, the Mas du Notaire in appelation Costieres de Nimes. He continued there the following year as well as crafting the wines at the Haut Lirou.

     Though his wines show an evident respect for Old World traditions of lower alcohol, less oakey, more nuanced wines, Ido isn't without his New World winemaking expereinces.  In 2003, he worked with the Margalit family in Israel (who themselves are noted for merging the best attributes of Old World and New World winemaking) and has maintained a close working relationship with the Margalit's ever since.  In 2007, Ido went to the far reaches of the winemaking world when he ventured to spend that vintage year at the Domaine A on the Austrailian island of Tasmania. This immediatley preceded his return to Israel and his start at Recanati. This was also the stage at when Ido transitioned from a student of wine into a teacher as he became the director of the winemaking course at Ariel University in the West Bank. These winemaking courses are evolving into a one year program for those aspiring to establish boutique wineries.

    The Lewisohn line-up is typical of many Israeli boutique wineries offering 3 wines: two reds, a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon and a for the one white a Chardonnay.  Though all of his wines equal or surpass the quality of many of Israel's other reserve wines, there is a barrel of Cabernet which might be later released as the winery's first reserve. Although the choice of varietals is not surprising, the special care he has taken in nuturing these wines manage to convey qualities rarely seen in their Israeli peers and could compete for bragging rights against well recognized international offerings.

     There are few distinct steps that Ido credits for his wines unique appeal, to me and to the select few who've been treated to his first vintage and a sneak preview of the the 2008's.  First and most importantly is Ido buys only the best grapes including some from the Margalit family's Galilee vineyards. He pays a premium to secure grapes he knows makes the highly sought after Margalit wines from their Kadita vineyard in the Galilee. Many winemakers will admit that you can only make great wine from from great grapes and I've heard some credit what happens in the vineyard accounts for 85 to 95% of the quality of any given wine.

     Not only does he secures great grapes he picks them at a lower than usual Brix level (sugar level) which provides for higher acidity than usual and lower alcohol levels. The lower alcohol and higher acidity levels allows for a wine that can convey more balance, a longer finish and more complexity unmasked by higher alcohol.  The lower brix picking has also been adopted by the Margalit's and that's good company to be keeping.

     Warmer weather regions typically have shorter growing seasons than cooler regions because the fruit ripen quicker which can give more dependable harvests but don't allow for more complex flavors and acidity to develop.  In Israel altitude can often make up for latitude and hilly and mountainous regions such as the Galilee, Golan and Judean Hills can produce grapes associated with more northern climes (or southern if you think of southern hemisphere wines in Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand for example).

    Even more unique than harvesting lower brix grapes is how Ido implements gravity in processing his wines. Gravitation winemaking is when the winemaker at every stage or even at critical stages uses gravity to assist the crushing, fermentation and even bottling processes.  During crushing the Lewinsohn's can accompish this by using a small crusher/destemmer that can process about a ton of grapes an hour but can be placed directly over the tank the juice is intended for.  This allows the grapes to avoid being being pumped to the tanks as most wineries do.  During pumping, the skins, stems and seeds are handled more harshly according to gravity proponents and this translates into more bitter tannic tasting wines with more vegetative aromas.  To complement this, instead of pumping over the juice to let the grapes slowly gently open up Ido uses open top tanks which allow for "punching down" which he asserts is even more gentle with the potentially problemeatic seeds, stems and skins (oh,my).

   Another suggested advantage of gravity processing is that the less pumping and other mechanical manipulations of juice from the grapes to tanks to barrels to the bottles, the less mechanical energy transferred to the grapes and the juice and the less interference with the natural tastes emerging from the wine.  Some winereies have gone to making 4 or 5 story wineries that allow every stage of the processing to use gravity to assist in the wine migrating from one stage to another. However, Ido considers "100%" gravtity assisted winemaking a marketing ploy and and an unnecessary extravagent expense and that it's only in certain stages (crushing,fermenting and bottling) that these efforts translate into noticeble differences.  Never the less, no Israeli competitors are 100% gravity assisted and few if any are known to be using it to the extent he's adopted. If his wines gain the respect they deserve, look forward to others to follow though it's far more manageble on the smaller scale of a boutique winery than a larger more industrial producer.

 

    An even more unique innovation Ido is introducing is sur lees aging to his reds. Now sur lees aging, aging the feremented juice with the already spent yeast, is quite common with white wines, but seldomn used with reds and almost unheard of with for aging up to the year Ido is aging his reds.  The sur lies provides another nuance to the taste and feel of the wines as the yeast cells impart a certain flavor but also as they break open impart a fuller body as they release polysaccarides into the wine. Polysaccarides by definition area long chain of sugars which give way to a  fuller body to the wines can provide balance otherwise  lost to lower alcohol levels due to the lower brix harvesting.

     Though his efforts supporting Gil Shatsberg at Recanati are more easily accessable in Israel and overseas, Ido has secured a few placements with Israeli restaurants that have been buying up his whole production of Lewinsohn Wines at between 4 to 6,000 bottles a year so far.  Al Ha'mayim, Messa and the Metushelach Wine Bar would be worth investigating just to try Lewinsohn wines and  if they have sought out such a high quality winery for their list, it wets one's imagination what else they might carry and what food they may serve to complement their wines. Currently, the 2007 Chardonnay is selling off the wine lists for 220-240 NIS/bottle (about $55- $60/bottle which isn't bad for a premium Chardonnay over dinner). The wines are retailing for 110 NIS for the Chardonnay and 130 for the reds (about $26 and $30 respectfully).

     Besides enjoying the fruits of his own labor with Lewinsohn's and Recanati's line-up of wines, he indulges in Margalit and Clos de Gat wines. His days in Europe weren't for naught and he does like to invest in Italian Piedmont wines when and where they're available.

   Fans of Israeli produced wines should be enthusiasic that Israel is nuturing and producing skillfull and concientious winemakers like Ido Lewinsohn and I hope they find ways to supports his efforts at Recanati or his own Lewinsohn wines less he be recruited to once again ply his craft overseas.

    I'll be looking forward to tasting his soon to be released 2008 Chardonnay which relied on grapes from Red Poetry vineyards.

 

 

 

 

 


May 17, 2009May 17, 2009  6 comments  wine

      If as what's been suggested that Israeli wine is going through a cultural and technological revolution, how can you tell when the revolution is successful. Maybe it's when the powers to be, the guardians of the status quo, come full circle and agree with their critics.  So when the Carmel Winery, Israel's largest winery by far, admits that it has had a well deserved reputatation for making wines of low regard and little character and lots of it and they've launched a game changing amount of measures to salvage its image by striving to be not only the biggest but one of Israel's best wineries, it deserves the attention of the wine drinking public and wine writers like me.

 

Carmel Zichron
Carmel's Historic Winery in Israel's most famous wine village Zichron Ya'acov

 

     Now many wine writers tend to shy away from writing about big wineries.  It's challenging on several different levels. First, a winery like Carmel in Israel has so many labels there's no way to practically taste them in a day. Second, larger corporate wineries can often lack the charm and romance of "boutique" wineries. Additionally, it can be far more difficult to talk directly to the winemaker or owner of the winery  which with smaller wineries is often the same person.  A lot of times you get shuttled around by a well meaning Public Relations spokeperson whose knowledge of wine doesn't much exceed that of any internal corporate literture. Additionally, larger wineries often have received so much previous attention what angle does a writer take to make their story fresh, relevant and appealing to the reader.

 

dave tasting carmel

So Much Wine, So Little Time: David tasting the large portfolio of Carmel

 

      So with some initial trepidation, I went to tackle the task of covering Carmel, not only Israel's largest winery but at about 15 million bottles producted yearly, they're responsable for 30 to 40% of Israel's wine production on any given year. As recently as 20 to 25 years ago Carmel was producing about 90% of Israel's wine. So in writing about Israeli wines, there's no way to avoid Carmel coming up in the context of talking about other wines so it was important at some stage for me to take on the challenge of exploring their portfolio. "On the Road Less Travelled" of wine writing, better sooner than later. That being said if Carmel had been making the same wines they were making ten years ago, I may have found a good reason to avoid this story just the same.

    When wine magazines such as Wine Spectator and Decanter & wine writers like Robert Parker and Mark Squires talk about Israeli wines making a revolutionary change in quality, they were talking about in contrast to the lowly regarded 90% of Israeli wines Carmel used to make. Carmel today says they too are part of that revolution but as a student of history I like to see it as a counter-revolution since when you are the wine establishment and one of the last wineries to make drastic changes, it's hard to say you're leading the revolt. To Carmel's credit though, it's been a Herculian endeavor and an investment of ten of millions and ten of thousands of man hours in the vineyards and wineries to have made the dramatic changes that they started almost ten years ago that is just in the last few years starting to show results. 

    As an example of it's commitment to change, they've managed to halve their production from a high of 30 million bottles to 15 million bottles, a great indicator that "the monster of the Israeli wine marketplace" is reigning in the beast of bulk wine making and mending their ways and is starting to seriously attempt to stress quality over quanity.  Much of this transition was enacted by shying away from flooding the kosher wine market with mass quanities of not very profitible "kiddush wine" (sacramentel wine for Jewish holidays and rituals). A de-emphasis on other food products such as grape juice and olive oil also has allowed it's upper management to focus on the task at hand of making better wines. The significance is that if Carmel can redeem an image of it's wines as sweet, syrupy liquid religion to that of a large producer with a wide range of price points with relative quality and value,  it's place as Israel's largest producer can only improve the image of all Israeli wines.

     Carmel has also made significant changes in it's selection of vineyard location and how it manges the grapes it harvests.  First, it's made huge investments in planting new vineyards in the Galiilee, considered onr of Israel's premier grape growing appellations.  Historically, they were getting most of their grapes from lower alitude regions that were suitable for high yield bulk wine production.  In fact, according to Carmel they are now the largest grower of grapes in the Galilee and this has given them the flexibility to make better wines and a to make awider variety of wine single varietal wines.  Their affiliated and renown Yatir Winery with vineyards in the Judean Hills and the Negev, two other respected wine regions, also provides Carmel with choice grapes that weren't available as recent as ten years ago.

 

Carmel's Kayoumi Vineyards

Carmel's Well-groomed & Valued Kayoumi Vineyards in the Upper Galilee

   Carmel started off and continues in many ways as a collective of as many 250-300 growers with a management team directing winery and marketing efforts. Lior Laxer, the chief winemaker of seven who work at their wineries, explained it was an uphill battle for the wineries management to convince the growers to switch to lower yield grapes for higher qulity wine than the bulk producing yields they had been accustomed to. On e way was to pay per dunam, about a quarter acre lot, rather than pay per ton. another was to pay the grower on the quality of the grapes being produced. This merit system linked what which Carmel series the winemaking team decided the grapes quaified and the higher the value of the wine (and the more the winery could charge) the more the grower got paid. Some of those families have been tending to high-yield vineyards for over 100 years.

     Yet, many of the lowland vineyards were more suited to bulk production so new vineyards in the Upper Galilee, the Golan Heights, the Jerusalem Hills and the Negev desert (yes, the desert) have been planted and now are producing higher quality grapes. Additionally, much of the wineries equipment was suited for bulk wines so it was a huge expense to invest in equipment that was better suited for smaller higher quality production. Where as recently as 10 years ago Carmel barely made any wines with a smaller production of 50,000 bottles they are often making wines of just a few to several thousand bottles in the top three premium levels (compared to their three entry to mid level wines).  An additional winery facility (Carmel's fourth if you include it's premeir sattleite Yatir) gives it the capacity to get the grapes form the field to a nearby winery anywhere it grows grapes. This protects the flavor, sugar, acid, tannin profile the winemaker's expected before harvest that could be disrupted through long hauls from a remote vineyard to one central winery.  The additional facities and fermentation tanks allow each single vineyard harvested to get it's own tank and treatment and allows the winemakers the ability to monitor how each field was managed and how that manifests in the wine. This allows for informed changes in future vineyard practices and more refined blending options as well picking the best as special single vineyard releases.

    First, let me say that my recent visit at the Carmel Winery in Zichron Ya'acov exceeded my expectations on several levels.  The only wines I had from Carmel previously were their entry level Selected and Private Collection wines that most people have had, wines many Jews have had at a Sabbath dinner or Passover dinner or Bar Mitzvah.  Those "supermarket" wines, at best, may have been considered good value wines but represent what Carmel wants the public to believe were their the bulk wines of Carmel's yesteryear. This day I tasted the wines Carmel hopes will change it's image of being a bulk, Kiddush (Jewish sacremental) and table wine manafacturer to that of a winery that doesn't make just make kosher wines as good as they can but rather  great wines that just happen to be kosher. Of course this mantra is now being touted by every kosher winemaker I've talked to in Israel. But with the mass of Carmel's postion in the marketplace, as they change their image for the better they can't help but but bring the image of Israeli wines in general into a more flattering light.

     

 

   I asked Lior about the one vineyard Carmel has in the Golan Heights since they've invested so much more into the compatible climate of the Upper Gaililee. Carmel claims through recent efforts to have become the largest wine producer in the Galilee when previously their holding were focused on the southern coastal plains near Tel Aviv and the northern coast aaround Zichron Ya'acov.   I wondered if the government had been talking to the wineries who are some of the largest employers in the Golan what would happen to their investemets in their vineyards if the Golan is returned to Syria in a peace agreement. Lior confirms my suspicion that "no one in the government has talked about it" and suggests about planting vines and building facilities in the Golan that "it's a big risk." A sentiment that other wine executives in Israel share regardless of their political inclinations whether Israel should return the territory captured in 1967 and recaptured in 1973.

 

Carmel's Lior Laxer
Carmel's Chief winemaker Lior Laxer tasting the fruits of his labors

 

Appellation

Carmel Ridge

Single Vineyard

Limited Edition

 

 

Late Harvest Gerwurtzraminer


Lior explains about this dessert wine that "it's not the most profitable wine for the winery" because dessert wines in general don't sell as well as table wines and that this wine has such high expenses. The high expenses are mostly due to the low yield of these late harvest grapes are 450 to 600 kilos per dunam (about one quarter of an acrea) compared to up to 5 tons an acre for sone table wines. That's about one-tetn of a yield in just the weight of the grapes. Then Lior explains "there's also less juice that's pressed per ton because so much of the water/juice is already gone. There's so much sugar in the grapes in contrast to juice that you can hear the presses straining to get the juice out".

There's so much sugar that this wine when finished has 120 grams of residual sugar after fermentation compared to as much as only for 4 grahms or less for a dry table wine.

 

Carmel Winery

Zichron Ya'acov   Telephone: 04 6390105

Rishon Letzion    Telephone:  03 9488888

www.carmelwines.co.il

 

 


June 28, 2009June 28, 2009  2 comments  wine

Israel's First White Wine Festival

(from the first night's response this should be the first of many...)

at the Herzliya Marina (located at the far end next to the TV 24 studio)
Wednesday & Thursday July 1st and 2nd 2009 starting at 6PM

Late Night at the Herzliya White Wine Festival

The  first night of Israel's first White Festival attracted thousands of white wine tasters

 

The event was organized by Chaim, the Grape Man, notable Israeli wine educator who hosts functions in the artist colony in Old Jaffa

Chaim the Grape Man

Chaim, "the Grape Man," organizer of the event mingling with tasters

there was thousands who came by the first night and I think tonight even might be busier with the buzz from the first night

there was also vendors of various wine related products including wine fridges, free sparkling water (great earlier on before the sun set) and as a break in between wines, and an incredible backdrop at the marina

several popular restuarants nearby

free parking in the Mall's garage

entrance is free with tasting cards available for a fee for 6, 12 or 18 tastes starting at 39NIS (about $10!!!)

small cheese plates will be availble as one of the tastes

there are plenty of great restuarants within walking distance nearby

Wines being offered will be of the following styles:

Champagne-style sparkling wines

Roses including Recanati's newly evolved and exceptional Rose featuring 80% Barbera grapes and Dalton's newly released 2008 Rose

aged (oaked) whites including Yarden's Katzrin Chardonnay and Domaine de Castel's "C" Chardonnay

 dry still whites including several crisp Sauvignon Blancs such as Yatir, Tishbi and Carmel's.

sweet & aromatic whites including several yummy Gerwurtztraminer's such as Yarden's and several imported selections

 

rose's on ice white wine festival

iced, scrumptious Roses ready to squelch parched palates at the Herzliya Festival

 

each had their own bar section in the main bar (sculpted from ice) for easier selection

 

 

and there are wines from all over the world with about 2/3 from Israeli wineries (including many of Israel's best) and the rest representing wines imported into Israel

 

Alex Haruni of Dalton Wines

Alex Haruni (on the right), owner of Dalton Wines, with a friend enjoying the Festival

 

call the Grape Man at 03-5180533 for more details

 


tell them David the Israeliwineguy sent you!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


June 30, 2009June 30, 2009  3 comments  wine

         There is much skepticism from wine writers in Israel and abroad if Israel's warm Eastern Mediterranean climate can produce the grapes required for making great white wines. Cooler climates such as the Rhine Valley in German and France's Graves, Champagne, Alsace and Burgandy regions provide vintners with longer growing seasons. Cooler climates also provide for lower alcohol levels and higher acidity levels which give a great white crispness and a clean finish and allow whites to age without the tannins found in the skins of red wine grapes. Never the less, against conventional wisdom many Israeli winemaker's are making great efforts to make "Great Whites" and some are showing tangible results in the process.

Lewinsohn Winery

        One such winemaker new to the scene is Ido Lewinsohn. I've previously discussed Ido's unique style of making his red Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and how his garagista might be making some of Israel's best made reds. Well, lightining has struck twice. He's also making some of Israel's best white wine in his 2008 Lewinsohn's "Garage de Papa" Chardonnay. In it's only second year of production, the Chardonnay is gaining a cult following as it's mostly sold through just a few of Israel's most renown eateries. Selling for about 225 NIS to over 300 NIS or about $55 in restaurants or about 175 NIS retail (if you can find any) it's definitely priced as one of the best white wines in Israel.

 

Lewinsohn 2008 Chardonnay

The 2008 Lewinsohn Chardonnay under the new "Garge de Papa" label.

     Of course, one reason for the higher than average price is the rarity. Only 880 bottles of the 2008 Lewinsohn Chardonnay was only made or about 3 barrels worth. About the same amount of the 2007 was produced and the winery sold that out completely and only a handful of those bottles remain in circulation on resturant wine lists. Few garagistas (garage wineries) just producing a few or several thousand bottles a year even tackle making white wines. Whites can be such "little princesses" that require so much attention to detail and extra stages to make it commercially appealing (compared to a reds) that many starting winemakers wait until they're making wine on a larger scale before they invest their time, effort and their blossoming reputation.  The time investment for whites can be much more intense and more suited for larger production runs.

    After tasting any of the three Lewinsohn labels it's quite apparent Ido isn't the typical garage winemaker.  First, he's no beginner. He's been neck deep in winemaking for almost a decade working on vintages in great wineries in France (where he opened a winery), Italy (where he attended the Univeristy of Milan), Tasmania and Israel. He's one of the two winemakers at the frequent award-winning Recanati Winery having worked there under its founding winemaker Lewis Pasco and now under Gil Shatzberg who came over from Israel's notable Amphorae Winery. Second, although he admts you learn something new every vintage, he 's not merely a student. He teaches and directs a winemaking program here in Israel to aspiring boutique winemaker's and seems to challenge himself not to just make wine he likes but to take his vast and varied experiences to make in theory what he thinks it takes to make the best wine in Israel.

     Having worked at the revered Margalit Winery in 2003, Ido seems to follow the lead of that father and son team of winemakers: Yair and Assaf Margalit. This prestigios winery that's been around now for almost 20 years only makes about a modest 20,000 bottles a year but it's on almost everyone's list of Israel's best wines. 20,000 bottles isn't the ideal level of production to be commercially viable so both Yair and Assaf have become prolific, respected and even adored instructors teaching how to make wine in classes from Tel Aviv to Tel Hai. Barry Saslove, another esteemed instructor has also gone on to create the well regarded Saslove Winery. As Ido and his contempories exemplify, the old American adage of "those who can't, teach" surely dooesn't apply to it's winemakers.

    The 2008 Chardonnay under Lewinsohn's new Gargage de Papa label might easily be mistaken for a Burgandy white than a "New World" Chardonnay. With stoic mineralitly up front, crisp acidity, hints of vanilla and bartlett pears on the finish this is a Chardonnay for those who don't like how Chardonnay'shave mutated in the last 20 years into buttery oever-oaked alcohol bombs. Ido thinks as this wine evolves it will even engender stronger Old World components. Currently, he's sur lees aging this wine for 8 mnths with only 2/3 of the wine in new French oak. He intends to use old oak as hs barrels mature to lessen the oak flavors interferring with the varietal purity of the choice Chardonnay grapes he contracts.

Ido at his

Ido at his "day job" at the much larger Recanati Winery as one of its two great winemakers

   With Ido's small production and focus on quality he's been able to carefully select distribution to those outlets that he believes have the conviction and know how to talk about his wines enthusiastically and intelligentllly.  At about 160 NIS ($35) retail and 220 to 240 NIS ($55-60) in restaurants, this Chardonnay ranks as one of Israel's most expensive white wines and I agree with Ido that it might take an educated staff to sell this wine against New World Chardonnay expectations but the informed consumer should be pleasantly surprised and even elated consuming this wine in contrast to similar or even higher priced international Chardonnays. Get it now before everyone else catches on to what I'm saying and what magic Ido's is making in his state of the art micro-winery in his father's modified temperture-controlled garage.

Lewinsohn Winery's Mascot

Every fan of the film Mondovino knows many great wineries have a loyal mascot

 

 

Ido Lewinsohn

can be contacted at:

idolewinsohn@gmail.com

 

 


August 24, 2009August 24, 2009  1 comments  wine

      So, when you work in the wine industry, everyone thinks you must be some kind of a drunk and though I might get intoxicated time to time I can assure I probably drink less in quanity but maybe more in quality than many of my readers or friends.  One way this happens is many times when I'm near wine I'm talking business or tasting wine (which usually includes spitting) and other times when I'm drinking wine it's with other wine people and we savor what were drinking and I can enjoy smelling a great wine as much as drinking it. I also like enjoying letting a wine open up in the glass a half hour or and hour tasting it as it opens up.

Recently, I had a chance to drink with some of my favorite wine geeks in Israel (and meet a few new ones). This is heavan for me. If there's an afterlife I hope they're serving good wine accompanied by good food, good company and good conversation. Such was this day at Ido Lewinsohn's Lewinsohn Winery as about a dozen of us dined with his family and tried a verticle and horizontal tasting of his ever more popular cult status "Garage du Papa" wines.

    There's some winemakers and wineries that have been extremely generous with their time and wine as I journey through and journal about Israeli wines: the Tishbis, the staff at Carmel & Yatir, the Margalits, Eli at Domaine Castel and Ido with his wines and those of Recanati.  There are others who have been as generous but time after time the forementiond have been great mentors and from time to time I should thank them publicly as much as I hope I do privately. 

 

 


    So, I mention this because when Ido asked me to come to a tasting at his family's house/winery, I didn't have to think twice about booking a spot at his table. Another reason is that Ido much like his mentor and friend Assaf Marglait are wine mavens who have many of Israel's most interesting, influential, dynamic and curious winos in their gravitional orbit so when I meet with them it can often lead meeting another chain of wine contacts and if I keep my ears open and my taste buds ready I'm bound to learn a thing or two more about winemaking and what makes these wizards of wine and their tick.

   Those of us lucky enough to be invited weren't only rewarded by his fabulous wines but his mother cooked us crepes (maybe to bolster our tolereance levels) and there was some treats set as we drank 2007, 2008 and the still fermenting 2009 Lewinsohn "Garage du Papa" Chardonnay. This wine has been selling out due to the efforts of just a few outlets. Granted only a few barrels were bottled but still at about 150 NIS to 175 NIS retail ($45 to $55 two to three times that price in Tel Aviv restuarants where it's mostly sold.  This "Old World" style Chardonnay is making some noise in the marketplace as one of the most expensive and hard to find (but worth every penny or argarot) Israeli white wines.

 

 


January 13, 2010January 13, 2010  0 comments  wine

 

    Behind every good winery there's typically a good story.  Since the Flam Winery is considered one of Israel's best wineries, it's only natural it has one of the most compelling stories. The winery was started humbly in 1998 by brothers Golan & Gilad Flam. In their first vintage they only made a couple of barrels of wine, one of Cabernet Sauvignon and one of Merlot.  Now that's how many family wineries start and many if not most never get too much bigger although this wasn't any average family of vintners.

 

dsr and Golan Flam

David Rhodes becomes a fan of winemaker Golan Flam and his wines

 

    After graduating with a degree in agricultural studies at Hebrew University Rehovet, Golan Flam furthered his studies as a winemaker while becoming a Master of Wine in Piacenza, Italy and then while serving a full year's intership at the Carpineto Winery in Italy's romantic Tuscany witnessing and participating in a grapes evolution from the vine to wine.  He extended his studies abroad taking a year to spend a full season in Australia at the Hardys Maclaren Winery.  Now that's not too unusual. Many of Israel's best winemakers have spent a year or two overseas gathering expertise before coming back to apply their knowledge and experience to an Israeli vineyard and/or winery.  Assaf Margalit, Gil Shatsberg, Ido Lewinsohn and Roni Salove, to name just a few, all interned overseas well before they gained recognition as great winemakers here in Israel. And the fact that his brother Gilad started the winery with him applying his acumen and education in business and law to managing the Flam Winery's business affairs isn't that extraordinary as well. What makes the Flam Winery's story unique is the cache the Flam name had when they first opened their winery and why it still does today.

 

Flam Winery

entering the Flam Winery in the Judean Hills

 

The reason the winery's name had a lot of gravitas when they started in 1998 was that at the time their father Israel Flam was the chief winemaker for the Carmel Winery, Israel's largest winery.  He had worked at the Carmel Winery since 1971 and would continue to do so until 2005, seven years after his sons had substantiated their following his passion for making wine.  Israel Flam has been a pioneer in Israeli winemaking in many ways. After serving as a paratrooper in the Israeli Defense Forces in the 60's, Israel Flam became the first notable Israeli winemaker to pursue expertise overseas and would become the first of many to study at California's UC Davis, one of the world's most pretigious university programs focused exclusively with viticulture and winemaking. 

 

dsr israel flam

Wine Pioneer Israel Flam... could I ask for a better tour guide?

 

    Israel served as chief winemaker at Carmel when it was undergoing many of its market shaking changes from being a big bloated giant producing tens of millions of bottles of cooked/ mevushal winery to a winery half it's former size sacrificing quanity to insure better quality.  Israel Flam had also been the winemaker when Carmel first launched it's Yatir sattleilte. As well, Israel Flam was at the helm when Carmel's Limited Edition, Single Vineyard and Appellation series of wines started showing a finer side to Carmel. As Carmel attemted to shed the baggage of decades of flooding the market with ton after ton of "liquid religion" and bland bulk wine, Israel capped a 35 vintage career at Carmel with inertia in what almost everyone agrees is an appreciated direction.  Considering he was a major player spearheading a reformation towards quality at Israel's largest winemaker (which now produces about 30% of Israel's wine... about 15 million bottles of Israel's 50 million bottles), the Israeli wine drinker and the industry as a whole owe Israel Flam more than most people a measure of gratitude for the amount of quality wine now being produced with "Made in Israel" on the label.

 

   The fact that Israel Flam fathered a pair of sons who would go on to establish one of Israel's most beloved boutique wineries is a testament to him (and his wife) as well. Though Golan and Gilad have surely made the Flam Winery their own triumph in winemaking and marketing success, having their father available as a consultant must have surely provided levels of confidence and experitese that most starting wineries could only envy. 

    By most measures, the Flam Winery makes some of Israel's best wines.  Golan supervises each wine from it's early days as grapes in the ninety plots they contract (in the Upper Galilee and the Judean Hills) to a wine's fermentation, aging and bottling.  Most of their vineyard plots have long term contracts with growers insuring they have access for up to 25 years. The growers are paid by managing the production designated per dunam (about a quarter of an acre) rather than by the tonnage of grapes each plot produces. This practice is fairly standard with wineries seeking quality over quanity and it can at least triple to quadruple the cost of the grapes they're pressing into wine by restricting the yield by at least 2/3 to 3/4 or more of a higher yield attempt.


   Even though their winery has steadily grown from it's initial 600 bottles to about 95,000 bottles/year, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who'd say they've sacrificed quality along the way.  They've made measured steps each time they've sought to get expand production and by limiting their offering to a select few wines they've added a new offering here and there but haven't ever tried to bite off a bigger bite than they were seemingly able to chew. It's typically at about this level that most wineries have sought kosher certification if they hadn't already. The Flam Winery hasn't but Israel Flam insists that they're doing everything a kosher winery would be doing anyway and that his wines are "kosher but just not certified kosher."  Asked if they ever will seek certification, he responded "never say never," but there are no current plans.


    Their biggest selling wine is their entry level Classico series. This one wine series is about a 50/50 "Bordeaux blend" of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It's got more New World punch than the typical Bordeaux but not as heavily oaked as a California or Australian 50/50 blend might be. It's become extremely popular as a wine by the glass in trendy Tel Aviv wine bars and restaurants and ages only 6 months in the barrel and then 6 months in the bottle before being released. This wine retails for 74NIS at the winery. The Classico accounts for about 60,000 of the 95,000 bottles/year they're currently delivering to the marketplace.

 

flam classisco 

2008 Flam Classico, 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot

 

   Their second tier wine is their Flam Superiore wine. This wine is typically about 75 % Syrah and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon though it varies from year to year. The intention which might be soon realized is to make this wine an exclusiving Syrah wine. As their French clone vines have matured year after year, they've supported the flavor, backbone and complexity of the wine with older Cabernet Sauvignon stock. The feeling is sooner than later the Syrah will be ready to stand on its own though possibly it might find it's way into a blend with Mouvedre, another red Rhone grape they've been cultivating.  This wine matures for 12 months in the barrel before resting another 6 months in the bottle before release.

 

flam super

2007 Flam Superiore Syrah/ Cabernet Sauvignon

 

   The two top tier wines from Flam are their Merlot Reserve and Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. These two wines have consistently been two of the best received wines in Israel year after year.   The 2006 Flam Merlot Reserve is 90% Merlot from Upper Galilee and 10% Petit Verdot from the Judean Hills.  The 2006 Flam Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon 10% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot.  This wine received 90 points from Robert Parker,  a high score for an Israeli wine from an internationally recognized wine critic.  In this series of wines, they're aged for 18 months in oak before an additional 6 months in the bottle.

 

2006 flam merlot

2006 Flam Merlot Reserve

 

   In any given year, red wines typically make up about  85 to 90%  of the Flam Winery's production. About 10% of their production is comprised of an immensly popular white wine that is a Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend. It's in such high demand that it typically sells out from the winery within two months of release.

  This year the winery is also realeasing a 2009 Rose. More and more Israeli wineries are releasing roses. It's a sensible market to explore as warmer regions tend to lend themselves to making better received red than white wines though the heat of summer might tempt one to a chilled glass white or rose rather than a big tannic glass of red wine.  Their initial rose will be a Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend. The Cabernet Franc juice was in contact with the skins for a lengthy six and half hours giving the wine a deep strawberry hue. The Merlot juice was added strictly for flavor and was not left for any time with the skins.

 

2009 flam rose

2009 Flam Rose Cabernet Franc/Merlot

Although the Flam name speaks loudly to the last 30 years of winemaking in Israel and all the changes that have happened along the way, their wines being crafted by Golan Flam speak to a rewarding future as more and more great Israeli wineries emerge with an ever increasing selection of interesting and delicious wines.


February 1, 2010February 1, 2010  2 comments  wine

    After over a millenium of Islamic rule,  Zichron Ya'acov became the launching point of Israel's resurgence as a modern wine growing region back in 1882 when Baron Edmund Rothschild supported Jewish Romanian immigrants to move to the region to work vineyards for the Carmel Winery, a collective of growers which became and remains Israel's largest winery (producing 15 million bottles of the 50 million bottles or about 30% of what Israel produces every year). The Carmel collective consists of over 300 independant growers and some of them like the Dahan family, owners of the Somek Winery, has gone on to create their own wineries in addtion to grapes they grow that they sell to Carmel or other wineries.

 

Somek sign

The Somek family has been growing grapes in Israel since 1882

 

The Somek Winery is located on a residential lot in the center of Zichron Ya'acov ( as are a few other boutique wienries). Their family has been growing wine grapes as well as other fruit in Israel since arriving in the first wave of Aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) in 1882 (many of which were Jews escaping systematic massacres or pogroms occurring in Eastern Europe).

Barak Dahan, the husband, is the fifth generation of grape growers in his family and manages the vineyards for his winery as well as the grapes he grows as part of the Carmel collective.

Hila, Barak's wife, is the winemaker of the family. She met Barak while interning for Carmel while studying agriculture and attaining her Bachelor's Degree in Rehovet. She went on to receive a Master's degree in Australia studying Viticulture and Oenology.

 

Barak at Somek

Barak, the vineyard manager and owner at the Somek Winery

 

the first vintage for commercial release was in 2002 and they're currently producing about 10,000 bottles last year due to a bumper crop that was common across most of israel's vineyards

during harvest and then at the winery, they try to use as little mechanical processes. They harvest all their grapes early in morning, hand picking the grapes and using no pumps while processing the wine.

the winery has no current desire to grow as they want to stress quality over quanity


the wines only go through minimal filtering

 

DSR in the Somek barrel room

your hero, David, in the Somek barrel room

 

 

2007 Somek Chardonnay

13.5% alcohol aged one year n oak and another year in the bottle   sells for 80 NIS/bottle

they make about 1000 bottles/year and the wine exhibits a lot of tropical flavors which is more typical of warm weather Chardonnays where cooler vineyards might demonstrate more citric flavor

the wine went through a malolactic secondary fermentation and remained on it's sur lees for the full year it was in the barrel

 

wine press at Somek
Somek's artisan wine press

 

2005 Somek Merlot

14.9% Alcohol

100% Merlot grape

the Merlot wines in this region are very well regarded by winemakers across Israel. They tend to be quite robust and easliy mistaken as a Cabernet Sauvignon to those not in the know

 

Somek tractor

the vineyards for the Somek Winery is only a short tractor ride away

 

2005 Somek Carignan

15% Alcohol   sells for 90 NIS/bottle

made from 40 year Old Vine vineyards these grapes only yield 400 kilos per dunam (1/4 acre)

exhibits Black Cherry, Cassis, Dark Plum and Cedar flavor


the Someks also grow Carignan from 30 year Old Vines that are used in Carmel's Appelation Carignan wines

in contrast, these plots produce 700 kilos per dunam

besides growing Carignan for Carmel, they also grow French Columbard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay for the collective on the 200 dunams the family owns

they use about only 10% of their grapes for their own wine

 

somek carignan

2005 Somek Carignan

 

2005 Somek Bik'at Hanadiv

15.2%

24 months

1 1/2 years in bottle

60%  Cabernet  Sauvignon   35% Merlot  5%  Petite Sirah

 

they blend their wines in a "french style" whereby they blend the wine before putting into the barrel so the different wines have a long marriage together and intergrate more intrinsically than aging seprately than blending before bottling

 

"the Petire Sirah is so strong with peppery tones that any more of it in this blend would overwhelm the wine"

 

a barrel of fun...

a barrel of fun...

 

 

2004 Somek Bik'at Hanadiv

 

15.6%

30 months  2 years in the bottle

 

40% Cabernet Sauvignon   40% Merlot  15%  Carignan   5%  Petite Sirah

 

 

Somek Winery

16 Herzl Street

Zichron Ya'acov, Israel
04-639-7982 (in Israel) 972-4-639-7982 (from the US)


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.





February 23, 2011February 23, 2011  1 comments  wine

       Today, I got to visit for my old friends (comparatively speaking in Israel) at Recanati. I thoroughly enjoy talking about wineries of their ilk because Recanati does a great job making great wines at different price points and their wines seem to get better year after year ( and they're only 20 minutes from where I live ttoo). This visit had some special significance because it was my first official tasting of their 2008 premium wines outside of tasting at events when there's too much additional stimulation to appreciate a wine without distraction and with the insight from the winemakers how they got to what your tasting in the glass. 

      The 2008 vintage wines have a special meaning at Recanati because the team of winemakers changed and this was their first vintage to see how the change reflected in the wines. The entry level reds of 2008 have been out a while but the higher end 2008's (Reserve now and the Special Reserve Red not too far down the road) which were aged longer are now on the shelves and there are noticable differences from previous incarnations.

      Gil Shatsberg and Ido Lewinsohn make up the current dynamic duo of winemakers at Recanati. Even though Gil holds the title of senior winemaker, it's very much a collaborative effort and that seems to make for better wines as each brings a different background to the winery. Gil had training at UC Davis, the most preeminent wine school in the USA and worked at Carmel, Israel's largest winery and was the sole winemaker at the Amphorae Winery before taking over from founding winemaker, fellow UC Davis grad Lewis Pasco. Ido has studied extensively in Italy, France and Australia and interned at Israel's prestigious boutique Margalit Winery and worked with Lewis before Gil took the helm. Between them they literally have a world's experience of winemaking.

    So, how are things different in their newest wines from Recanati's and most other Israeli wines?

    First, there's a difference in the white wines. Let's look at their two different Chardonnays the 2009 Recanati Chardonnay and 2009 Recanati Chardonnay Reserve. They differ less from each other than most Israeli or other "New World" (outside Europe) Chardonnays. They both avoid the malolactic ferementation process that has become so common with New World Chardonnays. Malolactic fermentation is a seconday fermention process (the primary turns sugar into alcohol and CO2). The process turns the prevelant astringent maliic acid in wine into a smoother silkier creamier lactic acid.  Lactic acid is the acid prevelant in dairy products. The drawback of this process is much of the fruitiness and varietal character is lost in this process. This also gives many Chardonnays the weight people associate with the grape alhtough oak aging also adds to this equation as well.  But, both Gil and Ido have developed an aversion to bombastic wines and strive to make more elegant wines. So one way to still give a body to the wine but bypassing the malolactic conversion is to age their Chardonnay sur lees or with the yeast after its died after fermentation. This is common enough in European whites but rarer in New World Whites. Preserving the acidity also preserves a crispness that is more true to the varietal and helps good Chardonnays age into great Chardonnays. A few other Chardonnays in Israel also have embraced this technique including the Tzuba and Tzora wineries.

 

Recanati 2009 Whites

2009 Recanati Special Reserve White

2009 Recanati Chardonnay

2009 Recanati Chardonnay Reserve

 

    Although Ido wouldn't say he thinks their 2009 Chardonnay is better than their 2009 Reserve Chardonnay he does admit it suits his personal taste of a less oaky Chardonnay where the Reserve should be popular with American drinkers who generally have a quencihng thirst for heavier oaked Chards.

   In the 2008 reds and beyond some noticeble changes have also arrived. One of the major changes happens in the vineyard where in the past the wineery may have harvested as late as possible to get the most ripe or even overripe grapes to insure maximum sugar and therefore  higher alcohol ...) Gil & Ido have been favoring harvesting as early as possible to get added acidity from the grapes and more nuanced, greener (i.e. more Old World) less sugar i.e., less alcoholic wines. Additionally, they're favoring using less "New Oak" (unused barrels) for older oak and shorter exposure times in many wines and seeking preservatives from the acidity rather than from more traditional oak tannins. Now, it's not a long stretch of rational thinking because acidity is what most notable white wines depend on for their longevity but to rely on it for a red wine is fairly innovative and counter conventional wisdom where the tannins from the skins or barrels are more often relied on.  Time will tell as this new generation of Recanati wines age but if Gil & Ido got it right (and I suspect they did) it could be a game changer in how most quality Israeli wines are made.

   Another change which may or not be noticable is that almost all of the Recanati Reserve wines except the Petite Sirah/Zinfandel are Single Vineyard wines). This may not make any of the wines better per se but it will make them more unique and an expression of terroir rather than market driven more homeginized wines.   Recanati does have some impressive plots in the Galilee and the Judean Hills so this Single Vineyard approach I think will help promote the appelations the wines derive from as well. 

    There's been a bug push in the last few years as more and more big and mid size Israeli wineries make their higher tier wines single vineyard wines. Many boutique do it easily because their small production warrants a single vineyard (or less and sell of the remaining grapes) or they have limited access to grapes as they buy on the open market and haven't the long term contracts that more established wineries secure to insure a long term supply.

 

Dave at Recanati 2/23/11

OK the white wine's were a great start...now on to the reds

Enjoying Recanati's 2007 Special Reserve Red

 

     If that wasn't enough of a change on the macro scale another major change is happening on the micro change as the wines are going through a dramatically different filtration system. Filtration is a big factor on how the finish product presents itself. Filtering through a filter with larger holes allows for more color and body to remain in the wine. Recanati uses extensive and more labor intensive racking the wines to help clarify the wines that a more exacting filtration would accomplish. It's a lot more work but to avoid a more precise yet body/color robbing filtering, Recanati and many other wineries insist on taking that extra measure. To illustrate the point the winery's current filtration is about 1/3 to 1/4 as exacting as previous measures but when compensated for in racking that's plus and not the cosmetic and textural minus it might be otherwise.

I'll revist the winery sooner than later to try their remaining wines like their Cabs, Merlots, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc as well as their Yasmin entry level blends and their highly regarded Rose.

 

 

 

wines tasted today 2/23/11

 


2009 Recanati Chardonnay


2009 Recanati Chardonnay Reserve


2009 Recanati Special Reserve White


2008 Recanati Cabernet Franc


2008 Recanati Petite Sirah/Zinfandel


2007 Recanati Special Reserve Red

 


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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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