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Tags - grenache
Some times the most remote wineries give up the most prized treasures, along the Jordanian/Syrian/ Israeli border intersection along the Golan Heights is an island of vines in the sky, Chateau Golan. Sure it's a bit of an exaggeration to call the Chateau "an island of vines in the sky" yet one of Israel's highest elevated wineries and vineyards gets frequent visits from helicopters shuttling guests up to it's lofty environs, sometimes four choppers a week. In fact there was a helicopter sitting on the front lawn on my first visit.
The distinct design of the Chateau Golan is a harbinger of it's great wines within
Not only does the winery reside in a lofty domain but the winemaker, Uri Hetz, has lofty aspirations for his wines and his winery. Uri seems determined never to sacrifice the quality of his wines in favor of the quanity and profitability of the winery. Not that the crew at the Chateau don't want to make a living but they don't seem to be simply put "greedy". In fact, they hand label their bottles which helps keep two of their workers employed full time instead of part-time laborers even though it would be more cost-effective to do otherwise.
Producing about 70,000 bottles a year, the winery has surpassed the margins at which they feel they can now be a manageble and sustainable winery. Private investors gave the winery a little more liberty to experiment and remain relatively modest in it's commerical aspirations compared to depending on bank funding. That being the case they have no immediate plans to grow and no desire to become a kosher winery that like how mostly every larger Israeli winery started or evolved. They do supplement their income by managing and growing grapes for other larger wineries in Israel.
Chateau Golan exports about 15% of it's wine overseas much of that is individual orders by consumers. The winery has no US importer bringing in large quanities as of yet (hint, hint).
The Chateau also delivers their owns wines throughout Israel which also helps the winery remain more profitable and makes their service more personable with wine shop and restaurant managers and staff. It also serves wine writers well as on my first visit, in a whirlwind of traveling around Israel and the excitement of drinking some fabulous wines, I forgot my cherished MacBook in their breakroom. I was a 2 hour drive away when the fog of that great tasting lifted and realized that my computer was now a four hour round trip away. A phone call later and the manager of the winery arranged to hand deliver it to me the next day at a local wine shop close to my apartment in Ra'anana. I don't suggest this trial of hospitality for the feint hearted but these grand acts of kindness seem routine to Israelis.
One note of warning to those wanting to visit Chateau Golan. There are two routes leading up to the winery best descibed as the southern way and the northern way depending on whether you're coming up from the southern end of the Knerret/Sea of Galilee. I strongly suggest the more northern approach coming up route 789 that turns left to route 98. The southern approach might seem more direct on the map or a more interesting alternative but it's much longer and seemingly perilous coming up what seems a never-ending series of switchbacks at insanely steep angles that my 4-cylinder Daihatsu gasped to overcome. It also straddles the Jordanian and Syrian borders and some tourists can do without seeing all that barbed wire and what I'm told is heavily land-mined vistas. The northern way is quite scenic enough with better views of Sea of Galilee.
That seldomn used section of the 98 coming off the 92 (who would ever go up or down it twice) seemed like one of the top ten places in Israel I'd least like to get stranded at or revisit though I have to admit the angle of ascent provided for some amazing views (though part of me was thinking I should take it in because it just might be the last thing I see). My traveling companion had much more graphic & derogatory commentary on the experience that are best left to one's imagination.
Chateau Golan Winery
Golan Heights 12927
011-972-4-6600026 (from the USA)
04-6600026 (in Israel)
One of the more successful mid-size wineries in Israel is the Recanati Winery located in Efeq Heziq. Drawing upon vineyards from the Upper Galilee, the Jerusalem Hills and about Zichron Ya'akov, the Recanati Winery has grown from about 200,000 bottles in in first year to about 1,000,000 bottles expected in 2010. This success can be measured by the growth and production of the winery as well as the recognition of the quality of the wine. Under it 's founding winemaker, Lewis Pasco, the Recanati Winery gained a reputation for making powerful but pleasing award winning wines. After 8 years together, Lewis Pasco went on to become a consultant for wineries in California.
Lenny Recanati and a bottle of his praise-worthy 2008 Recanati Rose.
This could have been a crisis for many wineries, but under the leadership of owner Lenny Recanati, this change became an opportunity. Israeli born Lenny had been a fan of winemaker's Gil Shatzberg's efforts at the nearby Amphorae Winery and brought Gil over to take the helm. There have been subtle changes in the wines as Gil and Recanti's other winemaker Ido Lewinsohn have stressed more Old World techniques than Lewis Pasco's wines may have exhibited.
October 28th, 2009
Today, I made my way back to the Recanati Winery located in Emek Hefer, Israel. Recanati is celebrating a banner crop this year exceeding 1,000 metric tons of grapes in the 2009 harvest in contrast to about 800 tons harvested for the 2008 vintage. Higher yields were evident throughout Recanati's Upper Galilee & Jerusalem vineyards. Higher yields are typically more preferable in grapes destined for their value Recanati and Yasmin series wines than grapes destined for their higher quality wines. Although, these higher quality grapes still experienced higher yields, the yields were still within the spectrum of yields desirable for flavor, color and tannins expected of their quality wines (about 1 ton to 1.2 tons per dunam... a dunam is about 1/4 of an acre... and not the 4 tons per dunam destined for bulk wines). An increase in the quanity of quality grapes assures better Recanati wines through their whole series as much of this juice filters as free-run juice in their higher series to additional pressings in their lower series. So if the winery commits to keeping production of their higher series at about the same most of the 2009 wines should benefit. Recanati consumers should look forward to enjoying these wines as they hit the shelves in 2010 and beyond.
the Recanati Winery in Emek Hefer, Israel
Increased sunlight on their vines last year is suspected to contributing to greater yields for Recanati. As well, grapes from new vineyards and varietals coming into their pipeline contributed to the significant increase in production. This has increased the quanity, quality and variety of grapes available to Recanati's winemaking team of head winemaker Gil Shatsberg and winemaker Ido Lewinsohn. Gil was until last year the winemaker at the well respected Amphorae Winery. Ido continues in a similar role to that which he served under Recanati's founding winemaker, Lewis Pasco, spending a lot time monitoring and assessing the progress of Recanati's many vineyards although Gil has utilized Ido more as junior partner in the whole process than Lewis who may have regulated Ido to serving as an underling. This dynamic duo of winemakers is already showing to be strong team in their first full year of releases together and Recanati's wine buyers are sure to take notice as demand increases for the fruits of these winemakers' efforts.
Recanati's head winemaker Gil Shatsberg barrel tasting their 2009 old vine Carignan
A 2009 Recanati Carignan Reserve will be one of the newest stars of the winery. Expect a 2010 or 2011 release depending on how the wine matures in the bottle. The wine will probably undergo less oak aging than other Recanati Reserve reds in respect to the Old Vine's Carignan already deep concentrated flavors, tannins and color.
David following Gil's lead breathing in and tasting Recanati's promising Carignan
Although their 2008 Cabernet Franc Reserve is expected to be quite popular upon it's release in 2010, as a testament to their taking their reserve labeling seriously, a 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve will not be made and the grapes will be mostly used for blending. The 2009 Cabernet Franc lacked an intensity of flavors (by the standards of the Gil & Ido) to be released as a single varietal but still retained some value to blend into other wines as it adds complexity and and a boost of acidity often lacking inherently in warmer climate wines.
Recanati's 2008 Cabaerent Franc
As new grapes and vineyards mature in future vintages, expect the winery's entry level Yasmin series' reds and whites to more closely resemble Rhone blends. New Italian varietals are also coming online though the winery prefers their idenity to be kept secret at this time. I can assure the reader that these grapes show promise as grapes well suited to Israel's various microclimates and desirable for adding complexity to blends and potentiallly offering unique single varietals as the vines mature and become able to offer more concentrated,complex and varietal specific flavors. Grenache grapes will become available to the winemakers next year but they are expected to be used mostly for blending as it's predicted it will many years before they are dynamic enough to be able to anchor a single varietal offering.
winemaker Ido Lewinsohn in one of Recanati's Upper Galilee vineyards
Gil intends every year for the overall quality of all Recanati's wines to improve. For instance, the Yasmin wines could become " a Geshem for the people" giving homage to Chateau Golan's revered yet pricey red & white Rhone blends. The Yasmine red had been Carignan based with Syrah and Petite Sirah added as frequent contributors. A possible future Yasmine red might be a classic Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre red wine grapes.
One reassuring assertion by Shatsberg is that Recanati must keep pace with the Israeli consumers' demand for better and better wine and this must carry through to all their series of wines, "first, our goal is to make a good wine without flaws and then make sure that wine offers a lot of flavors and complexity". With a bumper crop such as 2009 provided, making their wines better is far easier. As their marketing division tells the winemakers what orders need to be filled in a year with higher yields of better grapes, Gil can continue to make his Special Reserve and Reserve wines from free-run juice with some potentially left over to bolster the flavors of the Recanati series of wines with the final press making it's way to the Yasmin series.
So what kind of differences can the consumer expect as Recanati's wines show the influence of a their new winemaker. Well, according to Gil, "Lewis (Pasco) was and is an extremely talented & technical winemaker and his winemaking knowledge exceeded my own and I work with my heart". Now, anyone familiar with the accolades he accumalated at Amphorae will know this is a modest characterization of Gil's wine acumen and what might occur with Recanati wines under Shatsberg's supervison. He's also incorporated Recanati's other winemaker Ido into the harvesting and winemaking decision making process though Gil retains final say in all matters.
This team of Gil & Ido might be the strongest of any two winemakers for a winery it's size in Israel. Gil spent extensive time in studying and training in California before applying his training to Israeli wines. Ido trained in Milan before spending years training in Italy, France and far off Tasmania. This merging of many vintages across an extentive cross section of the winemaking world have given the scope, confidence and perspective necessary to make the best wine possible. Each winemaker has more than enough skill, talent and passion to oversee a winery but as it stands now the Recanati team is stronger than the sum of their parts.
The two discernable differences that this new team will bring to Recanati wines will be generally lower alcohol wines and a decreasing amount of new oak barrels used to age the wines. This is more in line with Old World wine preferences and should result in wines that are more food friendly wines and wines more affable to drinking in a warmer climate like Israel's (it's still like summer here in Israel late in October). Gil is confident that by using less new oak less vanilla, cinnamon and toast will be apparent and their wines will have more of an emphasis on fruit and elegance." The lower amount of alcohol, some of it attributed to earlier harvests, should also contribute to a wine more balanced between alcohol, fruitiness, acidity, body, tannins and color.
Lenny Recanati, proud owner of the Recanati Winery
The one wine that might remain closest to it's pre-Gil roots is Pasco's creation: Recanati's Petite Sirah/Zinfandel Reserve. It will continue to be aged in American oak though Gil won't commit to a set percentage of Petite Sirah or Zinfandel and will every year assess what makes the best blend. This wine has won the winery several awards and since the grapes are more popular in California than anywhere else it only makes sense to continue it's producton in a New World style as a highly alcoholic fruit bomb. The high sugar content of these grapes lends itself to this style regardless of a winemaker's intentions.
As a relatively new winery that has found relevance in the Israeli marketplace, the staff and ownership of the Recanati Winery seems determined to make their award-winning wines better and better every vintage. By fine-tuning their wines they're already making by honing their viticulture practices, bringing new vineyards and grapes into play, trying out new oak barrels, developing a dynamic duo of winemakers and making sure that they don't grow so fast that quanity outpaces quality, Recanati wines should be worthy of a curious palette for many years to come.
just some of Recanati Winery's ever growing collection of awards
Like in most world wine regions there's a host of themes of how people get into winemaking. There's the industrialists who make oceans of wine, there are the artists who make small but often amazingly well crafted batches of bliss and then are growers who evolved into winemakers after seeing their crops being utilized for much higher profits than they ever realized just selling their grapes.
The Red Poetry Winery is one of these grower launched ventures. Located on the windward side of the Judean Hills, the vineyards of the winery sits among fields of figs, peaches, nectarines, olive groves and a variety of table grapes.
2007 Red Stains
100% Carignan from 30 year old vines
aged with 1 year old barrels for about 18 months
very fruity and very expressive with apparent yet fairly soft tannins showing great aging potential
Mourvedre 75% & Syrah 25% reminiscent of a southern Rhone Valley blend
a much lighter earthier wine with Syrah being predominant on the nose which seemingly is becoming a common element in blends in this region
Syrah 40%, Merlot 40% with the remaing 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot
coconut on the nose from the oak aging
1-2,000 bottles produced
2007 Red Poetry Merlot
made from 100% Merlot
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
very fruity with soft tannins showing enough character to age nicely
I love finding wineries off the beaten path. By off the beaten path for me I mean wineries that haven't had much publicity in English or have been underrated by other writers who've written up their wines. The Alona Winery is one such Israeli winery. Located just southeast of Zichron Ya'acov (Israel's most well known wine village) in Givat Nilli in it's namesake Alona valley, this small winery has been making it's impact known with Israel's Hebrew speaking wine connoisseurs . For a winery that only bottles about 6,000 individual units of liquid joy, it's garnered several meaningful accolades by pretigious wine judge panels that trancends mediocre reviews by a any individual critic or reviewer.
Starting less than a decade ago (established in 2001) , the winery's Alona Merlot won a gold medal in 2006 at the annual international Terravino competition held in Eilat.
The next year, 2007, their Merlot, won a double gold and propelled the winery to win "Best Small Boutique Winery in Israel"
This year, 2009, their Cabernet Sauvignon was recognized with a silver medal showing that even though this region has gained a reputation for making Merlot wines with distinctive quality that desirable Cabernet Sauvignon's are still possible.
The wines are quite affordable for an award winning boutique wines selling at 75 NIS (about $20 as of this writing) for the three releases now available. The current line-up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a Merlot Rose should have great compnay this year with Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Carignan wines being released iin the near future from their first vintage in 2009 and Grenache being planted for future harvests to be used as it generally is as a blending component as befits the wines from the Southern Rhone Valley in France.
One of the keys to their success for making well appreciated wines is that they are the growers of all their grapes. Most wineries big and small might have control of their vineyards with long term contracts but few actually till all their fields themselves. Additionally, many wineries source grapes from far corners of israel. For instance some wineries access grapes from the Golan heights, the Judean Hills and the Negev. The Alona vineyards are all either adjacent to the winery (quite atypical in Israel) or just a tractor's ride away so family growers can check on the vineyards frequently and conviently. I've travelled with other winemakers who sped hours driving to their vineyards and not only do they drive far to check on the vineyards but the grapes need to make the same ride back during harvest which isn't ideal for getting the berries in the most ideal state before pressing.
Located on Kibbutz Eyal (on the outskirts Kfar Sava) within a few steps of the well-established and prestigious Saslove Winery is Avidan. Less well known than it's neighbor, Avidan is rightfully and rapidly gaining it's own notoriety for the quality and unique character of their wines. Like it's neighbor, Avidan is a family affair.
Shlomo Avidan, who was the initial winemaker and studied under the iconic Ya'ir Margalit now manages the vineyards. Tsina Avidan, his wife, has grown into the role of winemaker. Their daughter Shira focuses on marketing but all three work as a team and make many of the decisions together. Seemingly, its a formula that works well as their wines get rave reviews that might incite envy from many larger or longer established wineries. Shlomo's position as one of the managers of Discount Bank gives them the financial freedom to make wines the way they want to and not just to satisfy market demands. That being said they've grown from a garage winery started in Ra'anana in 2000 to a viable commercial boutique winery in 2004 when they moved to Kibbutz Eyal. Avidan now produces about 25,000 to 30,000 bottles a year.
Avidan's wines are a delight for a wine geek like me and anyone who wants to see traditional wines made with a flare or non-traditional wines made well enough to draw the praise of often jaded wine critics and sommeliers. Newcomers may shy away because of the price (which considering the quality is a steal compared to similarly lauded wines) or because some of the wines are non-traditional blends but the truth is in the tasting and many of their wines could convert the uninitiated into aspiring connesoirs.
The wines are split into three series and the make-up of each wine can change from year to year.
The Blend des Noirs is typically their biggest selling wine and is a blend of various grapes used in their other wines. In 2008, they made two blends, the Tag Segol ("the Purple") and the Tag Katom.
From an outsider, it seems like it might be two different approaches to making a similar wine.
The 2008 Tag Segol is 40% Merlot, 25% Shiraz, 20% Petite Sirah and 15% Carignan. Merlot tends to have softer tannins than the other three grapes would seem to add structure and firmer tannins as well as complexity. It's an unusual blend so the combination of flavors should be a refreshing change for many drinkers and the Shiraz and Petite Sirah also contribute the Deep Purple of Octopus Ink that those grapes typically imbue into wine. Blackberries and Blueberries come through for fruits. Black Pepper is a Petite Sirah trademark that shines through with chocolate and vanilla coming through from the Merlot and through the combination of 12 months aging in American and French Oak.
The 2008 Tag Katom is 40 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 25% Grenache. Starting with a base of Cabernet Sauvignon, a meaty wine with firm tannins it's softened with the addition of Merlot and gregarious Grenache ( a grape Avidan is helping proving worthy of further attention from other Israeli winemakers in blends and as a single varietal). Also aged in French and American Oak for 12 months. The 2007 scored an 88 from Robert Parker.
The Fringe series offers a glimpse of the potential of Avidan as a game changer in Israeli winemaking. These wines, too, can change by name and grapes year to year. In fact, that's one of the most redeeming an couragous aspects of the winery that maintains their artisinal approach over commerical concerns. Each year, they make wines they want to make the best wine that their grapes allow. Tsina told me it's like a sculptor who might say the stone dictates how they sculpt the rock that the grapes often dictate how she makes the wine and what wine she makes. she sees her role as sort of a mid-wife for the wine and Avidan wines often display this Old World perpective of winemaking. Even though many of their wines are marketed as single varietals they don't seem to have an attachment to building a brand for customers to follow as much as earning the faith that their wines will be interesting and the best wines they can deliver.
The 2007 Avidan "Fringe" Prio has become a pride and joy of the winery after receiving special attention from some revered sommeliers at a small tasting recently in France. A blend of Carignan, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot this wine along with other boutique wines from `Vitken, Somek and Smadar show a growing affection by Boutique winemakers for what was once a reviled grape that was a victim of neglect and abuse of high yield harvests from younger vines rather than inherent flaws of the varietal.
The 2008 Avidan "Fringe" Full Wine is a more traditioanl blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) and Petite Sirah (40%). This wine might show the influence of the Margalit clan on Avidan since Margalit's Cabernet Reserve is about 85% Cab and 15% Petite Sirah but the differences in blends and vineyard locations (as well as several other winemaking variables) result in two dramatically different wines (though by many both highly desirable).
This wine could be called a "New World" wine made with Old World sensabilities. A Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah blend wouldn't be that uncommon in California but Petite Sirah never caught on its home of France (or anywhere else in Europe) before it finding favor in winemakers and consumers in America before coming to Israel. Although, part of a blend here and in other Avidan wines it's also becoming more popular as a single varietal as it gets more TLC in the vineyards which give it the character to get top billing as part of a Carmel Appelation wine or at the notable Chillag Winery (where winemaker Orna Chillag has been a role model for other Israeli women winemakers).
The Avidan Winery is open Friday and Saturdays 11am to 4 PM but is open by appointment on other days.
Mobile Post Central Sharon, Israel 45840
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