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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.
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).
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
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
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.
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'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.
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 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 Chief winemaker Lior Laxer tasting the fruits of his labors
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.
Zichron Ya'acov Telephone: 04 6390105
Rishon Letzion Telephone: 03 9488888
Few, if any wineries, in Israel have gained as much notoriety as fast and widespread as the Yatir Winery at the northeast edge of the Negev Desert. Adjacent to the ancient ruins of Tel Arad, a Canaanite settlement dating back over 3,000 years, the winery lies at the southern base of the Judean Hills while all of it's vineyards, except their Sauvignon Blanc, lie amoungst the Yatir Forest at about 900 meters above sea level. In less than ten years, Yatir has managed what would almost be impossible in more established wine regions, to launch from it's first vintage to be among the first mentioned when critics and winemakers talk about the best wineries in Israel.
The 3,000 year old ruins of the Canaanite settlement of Tel Arad
An initiative by the Carmel Winery since it's inception in 2000, Yatir has operated fairly independently as a unique and distinct brand from Carmel. This was done evidently for at least two reasons. Primarily, even though the weight of Carmel's place as the largest producer of Israeli and kosher wine could help secure Yatir's exposure in the marketplace, Carmel's previous reputation as a producer of principally bulk wines wouldn't tarnish Yatir's lofty and seemingly now fulfilled aspirations to make some of Israel's best and most sought after wine. Additionally, as Carmel attempts to reinvent itself, Yatir was allowed to focus on establishing and maintaining consistently high standards of viticulture in their dedicated vineyards as well operating with it's own winemaker, staff and first rate facilities with a focus on exploring every possible avenue in making the best wine it could from day one.
Conifer trees of the Yatir Forest in the southern Judean Hills
Ya'acov Ben Dor, the manager of the winery and previous manager of the Yatir Moshav, gives a lot of credit to the terroir of the vineyards to the quality and uniqueness of Yatir wines. As he led me on a personal tour from the Negev lowlands up into the Judean highlands, Ya'acov took special care to point out the unique vegetation in this area compared to the other premier Israeli wine regions such as the Golan or Galilee or the northern reaches of the Judean Hills. Here there are many spicy, herbaceous xerophytic (drought-resistent) plants whose intense flavors are a defense mechanism from grazing animals who might find their intensity suitable for a nibble but not a whole meal. Ya'acov implies that this intensity of flavor found in the native flora might be finding it's way to the grapes. The distinctive flavors a terroir imparts can be such a mecurial quality but it's something Ya'acov has obviously considered. As someone who managed many crops in the area (pistachios, almonds, apricots, apples and cherries are grown nearby) there are few people who know this area and it's agricultural potential than Ben Dor. He was one of the original growers who had the foresight to plant vineyards in the Yatir Forest in 1994 that would become the backbone of Yatir wines.
Yatir Forest Cherries
Of course, Yatir's vineyards might never have been planted if the Yatir Forest hadn't brokered the way to show that this arid area had botanical possibilites. David Ben Gurion, Israel's first, most influential and longest serving prime minister was a persistent advocate of developing the Negev and is buried at the Negev's Kibbutz Sde Boker where he had eventually retired and is now buried. It was he who insisted against scientific advice to plant trees in this region. The Jewish National Fund collected donations from around the world to plant conifourous trees in Israel and started planting in the Yatir in 1964 and now it's israel's largest planted forest. As such it plays a part in Israel being the only country in the world to have a net gain of trees in the 20th century.
David and Ancient Wine Press in Yatir Forest:
1) On the left grapes were stomped
2) the juice flowed to the smaller chamber on the bottom and filtered through herbs such as capers, dates and honey
3) the wine fermented in about 5 days and was stored until "bottled" in clay jars, amphorae
Students of history, however, should have known that the Yatir area could have great potential to be a wine producing area. there are over 180 ancient wine presses scattered through the Yatir region that had the capacity to produce 3,000 liters or about 4,000 of today's bottle of wine each. in theory that means if all were operating about the same time, these presses could have been producing 720,000 bottles a vintage or even more if there were grapes like today that had staggered seasons so that if there were multiple harvestings 3-4 times as much is concievable as well. Of course climates can change dramtically in decades never mind millenium so a better indicator of the Yatir Forest's potential for sheltering vineyards would be the other crops that have prospered here. The cherries and apricots, almond and pistachio trees that were succesfuly being harvested here prior to the first modern vineyards being planted here must have given confidence that grapes could do well here as well.
The southern Judeans Hills overlooking the northeast Negev Desert
At 900 meters altitude, about 2700 feet, in the Judean Hills and at the northeast tip of the Negev desert, Yatir's grapes get hot dry summer days and cool summer nights, which has proved an ideal nursery for many of Yatir's planted wine grape varieites. Frequent mountain winds also help keep the grapes from suffering in the sun and the adjacent Yatir Forest which borders their vineyards on all sides helps cool the area by taking in CO2. The trees have had a side effect of leaching off some of the much needed precipitation, only about 100mm year or about 4 inches falls here, so irrigation is required for the grapes to get their fill. The winds, which are valued for their cooling effect, also increase the evaporation rate and increase the need for irrigation. Fortunely for Yatir, Israel has been at the leading edge of drip-irrigation technology and water conservation and Israel has exported this technology worldwide including to other regions such as Yatir that were thought previously unsuitable for wine grape production.
a reservoir in the Yatir Forest with pistachio trees in the distance
Even though Ben Dor comes to Yatir as a grower, it's Yatir's wine maker Eran Goldwasser who overesees the viticulture practices in the vineyard. Having studied Viticulture & Oenology at the University of Adelaide in Australia, Eran is just one several Israelis to have studied winemaking "Down Under". Having returned to Israel from Australia after workering three vintages, Eran credits just being "lucky at the time that few israelis at the time had been studying (winemaking) overseas" and he was hired from Yatir's inception as it winemaker. It's without doubt that few winemakers have succeeded so fast to make a name for himself and his wine. The first wines were released in 2004 and since then Yatir wines have been appearing on every wine writer's list as one of the best wines if not the best wine in Israel.
David & Yatir's Winemaker Eran Goldwasser
Much of what they have accomplished at Yatir is believed to be on how they manage the vineyards before harvesting as much as the special care given to the grapes once they reach the winery.
Yatir Sauvignon Blanc (Negev)
100% Sauvignon Blanc grape
Ramat Arad vineyard in the northeast Negev. A portion of the wine was oaked for 3-4 months in oak barrels.
pale straw with a greenish tinge
"citric grapefruit, (I like to think of as pomelo) and cut grass with a hint of minerality that comes through from it's limited oak agiing " vibrant, epressive and well-balanced with less of a pucker factor than many Sauvignon Blancs.
Yatir Viognier 2008 (Judean Hills) Semi-dry 7 grams of sugar
Yatir Forest vineyards
The grapes that contributed to this 100% Viognier wine had enough acidity that Eran decided not to color within the lines and he created a distinctly balanced barely sweet wine. Alltough, Viogniers in California and Contreau might age in oak Eran is convinced that this can easily overwhelm the varietal flavors of Viognier. Even more succinctly Eran affirms "many of them just don't work". Yatir's 2008 Viognier does work and at 13.5% alcohol (less than the 14-15% Viogniers often exhibit) the lower alcohol level gives room for using some of the residaul sugar to create what Eran believes and I affirm is something special. When discussing how Viogniers have become popular with some of Israel's winemakers, Eran provides a disclaimer that it might be unrealistic to grow Viognier as extensively as French Columbard with great results because "better Viogniers are grown in cooler areas, they're very fussy vines and the grapes can exhibit elusive aromas'."
Expected Flavors and Aromas:
"green apple, apricot, peach and nectarines an almond /marzapan " " refreshing acidity, a lot of body with a pleasantly long finish
Yatir Merlot-Shiraz-Cabernet (Judean Hiils) this blend was first introduced as a Cabernet-Merlot-Shiraz but as Eran says he decided that "if people wanted a big, bold Cabernet Sauviignon I was alreaady making one so I decided with the blend I'd make something a bit different. Eran says the Merlot-Shiraz- Canernet is a brand more than a list of the ingredients and Merlot coming first should give a hint to a softer wine. As well, the Cabernet on the label doesn't always refer to Cabernet Sauvignon as in this case it refers to Cabernet Franc which lends to a more food friendly wine with less tannins and more acidity.
Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon (Judean Hills)
Valued Vines of Yatir's Cabernet Sauvignon
Yatir Forest (Judean Hiils)
Yatir's premier label Yatir Forest after being hand-labeled
I'll be attending tonight (Tuesday) and probably Thursday, if you want to meet the man behind the words... 052-702-9463
Annual Israeli Wine Festival
Art Garden at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem
August 4th, 5th and the 6th (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday)
60 NIS for the tasting including the glass
with over 30 wineries participating including kosher Recanati, Yatir, Alexander, Segal, Tishbi,Tzuba,Tepererg,Tabor, Psagot, Tzora, Dalton, Barkan, Binyamina and Galil Mountain
and non kosher Avidan, Pelter, Saslove
Israel Museum: 02-6708811
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